Starts At Home Day Blog by Guy Stenson, GCH Chief Executive

Today is Starts At Home Day, highlighting the role supported housing, and indeed housing, plays in helping people to live their best lives, to be healthy and to retain or gain their independence. 

At Gloucester City Homes we work alongside some of the people in our county with the most complex and challenging circumstances including older and disabled people, domestic abuse survivors, people with poor mental health and people of all ages and backgrounds experiencing homelessness. Earlier this week at an event bringing colleagues together two of our Enhanced Support Coaches shared an insight into the work that they do over time building up the confidence of those they work with, seeking to understand what matters to them and supporting them to change the things that they want to change.  

In addition, last year our Independent Living Coaches assisted 139 of our older customers to maintain their independence so that they can thrive, not just survive and our Homeless Services team supported 84 homeless households into permanent housing. 

We work in partnership with statutory agencies and voluntary & community sector organisations across Gloucestershire and we know that providing tailored, person-centred support is vital to our customer’s resilience, health and wellbeing. It not only has a huge positive impact on their lives, but it is also critical to reducing homelessness and taking pressure off the social care, health and criminal justice systems, ultimately saving the taxpayer money. 

My own ‘lightbulb moment’ was nearly 10 years ago when I was working in West of England as a health & social care commissioner, I was focused on transforming the way we did things, heavily influenced by a drive to focus on what really mattered to people who needed supported, on embedding genuine coproduction, challenging the established way of thinking and recognising that people wanted a life not a service.  

I remember vividly one specific occasion shadowing a social worker I joined a multi disciplinary ‘virtual ward’ meeting in a typical north Bristol GP practice – of the 10 patients discussed that afternoon (without them being in the room), what was clear was that for at least 8 of them, a change in their housing situation was key to making the difference that was needed to improve their lives and to enable them to live a better life with a long term condition, or perhaps to regain their mobility and independence. What was equally clear that afternoon is that despite the best of intent no one from that multi disciplinary team really understood the world of housing which largely exists in parallel to health & social care. I made it my personal mission to do what I could to bridge that gap, to build relationships across health, social care and housing, trying to bring the best from each together.  

In Gloucestershire I found that some of those links were already in place and I’ve sought to use my role to develop them further where I can at a strategic level and support others to do the same. I’ve become an active member of the Gloucester City Integrated Locality Partnership which brings together primary and community care together with representatives from voluntary and community groups and the local authority, focusing on shared priorities and making tangible change happen. As a member of the Gloucestershire Health & Wellbeing Board & Partnership not only do I try to bring a housing perspective to the discussions, highlighting that core message of this year’s Starts at Home campaign – every decision about care should be a decision about housing –  I am able to bring back into the housing world a better understanding of the wider partnership priorities and help find common issues that we can all work together to tackle though our different lenses.  

Were it not for supported housing, 41,000 more people would be homeless, with a further 30,000 people at risk of homelessness. Demand for supported homes in England is predicted to increase by 125,000 by 2030. 

Supported housing is essential to society, yet we have seen a shortfall in investment in supported housing, and a lack of a long-term plan for housing. Today, as GCH we’re joining the National Housing Federation’s Starts at Home campaign calling for a commitment to long-term funding for supported housing. We need the government to: 

  • Ring-fence and increase long-term funding revenue for housing-related support, and ensure it matches, or exceeds, the £1.6bn per year allocated to English authorities in 2010. 
  • Reinstate the £300m Housing Transformation Fund, to ensure that social care and supported housing are integrated. 
  • Commit investment in social housing to make sure residents who move on from supported housing have a safe, affordable place to live. 

We’re also calling for every decision about care to be a decision about housing: 

  • Ensure funding for effective partnership working between supported housing, the NHS and social care. 
  • Ensure the Social Care White Paper’s call to ‘make every decision about care a decision about housing’ becomes a reality. 

As a final thought, regardless of our role I’d encourage everyone to do the thing that they can to make the difference and that are in their control, making change a reality and not just nice words or campaign slogans. This means challenging how we work, learning to let go and ensuring that we created the space to really listen to and act on what people tell us, bringing people who use services into the room – or better still, going to them, to co-design and co-deliver solutions.