Taking Stock – the outlook for housing & ageing

Hardly a day goes by without there being another story about housing from every side of the political debate. However, nearly all of these are about property price trends, affordability and supply shortages for first time buyers.

The current plight of ‘generation rent’ is undoubtedly a pressing issue as thousands of younger people struggle to find a place to live at all, let alone pay their ever increasing rents. However, homes really are more than bricks and mortar to those who live in them, and it is critical that we don’t lose sight of quality in the race for quantity.

Every home built will be there for much longer than its first occupiers – it is a resource for the future, hence the critical importance of creating sustainable, inclusive and flexible places to live, designed to meet current and future generations’ needs for healthy, accessible places to live.

There are real worries about a ‘race to the bottom’ with regard to space and design standards. The long term consequences of building extremely small, low design quality and inflexible homes are both costly to society and also to individuals.

A quieter but no less important housing issue is growing, and receiving far less attention – the wider social impacts of housing shortcomings for an ageing population. At a time when the fastest growing age groups in society is the over 80s and over 55s this seems remarkably short sighted to neglect housing for these generations, not to mention a missed opportunity by the private sector given that home ownership amongst older households is 75%.

And what of the adaptation of the current stock where most of us will live as we get older? The great news in 2015 of national government increasing its funding for adaptation grants [paid through the Better Care Fund] does not yet seem to have prompted local innovation in integrated delivery or adequate budget setting in most localities.

The full effects of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 are yet to be felt, but just some of the worries of housing providers are the future financial viability of sheltered and supported housing and the potential loss of the more suitable and adaptable stock for older and disabled people as a result of the new Right to Buy. In the case of the latter, there are specific concerns about the scope for financial abuse of more vulnerable older tenants, particularly in high equity areas.

Meanwhile the potential effects of future welfare reform are also giving social landlords sleepless nights, particularly the planned introduction of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap. With health and social care already under pressure, these sectors can ill afford to deal with the problems that could arise if older people, living in both supported and also general needs housing, start to face housing costs difficulties.

The Housing & Ageing Alliance is keen to stimulate debate about all of these and more issues that will impact on both individuals and also those involved in the ageing, housing, health and social care fields. It is organising a related policy seminar and will be inviting a range of sector leaders to share their ideas and thoughts in future blogs, so watch this space.

Also published on  the Housing and Ageing Alliance website. [Dec 2016]