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Why technology-enabled housing is critical to getting care and support right : Jeremy Porteus

Last year the Prime Minister announced that from 2022, all new homes built in England will be legally required to have an electric vehicle (EV) charging point. As someone who has recently bought an EV, I consider this an important step forward in the fight against climate change. Demand for clean energy cars is surging and regulation of the country’s EV infrastructure will push this forward.

But I’d like to squeeze another requirement on to the new build list.

As well as EV charging points, I’d like all new homes to have technology built in as standard, to support future care needs.

Not only would this mean that all properties constructed from 2022 are wi-fi enabled. They would also have a digital infrastructure woven into their very fabric, right from design stage.

This might include future-proof cabling, interoperable tech platforms, multiple power supplies or adaptors. Whatever the spec, by ‘hot wiring’ digital into homes, people can connect the gadgets they want to use - those solutions that give them independence, help them do things they love and that may prevent a deterioration in their health.

And if we digitally integrate homes in the right way, they will support individuals throughout their lifetime. As someone’s needs change and technology advances, their home adapts too, supporting not only the latest mainstream consumer devices but more specialist telecare or telehealth systems.

The government’s recent social care white paper highlights just how crucial housing is to care, explaining that where someone lives and who they live with is central to getting care and support right.

Despite this, we know that a significant number of older people and working-age adults with disabilities experience health inequalities that are made worse by their housing. This challenge isn’t just about digitally-enabling new builds, it’s also about adapting existing homes to reflect the changing needs of their occupants.

Physical adaptations such as grab rails and stairlifts are important, but I’m also talking about fresh ways of using connectivity and technology. For example, lifestyle sensors that identify a change in someone’s routine and a possible decline in their health or built-in smart speakers that remind someone to go to their favourite gardening club every Tuesday.

The benefits of creating smart living environments are wide-ranging. But we need to get better at evidencing this. Partners in the health and social care economy must understand the role high-quality housing plays in delaying residential care, reducing A&E visits and supporting early hospital discharge.

Research conducted by the Housing LIN, the Local Government Association and Southampton City Council, shows that if we get housing right there is a substantial health dividend. Inclusive, flexible, quality-focused homes can support the prevention agenda, and this must be recognised at a local level as all 42 integrated care systems become statutory later this year.

But to create the right housing solutions, we need robust data about future local care markets. Indeed, the government’s social care white paper acknowledges the importance of understanding housing needs and aspirations to shape future supply.

In the same way the NHS and local authorities use strategic mapping to project population health needs, they must integrate housing intelligence into their forecasting. This might include data about the condition of homes, the changing housing needs of local communities or even how extreme weather will impact housing in years to come.

Ultimately, people’s lived experience is key to getting housing right. Involving individuals and their families in the creation process means that housing solutions will be centred on helping them live happy, fulfilled lives, doing the things they want.

Ensuring housing is co-produced, person-centred, choice-led and outcome-focused are all ways to achieve this. They are also four of the ten principles set out in the recent Technology for our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation (TAPPI) Report. Following a 6-month inquiry, this report identifies the success factors and barriers to integrating technology into housing and care.

Drawing on the TAPPI recommendations, my ask is that all housing is digitally accessible, it can accommodate the future needs of residents and is care-ready, and that strong partnerships across housing, health and social care are forged.

The government’s announcement of £300m to integrate housing into local health and care strategies and another £150m to accelerate adoption of technology in care will help make these asks a reality. The question now is how to design and implement a staged programme, co-produced with people and their families, that puts them and their homes at the heart of care.

Jeremy Porteus is CEO of the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (Housing LIN)

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