Guest Blog by David Bookbinder, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) Scotland
Almost invariably, major strategies and plans feature prominently whenever our ageing population is on the agenda. They’re important documents, of course, but there’s nothing like hearing real stories about what’s going on out there to bring an issue to life.
A recent CIH Scotland event on Housing and older people threw up a few golden nuggets which were in one sense just anecdotal tales but behind which lay really significant issues.
Describing a major survey of older tenants’ views, a speaker from an English housing association explained how one of the things which irritated tenants most when they rang the rent account team was that the first thing they heard was ‘can we have your postcode please’. Tenant feedback was that a ‘hello’ would have been a better start to the phone call. The association put it right very quickly. No cost involved, much goodwill generated – and all because views were sought, listened to and acted upon.
More than one delegate at the event said it was still commonplace for older people to have to go to bed long before they wanted to because of the hours the care service operated within. As a housing professional distanced from the world of local authority care contracting, this was profoundly disturbing to me as I had honestly thought this was a thing of the past. Imagine missing out on social activities – or simply your favourite TV programme – because you have to be put to bed. Inevitably all the national and local strategies emphasise the importance of choice, personalisation and dignity, but the reality is that in some areas at least, statutory bedtimes are alive and well.
A specialist housing association talked about the many unfortunate consequences of the well-intended split between housing and support/care around the time of the introduction of the Supporting People regime some years ago. It meant that some tasks were undertaken by the landlord and others by the separately contracted housing support provider. There were all sorts of good financial, regulatory and legal reasons for the split, but did anyone think of how it would come over to the older person? The association in question was keen to provide a more unified service, not because it wanted to be ‘in control’ but simply because the older person preferred to talk to the same member of staff whether it was about a care need or a leaking tap.
And in CIH Scotland’s new report on models of ‘housing with care’ for older people (see it here), researchers found that successful partnerships have relied less on strategies and plans and far more on ‘committed individuals willing to share knowledge and communicate openly and honestly for the benefit of older people’.
So let’s remember that a pinch of salt is sometimes needed. You can have the most impressive strategy in the land but its currency may be questionable if some older people are still having to go to bed three hours before they want to.