Social homes – foundations for building back better

As we all spend more time at home, the links between our homes and health have never been clearer. How can we build on those links to improve health outcomes? More than 1 in 4 people in Europe experience overcrowding. Many don’t have access to the affordable homes that allow them to live in good health. But social housing can bring many health and social benefits to individuals and their communities. Public Health Scotland presents new evidence which can be built on internationally.

Written by Katrina Reid

Good quality, sustainable housing that is affordable, accessible, and well-designed with enough space and access to green space is fundamental to protecting and promoting our physical and mental health. We all share this right to an adequate standard of housing, which is inextricably linked to the right to health[1]. As people have been advised to stay at home as much as possible throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the standard of their housing has had a strong influence on their lives.

What are the long term implications of COVID-19 measures and how can we recover from them?

The effect of housing on people’s ability to follow health protection guidance is an important issue to examine. However we must also consider the impacts of these measures in the longer term. From ‘stay at home’ messages which have left some people feeling lonely and isolated to housing insecurity as a result of the impact of reduced household income and unemployment, the role of housing in our recovery from the pandemic is stark[2]. Housing’s role in our recovery goes beyond the need to ensure that people have a roof over their heads; we must also consider how our most excluded families with experience of poverty, trauma and stigma access the support and care that they need to keep them in safe and secure at home.

In September 2020, a new research report was published with two clear messages for the role of social housing in our recovery from Covid-19.  The first, that investment in the social housing sector generates economic and social benefits for Scotland and its people. Secondly, that housing associations and co-operatives can, and should, evidence how their work aligns with the Scottish Government’s National Performance Framework.

A report on the impact on social housing

A report on the Impact of Social Housing: Economic, Social, Health and Wellbeing has been written by UK Collaborative Centre of Housing Evidence (CaCHE) and HACT for the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF), Public Health Scotland, and the Rural and Islands Housing Associations Forum (RIHAF). It brings together evidence that demonstrates the impact and value of social landlords’ housing and wider services. This strengthens our understanding for the important contribution that social housing makes to communities.

Key messages from this evidence include:

  • Increasing affordable housing supply in rural areas helps sustain fragile communities that are experiencing population loss. 
  • Good quality, warm, energy efficient affordable housing helps to tackle fuel poverty and may help to improve physical and mental health and wellbeing.
  • Housing Associations are supporting our national efforts to tackle homelessness.
  • Social housing providers are important community anchors. They are well placed to support antipoverty strategies leading economic and social cohesion at a community level.
  • Provision of social housing supports inclusive growth and increasing Gross Value Added by creating jobs and contributing to the economy and Scottish tax revenues.

A key recommendation from this report was to increase ability within the sector to measure and demonstrate the impact that social housing providers are making.  To support the sector to do this, SFHA has produced the Social Value Toolkit. Given the importance of increasing the affordable housing supply in Scotland, this toolkit will play a part in our ability to demonstrate the part that SFHA members continue to play in supporting our communities to build our social and economic recovery.

Showcasing successful social housing strategies

In Scotland the National Performance Framework (NPF) focuses on the success of a country as being beyond GDP by establishing accountability for population wellbeing and inclusive growth.  It provides a comprehensive platform for celebrating the impact of social housing extending across the life course and reaching into many aspects of tenants’ everyday lives. For social housing providers to demonstrate their impact for tenants, they must seek to measure their social value. However, this is coupled with housing associations facing increasingly challenging financial circumstances. They must balance the impact of Covid-19 for tenants with long term financial sustainability. Demonstrating impact is more important than ever, but evidencing prevention of poor health outcomes is remarkably difficult.

This report details four case studies. They demonstrate the breadth of activities delivered by housing associations and how their work contributes to inclusive growth and wellbeing for Scotland.  This includes work on, for example employability, money advice and tackling social isolation. These case studies showcase how social housing providers can demonstrate their impact and their role as community anchor organisations. This must be central to addressing structural drivers of health inequality and our social and economic recovery from Covid-19.

This learning supports the role of social housing providers in contributing to tackling inequalities.  Building on this, we would welcome opportunities to continue to share learning from across Europe. This will strengthen our understanding of how social housing can help us create a fairer, healthier society for everyone.



Katrina Reid
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Katrina Reid is Health Improvement Manager for Health and Housing at Public Health Scotland.  With 15 years of experience in public health, Katrina has worked in policy areas such as community development, childhood adversity, equalities, inclusion health and housing.  Katrina has led project and programme activity embracing a wide range of approaches such as outcomes focused planning and evaluation, knowledge exchange, rights based approaches, impact assessment, research and strategy development.  Katrina is Chair of a community led health project in Edinburgh and is passionate about working with others and contributing to health improvement and tackling health inequalities.


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