Action on Mental Health: a guide to promoting social inclusion,
[esp Factsheet 6: Mental Health and Housing]
Social Exclusion Unit, ( Sep 2004).
For the full text, click here
For all those who have been hoping that “joined up government” will one day see a better recognition of the role that housing plays in the matrix of community care[i], the Social Exclusion Unit’s long awaited report on mental health, published in May 2003, may at first have seemed rather a damp squib.
True, the report talks of access to decent homes as being part of “getting the basics right”[ii]. It indicates a wish to explore the operation of allocations policies, to see to what extent the needs of those more vulnerable through mental health are catered for by current systems. It calls for examples of best practice in preventing and managing rent arrears, and it endorses the idea of mainstreaming mental health awareness training for all housing management staff.
But in a world where delivery targets rule all other priorities, the only two actual “measurables” that the report could identify[iii] were the number of people now receiving housing-related support via Supporting People, and the number accepted as homeless and vulnerable on the grounds of mental health.
The obvious problem here is that the simplest way for a Local Authority to bring down the numbers identified as priority homeless on mental health grounds would be to raise the threshold for acceptance. Meanwhile, the government was evidently not prepared to commit itself to seeing either a growth, or a reduction, of SP-funded support services, so the only “measure” of improvement here was described as “contextual information”.
Neither target was really going to give us the new vision or the breakthrough in working relations between housing and mental health services that has been so long overdue. Those who had hoped for more, may be forgiven for seeing this exercise as just another wasted opportunity.
However, all was not lost. Behind the scenes, there had been a rapidly quickening pace of discussions between, on one hand, the SEU, and the rest of ODPM, including the Neighbourhood Renewal Unit, and on the other hand the National Institute for Mental Health for England, or NIMHE – the body that was to inherit the task of implementing the SEU report’s recommendations.
The factsheets on housing that then appeared in September 2004[iv], as the culmination of the SEU’s work, showed the impact already of these discussions, with a far wider grasp of the issues to be tackled. These built on more detailed representation to ODPM over the previous year from advice/campaigning bodies such as MIND, Citizens Advice, and Shelter, and also some valuable preparatory work undertaken by NIMHE itself through 2003-4[v].
Factsheet No 6, on Mental Health on Housing, calls on health and social care staff to:-
· recognise the role that housing staff play in supporting people with mental health problems in the community, and develop collaborative working relationships with them.
· establish clear and effective channels for advice and referral for housing services
· offer informal and formal support to housing staff on mental health issues and housing management
and all three sectors, working together, to:-
· set up regular meetings/good practice forums between health and social care services and housing staff to increase understanding of each other's roles, pressures and priorities
· implement joint training to raise awareness, increase understanding, and deal with mental health problems and housing/support needs
· appoint a health and housing/homelessness champion to lead joint work in the Primary Care Trust/local authority.
and many other such practical measures.
Factsheet 6 shows NIMHE in earnest in wanting to tackle the fragmentation of vision between mental health and housing services.
But there is considerably more to do. The other major development to emerge from the SEU report, and from the transfer to NIMHE of implementation of the report, is the inception of the Housing and Mental Health National Project Team, to oversee and co-ordinate policy guidance and development advice.
For more on the current development of the H&MH NPT, return to the main RJA site, or click here.
[i] See for example Harker, M (June 2004) Housing with Care and Support,Vol 7, editorial
[ii] Social Exclusion Unit ( May 2004) Mental Health and Social Exclusion, pp 85-92
[iii] ibid, p 121
[iv] Social Exclusion Unit, ( Sep 2004) Action on Mental Health: a guide to promoting social inclusion, esp Factsheet 6: Mental Health and Housing.
[v] See, for example, Johnson R (June 2004) Mental health, social inclusion and housing; mapping the issues for service providers, in Housing with Care and Support, Vol 7; also An Agenda for Change: initiatives and good practice examples: Partnership Working between mental health and housing, published via NIMHE website, on