Blog by Sue Adams, CEO of Care & Repair England

In this strange new coronavirus world we find ourselves living in, ageism is again rearing its ugly head. Most of those who die as a result of COVID19 are older people – nearly 90% are over 65yrs – and the true figure might well be even greater, given the emerging issues around under-reporting, and the true extent of deaths in care homes.

Every day also brings news of the unequal impacts of coronavirus, with higher death rates amongst BAME groups, and those who are living in disadvantaged areas.

Never has housing inequality been so much in the news, albeit for all the wrong reasons.

With most of the population spending virtually all their time at home, the negative impacts of living somewhere cramped or cold, let alone with no outside space, on health and wellbeing is increasingly obvious.

The number of deaths at home has more than doubled in recent weeks, and we know very little about the situations of many frail, vulnerable people, including those discharged rapidly from hospital in order to clear beds ready for the influx of people with coronavirus.

Local Care & Repair agencies are identifying shocking examples of older people left unsupported at home, living in dire situations.

Such agencies (HIAs) have a long history of ‘reaching the people others don’t reach’. With falling rates of referral to HIAs by hospitals and social services, as well as limitations on home visiting, some HIA staff are telephoning past clients to make sure they’re getting the help they need. Whilst many people are fine, others are undoubtedly falling through the cracks. These HIAs are linking such people to critical help, as well offering emergency handyperson services to make homes safer.

Crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. We’ve seen a rise in scams, with older people yet again the main target. On the flip side, the mobilisation of thousands of new volunteers has been extraordinary.

The challenge is to ensure that opportunities are not missed to bring about longer term housing improvements. In the short term, making these enthusiastic volunteers, who are dropping off bags of shopping or phoning isolated older people, aware of housing risks and possible remedies would be so useful. Our new Living Safely & Well at Home ‘self trainer’ can help to raise this awareness, alongside this updated self help guide.

One challenge is to prevent ‘winding back of the clock’ when it comes to housing help for older people and NHS links. Already we’re seeing a return to the bad old days of hospital discharge to single room existence e.g. putting a bed and commode into the living room if people are unable to use the stairs, rather than organising a stair-lift so they can use the bathroom or sleep in their bedroom.

Let us hope that the experience of coronavirus will add impetus to action to make all homes better, healthier, more secure places for people of all ages to live.

[May 2020]