Attitudes to specialist housing must change to support ageing population
August 4, 2014
As the ageing population in the UK grows, so does the reporting around loneliness, isolation, care scandals and budget cuts. We need to do more to help our older people remain independent, healthy and integrated. It’s important for care providers, developers, local authorities and planners to wake up to the solutions available, particularly around housing.
As people grow older, their housing needs change. While vast time and resources are spent to help first time buyers get a foot on the property ladder, last time movers are neglected.
Older people currently occupy nearly a third of all homes and almost 60% of the projected increase of households from 2008-2033 will be owned by someone aged 65 or older. But provision of specialist housing for older people is woefully inadequate and will remain so at current rates of development. A recent Demos report indicated that 33% of the over 60s would be interested in downsizing if they had somewhere suitable to downsize to. We need to be thinking about where this generation of older people can retire to, as well as the next.
With the Health and Social Care Information Centre reporting that one in five older people is lonely or alone for much of the time, integration for older people both at home and in care is key. While some can rely on neighbourhood friends and family for a helping hand, the population of over 85s is set to double in the next 20 years, which means we need to be creating innovative and long term plans now.
Efforts to combat loneliness with technology, phone lines and volunteering are admirable, and important, but older people need and want to live in communities where they can find activities, friends and shops on their doorstep – just like the rest of us.
The government has stated that it wants to make the UK one of the best places to grow old, but this ambition will fail without a major shift in housing policy for older people. We need to boost funding and planning permission for specialist housing for older people and create a real market choice.
Retirement communities and extra care villages provide community for precisely the types of people that might suffer most from loneliness, as they don’t want to call on family and friends when they need more care. The perception of many local authorities is that retirement communities are exclusive gated communities for wealthy retirees, and that they are cut off from the local community, but increasingly retirement communities are providing both the social contact older people need and facilities for the wider community.
The Pannel Croft Village in Birmingham attracts residents from within a one-mile radius and has a diverse resident base. Some 70% of the residents come from the African Caribbean community and the next largest group are Irish residents. The village provides 180 affordable homes (80% rented and 20% shared ownership) and 18 health and social facilities for villagers and the local community. A range of activities involve the wider local community of all age groups such as computer classes, movie nights, gym activities, arts and crafts, karaoke and seaside trips.
Examples such as these should demonstrate that there is huge demand for this kind of housing and that providers have become much more sophisticated in what they are offering older consumers who want to find a home where they can ‘age in place’.
However, to meet that demand a more consistent approach to retirement communities and ‘use classes’ is needed, as often developers are subject to inconsistent charges depending on the local authority and perception of the benefits of these kinds of schemes.
Until we start building more specialist homes for our ageing population we will fall further and further behind in our ability to provide good care. By building at both ends of the housing ladder we will go a long way to ensuring the UK is the best place to grow old.