Blog by Sue Adams, CEO of Care & Repair England
Care & Repair England has welcomed the reference to older people in the Housing White paper, ‘Fixing our broken housing market’, particularly with regard to the need for information and advice in order to make informed decisions.
However, we remain concerned about the lack of acknowledgement of the importance of adaptation and repair of the existing general housing stock to meet the needs of an ageing population.
The maths are simple – there are around 27 million existing homes and 9.5 million older households. There is very little housing demolition and even if 200,000 new properties are built each year, the homes that are already built are where the vast majority of us will age for the foreseeable future.
Most importantly of all, ‘ordinary’ homes are the places where the majority of people wish to live as they age. Specialist retirement and supported housing is a valued resource and a lifestyle choice for a minority, but it is currently only 4% of older households, with 96% living in mainstream stock. Even if the sector more than doubled, 90% of older households would still be in general needs housing. To fail to recognise this in housing policy will spell disaster for health and care.
It is certainly very important indeed to build all new homes to be inclusive, healthy places to live at any age and the White Paper comment concerning production of …..guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development documents should meet the housing needs of older and disabled people…(Clause 4.42) is welcomed.
Homes with basic access standards are also more ‘visitable’. Inclusive design can enable older people to stay with family & friends for short periods, including to be cared for when they are ill/ recuperating, the virtue of which has recently been extolled by government ministers.
So yes, let us build new homes that are also good for ageing.
However, there still needs to be an acknowledgement that moving home in later life is neither the aspiration (94% of older people are happy with their home and neighbourhood) nor a realistic option for many older people, particularly those with fewer assets, and at the bottom of the housing ladder.
Mrs Jones in her two bedroom terraced house in Stoke on Trent is in a very different situation when it comes to ‘later life housing choices’ to Mr Brown in a similar sized property down in Henley upon Thames – although both may be perfectly happy where they live if surrounded by good neighbours, with access to shops, public transport and able to maintain/adapt their home.
We need a mix of housing solutions for the wide diversity of later life situations – there really is no silver bullet. The sooner we start to base housing and planning policies on the reality of older people’s lives, move on from a simplistic ‘either move or adapt’ dichotomy, let alone the negative ‘older house-blocker’ narrative, the closer we will be to coming up with workable solutions.