How we are going to help implement Theresa May’s social Justice vision at Sevenoaks District Council
The night that Theresa May became our Prime Minister, she said:
We will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.”
And in Sevenoaks we will do everything we can to ensure that our Prime Minister’s vision becomes a reality.
In Sevenoaks we have huge planning constraints (93% Greenbelt and 60% Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – ANOB), with house prices up to seventeen times higher than average wages – we know how important it is for us to do as much as we can to increase the amount of affordable homes we have in our district – in the interests of balanced communities.
Our basic human needs are water, food and shelter – housing. In order for people to live well housing does not simply mean a roof over their head but suitable accommodation that meets their needs.
Families that over occupy their homes are more likely to suffer from stress and mental health conditions and their children are less likely to do well at school. Older people that are asset rich and cash poor that live in large deteriorating homes; that are expensive to heat and full of trip hazards – ideally need to move into purpose-built accommodation nearby where they can live life more fully. If it is not possible for them to move, or if they do not want to move then Sevenoaks District Council is there to adapt their homes and advise on fuel efficiency to increase their wellbeing.
People who living with debt, probably due to mortgage or rent arrears, are likely to suffer from stress that can lead to mental and/or physical health problems. If debts continue to rise – people are at risk of eviction and ultimately homelessness. That is why Sevenoaks District Council has our holistic advice service: HERO (Housing, Energy, Re-training Options) to advise people how to tackle the debts before it is too late whether it means different benefits, securing new or different employment or other solutions. HERO is so successful and nipping debt in the bud – that Sevenoaks has very little homelessness.
We aim to upskill HERO into Super-HERO where they will also be able to advise on health needs that often linked to debt. And to help older people get their much needed repairs completed we are launching Handy HERO – as a trusted service to repair the rickety step or add that rail to complement our Disabled Facilities Grants (DFG) service.
Sevenoaks District Council is currently assessing our housing needs so that we know how many first-time buyers we need to home, how many family sized homes we need to free up or build, and how much older peoples’ accommodation we need. Then we will look at a range of flexible housing solutions to try and meet that need – as well as we can given our planning constraints.
We will work with Housing Associations to provide social and affordable rented accommodation as well as shared ownership schemes. We will promote the Government’s starter homes scheme and Help to Buy. But we will go further than this. We will look at building starter micro homes to help our young people step onto the housing ladder, we will examine granny pods in the back gardens of their adult children’s homes, we will give older people the support they need to down-size into more suitable accommodation if that is what they want – but fear actually doing it. We will look at rent to buy schemes and build to rent. There are so many housing solutions for peoples’ needs and we are determined to provide those solutions for our residents. We will work with parish councils and communities, as well as housing associations and developers to achieve this.
We also understand the importance of a local connection housing policy so young adults can afford to live in the area where they grew up. Local connection policy helps to keep families and communities together – which is a major tool in combating loneliness – a terrible fete that awaits many of our older people. And a major stress on younger people not being close to their older residents.
But we are going to go further still with our social reforms. By focussing our public health tools on our three health objectives: Ageing Well, Obesity and Mental Health, we aim to significantly increase the wellbeing of our residents and reduce dependence on our health service and social services.
We aim to continue to promote independent living because we know that a hospital stay for an older person significantly reduces their life. We will do all we can to assist people to live at home as long as they can by providing the purpose built housing that they need, or by adapting their current home to ensure it is warm and hazard free. We will use our planning powers to make sure our communities moving forward are suitable for older people, and our young people to play outside safely.
We will continue to work towards Dementia-Friendly status for our residents so they can live independent and fulfilled lives in the communities – whether this is through our Shop Safe, Stay Safe scheme or training our taxi drivers to be dementia friendly. If the community is dementia-friendly it will be more friendly altogether – promoting independent living for all older people.
We also do all we can to combat loneliness by championing local connection policy that will help to keep families and communities together but also by engaging with community groups and voluntary organisations to keep people busy and active. As the leisure authority we will do all we can to provide leisure opportunities for our residents that will also help with their physical and mental wellbeing as well.
It is difficult to maintain a healthy weight given modern life styles. However obesity leads to many health conditions including Type Two diabetes that can also lead to more complex health issues including blindness. This means that unless we can help people to shed those pounds we face an older generation in the future that will not only be frail but possibly blind as well.
We will work with parish councils to promote their allotments to help people keep fit by growing their own supply of healthy food, we will do all we can to make the best use of our countryside – promoting our footpaths, bridle paths and cycle lanes.
We can use planning to make sure new developments are walkable from stations and bus routes to encourage walking; we can use Environmental Health to encourage healthy menus in restaurants and cafes, and we can use licensing sometimes to encourage healthier food and drink.
Again, as the leisure authority we can do all we can to make sure there are leisure activities going on that encourage people from all ages and backgrounds to want to take part from archery to ballroom dancing.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health problem each year – so mental wellbeing is a serious issue.
Stress caused by debt contributes to mental health problems and we are doing our best to tackle this. Domestic abuse and bullying also leads to mental health issues and through our community safety work we are doing all we can to promote reporting and preventing abusive behaviour.
Fresh air, leisure and the arts does wonders for peoples’ overall mental health wellbeing. Again by opening up our countryside more, promoting leisure and supporting the arts our towns and villages we can really make a difference.
Loneliness and isolation leads to mental health problems and we will do all we can to tackle this through housing policy and the planning system (to make sure one-bedroom accommodation is not isolated) as well as promoting community groups and the voluntary sector. Again, local connections housing policy will help with mental wellbeing by keeping families and communities together.
At Sevenoaks we have a big agenda to implement – but we are determined to work with the government, the county council, the NHS, the parish councils and all in our communities to make this vision a reality.