The time has come for housing to be recognised as a strategic partner for health and social care

As a sector, we feel that housing has much to offer the NHS and social care in addressing the significant challenges they face.

Mark Gardner is Group Chief Executive at Ocean Housing in Cornwall

Mark Gardner is Group Chief Executive at Ocean Housing in Cornwall

23 July 2018

The public health movement and indeed housing associations originate from the recognition a hundred years ago that to really improve the health of the nation, we had to first address bad housing conditions.

But fast forward to the present day and we aren’t, talking about where people live in the same breath as health and social care integration.

We see great examples of different projects where a positive difference is made as a result of health and housing collaboration, but sustainable and integrated programmes of collaborative work are thin on the ground.

There are, of course, barriers to multi-agency collaboration especially when budgets are tight and service demands are high.

So how can you make the breakthrough?

In the housing sector in Wales, we realised that offering solutions to what we thought were key problems wasn’t the approach to take. Instead, we asked what the biggest problems were that NHS and social care colleagues needed help with. When positive progress was made and cashable benefits evidenced, the barriers started to come down.

Collaboration still required a significant and continuous effort, but the outcomes were making a difference, and are still delivering through models such as ‘In One Place’, with the Welsh Government supporting collaboration between sectors across the country.

In Cornwall we are exploring collaboration between the health, social care and housing sectors based upon the following backdrop:

  • We have a government that wants to build more homes (all types and tenures) and an agency Homes England which operates to a strapline of ‘how can we use our resources, land and powers to help you achieve your ambitions’.
  • We have a council that wants to see the provision of 52,500 new homes by 2030 including 3,500 extra care units, and puts its hand in its pocket to build new homes itself, and support housing associations to do the same.
  • The council has recently appointed a new director, jointly funded by the NHS and the council, to lead on the integration of health and social care.
  • We have a director of public health whose last annual report was focused upon health and housing.
  • We have significant health and social care challenges with one in four households over 65 years of age.

We have developed a memorandum of understanding that sets out the basis for our collaboration, and it is currently progressing through management and political decision-making processes prior to signature, but there’s an appetite to start to get things done.

The National Housing Federation and organisations like The King’s Fund are making the case for collaboration across England, but we just can’t afford to leave the housing sector in the waiting room any more – we’re much more effective in the consulting room, where decisions are made and plans for change developed and implemented.

I’ll keep you updated about what’s happening in Cornwall, but it’s important that we all use forums like this one to share our ideas and stories of good practice so that we can keep making the case for collaboration, and to open up access to practical local solutions to health, social care and housing problems.

There is a time and a place for everything, perhaps the time for housing to be recognised as a strategic partner for health and social care has come.


At the National Housing Federation, we promise to help housing associations influence devolution to create the best possible environment for social housing and your customers. The devolution hub is at the heart of how we will deliver on this.

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