Home is where well-being begins
The links between tackling our housing crisis and the nation's health are growing.
The Building Research Establishment estimates that avoidable disease and injuries caused by poor housing costs the NHS at least £600m a year. A safe, settled home is the cornerstone on which individuals and families build a better quality of life.
A homeless person’s life expectancy is 46. Giving a homeless person a fiver, a coffee or a sandwich doesn’t change the long term – the life expectancy still remains 46. It may make the donator feel better and there’s certainly something to be said about the kindness of people but the real answer is to have a holistic approach to individuals that does not just mean bricks and mortar or modular units for a roof over their head. It means that the planning of services beyond housing supply is critical and the Well-being of Future Generations Act principles and goals could provide the answer to this if considered and delivered properly.
In contrast, a failure to address the issues which lead to homelessness and poor housing multiply inequalities and have a long-term impact on physical and mental health as well as a huge cost to the public purse. The health effects of poor housing disproportionately affect vulnerable people: older people living isolated lives, young adults with disabilities and those without support networks.
Despite the positive effects of the Housing Act, the continuing problems are in part because the public sector is working with old systems and still expecting them to be fit for the future.
We know that currently, housing associations house around 10% of the Welsh population, and around a fifth of all homes in Wales receive housing benefit. How are the challenges facing Wales as a whole going to impact on the housing sector?
The sector has the potential to address some of these systematic problems in terms of the Well-being of Future Generations Act, as there is already an understanding about the interconnections between housing, carbon emissions, physical and mental health, domestic abuse and violence, education and attainment levels, employment, resilience, community cohesion and that sense of belonging.
We’re not talking about changing someone’s housing situation as if it exists in a box separate from the rest of a person’s life. We’re talking about empowering public services to reach beyond their siloes to focus on the things that in turn empower people to live the best life that they can.
With a commitment to invest £1.5 billion in affordable homes during this term of government through the Housing Compact, it is vital that the Well-being of Future Generations Act is seen as the lens through which this is investment will be made.
Thinking long-term, and thinking holistically about how a house becomes an economic driver, a social transformer, an environmental mitigator and a cultural asset will mean we’re not just spending our money wisely now but investing it for future generations.