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Improving health
Previously NHS Health Scotland

As an old and well known saying goes:

“If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep getting what you've always gotten.”

The good news is, the Scottish Government is clear that when it comes to housing, ‘business as usual is not an option’. 

The connection between Housing and public health is well understood.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) promotes the right to the highest attainable standard of health. It sets out that public services should do all they can to create the right physical as well as social environments in which people and families can flourish. In this case that means better housing. The right to health and the right to an adequate standard of housing are inextricably linked – we can't have one without the other. To increase the general wellbeing of people living in Scotland we need to ensure that everyone has access to a warm, dry, affordable home which meets their needs. 

 As recently as 2018 we recorded that there were:

  • 137,100 households on Scottish local authority housing waiting lists
  • 34,972 homeless applications
  • 14,075 children in households assessed as homeless

Investment in housing to date has been significant yet there still isn’t enough good quality housing in Scotland across the whole housing sector. We must see equitable standards, irrespective of tenure, so that our aspirational right to health is underpinned by the right to good quality housing.

Research suggests that high housing costs are one of the biggest drivers of poverty, especially affecting single adults and families with children. And we know that poverty is a driver of ill health.

Scotland’s first child poverty action plan Every Child, Every Chance recognises this. It includes actions around housing, highlighting the opportunity for Housing to 2040 to make transformational progress in eradicating child poverty and inequality. This would help make children less vulnerable to ill health, increase educational attainment and give them a better chance of a good job and a longer, healthier life.

Evidence also shows that through good quality housing we can address the 24% of households reported to be experiencing fuel poverty. 

Linked to this, in 2019 the Scottish Government declared a target for net zero Green House Gas emissions by 2045. To meet these goals we need to design, construct and build sustainable housing which considers the impact of adaptation and mitigation measures on health and wellbeing and health inequalities.

A few more important facts show the challenge ahead too.

In 2018 almost 100,000 disabled people were on housing waiting lists (EHRC, 2018) and analysis based on the Scottish Household Survey 2015 shows an estimate of the number of wheelchair user households in Scotland with unmet housing needs is 17,226 (19.1% of all wheelchair user households). Calculations based on current health trends project an 80% increase in the population of wheelchair users by 2024. We must ensure our supply of accessible housing meets this need.     

We must also ensure our new houses are in the right places, connected to communities, with green space, schools, well connected and affordable transport and amenities will lead to improved outcomes for people and communities especially for children, as I described earlier.  Taking a place based approach to planning and developing housing, in urban and rural areas, is fundamental to addressing and delivering warm, dry, affordable and accessible homes. 

One of the Public Health Priorities is to create “A Scotland where we live in vibrant, healthy and safe places and communities”. Homes that can adapt to physical, environmental and human requirements that meet households’ changing needs over the life course are key to achieving this and all of us working in public health should work together to do it.

We already know we don’t want what we’ve always got. So let’s get serious about the opportunity in Housing to 2040 and stop doing what we’ve always done.

The Scottish Government is asking for your suggestions for innovative, bold and imaginative proposals in order to deliver the Housing to 2040 vision. Your views will help to inform the Scottish Government’s final vision and route map to 2040. The consultation is open until 28 February.

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