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Housing for older people should be a priority

Words: Laura Edgar
Retirement communities / iStock

There is an ‘acute’ lack of housing-with-care options for older people living in the UK, according to a report out today (21 October).

This is housing that allows people to live independently in self-contained homes that are purpose-built and have the capacity to provide care.

Housing and Care for Older People: Defining the Sector, by the British Property Federation (BPF) in partnership with Cushman & Wakefield, states that there are only 74,000 housing-with-care units in the UK, which accounts for just 0.9 per cent of older households. This is “significantly” lower than in the US, Australia and New Zealand.

This is backed up by a report published earlier this year by ARCO and the County Councils Network, which pointed out that in the UK only 0.6 per cent of over-65s live in a retirement community, compared with New Zealand and Australia, where it is nearly 6 per cent.

The BPF notes that while the report considers UK-wide demographics and unit numbers, with different planning systems, Scotland and Northern Ireland are out of scope for the analysis in the report of the scale of new housing-with-care stock required to keep up with future demand.

According to Housing and Care for Older People: Defining the Sector, England and Wales delivered 3,500 housing-with-care units a year from 2015 to 2019.

As there are around 11 million people aged over 65 years in England and Wales, with an estimation that by 2029 that there will be 2.1 million more, the BPF says there is a growing disparity between supply and demand.

If England and Wales are to match the housing-with-care available in the US, Australia and New Zealand by 2029, it means that 45,000 new housing-with-care units must be built every year.

Alongside housing-with-care, care homes, housing-with-support and other suitable models for older people should be delivered as part of a holistic national strategy. However, should an older person want to move into specialist housing, the options in England and Wales remain slim.

The report states that housing-with care accounts for just 16 per cent of the housing stock for older people, while 8 per cent of local authorities in England and Wales do not have a single housing-with-care scheme.

Melanie Leech, chief executive at the BPF, urged the government to “make purpose-built housing for older people a national priority”.

“It is critical that the country’s housing sector delivers new, purpose-built homes to serve older people’s aspirations, many of whom will continue to live productive and independent lives, but may wish to have certainty that their future care needs will be provided for.

“The current lack of housing-with-care is acute. Our ageing population needs more fit-for-purpose, affordable, high-quality housing and this will have positive implications for issues as far reaching as social care, isolation and integration, generational inequality, and employment and skills.”

Housing and Care for Older People: Defining the Sector sets out a number of recommendations.

The report sets out three recommendations for the government to support an increase in supply of housing-with-care:

  • The UK Government should establish a Housing for Older People Taskforce. It should be made up of a wide range of stakeholders from the public, private and voluntary sectors, and its remit should recognise and promote the benefits of purpose-built housing for older people. It should have a particular focus on housing-with-care, and to provide local authorities with the resource to help plan for such accommodation with local need in mind.
  • The UK Government should develop and publish a national strategy for housing for older people. In line with a recommendation made in 2017 by the then-Communities and Local Government Committee, the government should establish a strategy that reinforces the national significance of this issue. The strategy should ensure that all forms of appropriate housing are provided for older people as a key part of national and local housing targets.
  • Priority should be given to projects that exhibit a commitment to achieving the UK’s zero-carbon ambitions. The government should consider implementing measures to fast-track planning projects that exhibit high sustainability standards while addressing the pressing demand for housing for an ageing population.

Caryn Donahue, head of retirement living at Cushman & Wakefield, commented: “The UK’s elderly population is very underserved with minimal housing options and a need for aspirational fit-for-purpose housing that allows older people to live independently and age in place. The supply and demand disparity that exists across the country is urgent and the problem is only growing as the baby boomers enter later life.

“Through our partnership with the BPF, we created this report as a call to action for government to take an active role in supporting the real estate industry and creating a strategy to ensure that the ageing population has high-quality housing options available to them.”

ARCO this week published a survey of its members, who have reported a “very significant” increase in the number of older people enquiring about and moving to retirement communities. The retirement community has asked the government to create a Housing-with-Care Task Force to help unlock barriers to the expansion of the sector.

Housing and Care for Older People: Defining the Sector can be found on the BPF website (pdf).

Image credit | iStock