Housing and Health – the Next Big Thing


Photo Credit: dalecruse Flickr via Compfight cc

Last month saw this year’s Chartered Institute for Housing Festival take place at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. NHS Health Scotland take us through some of the highlights from the festival including a focus on the link between health and housing.

The CIH Festival is the largest annual gathering of the ‘social and rented housing’ community in Scotland.  An impressive array of inspiring, motivational and insightful speakers brought delegates from across the country, despite the adverse weather conditions.  These speakers were supported by an extensive exhibition, providing delegates with networking opportunities and resources to take away.

Having ‘health’ as one of the key themes of this year’s Festival created a unique opportunity for conference delegates to explore the contribution of housing to improving health and tackling health inequalities.  Through this strand of the conference NHS Health Scotland were able to engage with stakeholders working in various aspects of the housing sector and our own exhibition stall provided an opportunity to follow up on these discussions and make important connections.  As well as meeting the team, visitors were able to pick up hard copies of a number of health-housing documents.

We heard a number of key messages being echoed throughout the conference.  The rough sleeping agenda and the current drive to eradicate this issue was a key feature.  As Alistair Campbell said, ‘we cannot claim to be a civilised society when people are still sleeping rough’ and it is our moral, social and political responsibility to work across boundaries and silos to create change for those who are, or are at risk of, rough sleeping.

Through the breakout sessions on day one we heard from Charlotte Waite, Public Health Wales and Katy Hetherington, NHS Health Scotland, about how adverse childhood experiences in the home can impact on children and young people.  Housing services have an important role in responding to childhood adversity and identifying opportunities for early intervention for families.

We also heard from Dr Sarah Rodgers, Swansea University and Dr Hilary Thompson, University of Glasgow, about how housing regeneration can improve health and tackle inequalities. Evidence from Carmarthenshire showed how investing in housing regeneration was associated with a significant reduction in emergency hospital admissions.  We also heard from colleagues from Glasgow University about how we must continue to gather data about the impact on socio-economic and mental health outcomes over longer periods of time in order to demonstrate the contribution of regeneration to improving health.

Day one closed with a plenary from Professor Sir Harry Burns who drew our attention to the history of housing in Scotland and to our growing inequalities. He urged delegates to be courageous and compassionate in realising the contribution that housing can make to reducing poverty and improving health outcomes for our most vulnerable communities.  Professor Sir Harry Burns clearly articulated how housing can be a cause of wellness and a ‘sense of security in a home that is safe is fundamental to a flourishing society’.

Day two of the Housing Festival saw the arrival of the #beastfromtheeast which impacted people’s ability to travel and ultimately saw the conference close at lunch time.  That said, the conference carried on with powerful speakers and reflections on the positive contributions that housing can make to people’s lives.  Alison Inman, CIH President emphasised the need for continued innovation in meeting challenges whilst also recognising that fundamentally families and communities should guide us, ‘we need to start where people are at to enable them to thrive. We’ve got to listen and learn, even if it’s difficult’.

What was to be the last breakout session saw Gerry McLaughlin, CEO of NHS Health Scotland and Professor Glen Bramley from Heriot Watt University specifically explore the interconnected relationships between housing, health and inequality.  Understanding that good housing is ‘the bedrock on which we build our lives and reach our potential for health and wellbeing across the life course’ is fundamental to this.  Further to this, the impact of poverty and in particular fuel poverty, is a significant issue in ensuring that people have secure, sustainable home.  Reconnecting colleagues in health and housing is key to ensuring the contribution of housing to tackling health inequalities can be realised.

The ‘health’ theme of the CIH Housing Festival 2018 provided a wealth of evidence, political insight and opportunity to progress this agenda on housing and health.  NHS Health Scotland is a national Health Board working with and through public, private and third sector organisations to reduce health inequalities and improve health. We are committed to working with others and we provide a range of services to help our stakeholders take the action required to reduce health inequalities and improve health.  Over the next year, NHS Health Scotland will be taking forward a challenging programme of work to support and enable health and housing professionals to maximise the contribution of housing to improving health and reducing health inequalities.

What will our work programme include?

Our varied programme of work will focus on collaborating with colleagues from a range of sectors.  Our priorities include:

  • Working with Scottish Government to contribute to the revision of national policy and guidance;
  • Hosting engagement events bringing together local health and housing colleagues across Scotland;
  • Developing a suite of resources to support our health and housing colleagues in policy and practice;
  • Exploring how we can use a rights based approach to housing and improving health.

Are you interested to know more or be involved?

If you want to know more about our work, the events we will be hosting or the publications we will be producing, please leave your contact details on our contacts form or get in touch Katrina Reid, NHS Health Scotland’s Health Improvement Manager at [email protected].

Related LGiU Briefings: 

How Health and Housing Connect: lessons from the workshop

A Broader View: The impact of Housing on Health