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Last week, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) hosted a conference with the Joint Improvement Team (JIT), NHS Scotland,   COSLA, the Third and Housing Sectors.  The title of the conference was:  “Making it Happen, the importance of housing in delivering health and well-being”.  Given our work in the sector, we were keen to attend:  this piece gives a few vaguely interconnected thoughts on the day.

At that stage we hadn’t met Jean.

The conference started with Alex Neil MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights talking about Housing. He gave a rather rousing (and unscripted) speech stressing the link between lack of quality housing and poor health, and emphasised that the Scottish Government’s two main housing priorities are to build more affordable houses and improve the quality of existing housing across all sectors.

And then, interestingly, he quoted a report, which appears to be as yet unpublished, but concludes that if everyone who worked in Scotland was paid the Living Wage then the country’s performance across the Scottish Indicators of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) would be improved dramatically.

(We’ve contacted our friends at the Poverty Alliance and they think the report is based on this work by NHS Health Scotland).

Whilst we believe that the Living Wage is an excellent initiative, we were struck by the comment of one senior housing colleague at the conference who reminded us that 49% of her tenants were not working:  for some of them, the Living Wage was still an aspiration.

The Cabinet Secretary had time for a few questions and in one of his answers was careful to stress the importance of housing to the new Health & Care Partnerships.  An RSL CEO that we spoke to afterwards believes that RSLs feel they have been invited late to the party and, at times, do not really feel like a full member of H&SC Partnerships.  Given the title of the conference, this is disappointing.

The main speakers highlighted the worrying pressures that are pushing and pulling most of the sector and in a powerful fictitious case study, one of the speakers, Eibhlin McHugh, the Chief Officer of the Midlothian Health & Social Care Partnership, raised the case of Jean, a frail lady in her eighties who still lives alone, despite a few recent falls that have dented her confidence:  she enjoys a strong relationship with her grandson who visits regularly.

Eibhlin asked us to think of what Jean’s preferred outcome was, and asked if all care, health and medical providers would be actively working together to help Jean achieve the outcome.

Rather uncomfortably, we were also asked to consider, for a moment, the end of our own lives and to think of what our priorities would be:  one simple question increased our empathy for Jean, albeit mixed with the unease of being reminded that none of us is immortal.

Eibhlin finished with a recommendation for the book ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gawande, which describes ageing as a single process, rather than a series of unconnected issues and can be found by clicking here.

It was a useful conference that highlighted the many pressures the sector is facing and generated much discussion.  Inevitably, hard decisions will have to be made and these are likely to be financially driven.

We wonder how they will affect Jean and those that support her?

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