Housing is at the heart of a good quality of life. This is especially true as we get older, when health and wellbeing, independence and end-of-life care can all be greatly enhanced by decent housing.
Four recent reports have underlined the importance of good housing for older people, and the wider benefits for society.
Housing with care: progress and problems
The Commission on the Role of Housing in the Future of Care and Support (CRHFCS) was established last October by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). The new commission aims to produce a blueprint to enable greater choice and availability of housing and support for people aged 65 and older who may find it difficult to live independently at home, or who choose to live somewhere which provides more support options. The Commission will focus on five key areas: care homes; retirement communities; retirement housing; supported living; and the Shared Lives schemes.
The first report of the CRHFCS highlights progress made since the Commission on Residential Care 2014 (CORC) reported its findings in 2014. There have been some positive developments concerning the take-up of more new technologies in care settings, such as telehealth, telecare and smart home devices to help people maintain their independence.
Progress has also been made on age- and dementia-friendly housing design. And the report commends the Housing our Ageing Population Panel for Innovation (HAPPI) reports for raising awareness of housing specifically designed for older people.
However, little progress has been made on CORC’s recommended expansion of the market to give greater choice of housing with access to care. Options remain limited, especially for those struggling to pay for accommodation.
The CRHFCS sets out some initial policy proposals. These include planning reforms to make it easier to build retirement community housing, and improved information and advice to support informed decision-making for older people seeking housing with care and support facilities.
The Commission’s final report will appear in the summer, when it will make recommendations about the future shape of housing that facilitates care and support.
Needed: a clear vision about housing for older people
The findings from the CRHFCS report are echoed in another report, published in April by the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research. The Cambridge report identifies numerous constraints to supply, investment and demand in the market for specialised housing for older people.
One of the study’s key findings is that retirement community development is unviable in many areas outside of London and the South East of England.
“Coupled with the fact that the majority of house moves made by older people are relatively local, this constraint to supply reduces housing options for those living elsewhere in the country, particularly home owners who do not qualify for assistance with housing costs. Unless the viability of retirement community development can be improved and the supply of mid-range retirement properties be raised, these households will have very little choice around moving in later life.”
Among the recommendations in the Cambridge report are calls for national government to provide a clear vision about housing for people as they age:
“For example, greater clarity is required around the joint priorities of ‘downsizing’ and ‘ageing in place’, and how these priorities can be best implemented at the local level.”
The report also recommends that local authorities should give priority to housing for older people, through the creation of clear strategic and local plans and guidelines for developers:
“Collaboration between local authority planning, social care, health and housing teams could allow for better planning around retirement housing. For example, retirement housing may make savings possible within health and social care budgets.”
The Cambridge report encourages housing providers to diversify the retirement housing offer, and to gain a better understanding of preferences of different older people:
“Rather than drawing on stereotypes of old age, providers face the challenge of recognising older people as a complex and heterogeneous group of consumers with diverse aspirations.”
Closing the generational divide
According to a report by the Intergenerational Foundation (IF), England now has two housing nations: the first is older, well-housed, often well-off, with space to work and self-isolate; the second nation is younger living in cramped flats or shared homes with little or no access to outside space.
The IF says that the pandemic has exacerbated housing inequalities between the young and the old, and observes that “…while younger generations have lost their jobs, their homes and even their mental health during COVID-19, older generations have stockpiled space.”
The report also highlights a rise in the number of second homes as a consequence of the pandemic. There are now 5.5 million second homes in England – a 50% increase between 2011 and 2020 – most of them owned by older people.
Space inequality has also increased. Owner-occupied homes have a third more space on average than privately rented homes, and almost double the space as social housing.
Like the previously mentioned reports, the IF calls for market failures on retirement housing to be addressed. It recommends reform of stamp duty to encourage downsizing, and reforms to the planning system both to give a greater voice to the homeless and badly housed and to encourage developers to build more retirement homes.
Making a house a home: impacts of poor-quality housing
While some older people enjoy the benefits of good housing, there are substantial numbers of people aged 50 and older living in poor-quality accommodation.
A report by the Centre for Ageing Better (CfAB) has found that living in cold, damp housing, or homes in a state of disrepair can increase the risk of illness and accidents. Poor housing also has wider impacts: first-year NHS treatment costs for over-55s living in the poorest quality housing are estimated at £513m.
But there are barriers preventing older people from making the improvements that would help them live healthier, more independent lives. These include a lack of finance and uncertainty about where to find trustworthy information about home improvements.
The CfAB report calls for a wider range of financing options, including government grants and loans, to help older people adapt their homes. It also recommends clear signposting and advice to support informed decisions about home improvements, as well as initiatives to raise awareness about the impact of poor quality homes on health and wellbeing.
The number of people aged 65 and over is set to rise from 12 million to more than 20 million by 2030. While poor quality housing presents risks for older people, age-appropriate housing can keep them healthy, help them to live independently and reduce the need for social care.
These reports highlight important issues that must be addressed not only to support older people, but to advance the radical changes needed to fix Britain’s broken housing market. Better housing for older people is better for us all.
The reports highlighted in this blog post have recently been added to The Knowledge Exchange (TKE) database. Subscribers to TKE information service have direct access to all of the abstracts on our database, with most also providing the full text of journal articles and reports. To find out more about our services, please visit our website: https://www.theknowledgeexchange.co.uk/
Further reading: more on housing for older people on The Knowledge Exchange blog