Back in 2001 I had my first book published; Environmental Health and Housing. My publisher told me he expected that I would go onto write more. I said that I doubted it: everything I knew was at that point in that book and I doubted I would ever have it in me to write another.
How wrong I was, and how right he was! Multiple publications later I asked my friend and colleague Zena Lynch if she’d like to write the second edition with me. She happily agreed and we set off on our task which is just about at completion and due to be submitted to the publishers.
I thought the book may look broadly similar, but again – how wrong I was! I have found it staggering just how much has changed, and how much worse so many things have got. In this week when the Guardian reports that now 4 in 10 Right to Buy ex-council houses are now rented privately, the word ‘affordability’ has become a complete (bad) joke; and that we continue to walk past freezing people sleeping on the streets, and so many are stuck in hospital and can’t get home for want of some minor adaptations, and we know that so many children will be spending Christmas in temporary accommodation….
Writing the book has made me both proud, and very angry. I am so amazed and inspired by what my colleagues working in environmental health and housing continue to do, despite – it almost feels – governments best efforts to stop them in their tracks. I am proud to have been able to work with Zena to help consolidate so much information on positive strategies and interventions into this book.
My anger comes from the confounding issues. The obsession with the privately rented sector as the now main provider of housing to those with few if any choices in the housing market. It simply does not provide what we need, which is security, roots and cohesion. We know that it is highly cost effective to spend on housing and not health care, both in simple economic terms, but more importantly for people’s quality of life and general wellbeing – and yet we do not. Why is this? It really is quite beyond my understanding.
This edition of the book is very different. It looks at the links between housing and health, and how we can more effectively intervene to improve health outcomes. We look at housing as home – and with this definition – see how very far away some policies are from delivering on that. We look at mental health and the ongoing and heartless policy that continues to deliver short terms tenancies so that households are not able to put down roots, something that surely be at the heart of any civilised society. We look at older people and wonder about the services we could or should expect when we reach old age, and even extreme old age.
I realise how much I have learnt since 2001; how many fantastic people I have been lucky enough to meet; the archives I have trawled through; the films I now know; art I have seen; and photographs I have taken across the country. What continues to utterly perplex me is vagaries of housing politics and the lack of consistent investment and policies around housing.
In all that I have seen, I know with utter certainly that housing policy should be the most important priority of any government because so much stems from it, so much relies on it.
This week, Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, was reported as saying that this is what we need: “a job, a home and a friend is what makes a really difference to health”.
How right he is. And is this really too much to ask? I don’t think so, and hope that I never will.
With seasons greetings.