Gareth Lyon, Head of Policy and Communications, ARCO (The Associated Retirement Community Operators).
Development does not need to be a zero-sum game. One person’s gain does not need to be another person’s loss.
This is the governing philosophy behind the Government’s recent Planning White Paper. It is present in its emphasis on trying to encourage attractive and visually appealing development which will enhance our towns, rather than the ugly blocks which have defaced too many of them. It is also the reasoning behind the policies to encourage more brownfield site development and development in areas which the Government is looking to “level-up.”
It is however a philosophy which is entirely absent when considering the type of housing the UK’s ageing population requires.
There is a definite irony then in that the title of the White Paper is Planning for the Future. Despite all the uncertainty around the future one thing we do know for sure is that we are all going to get older!
The Government is rightly concerned with the need to ensure that more young people are able to have a good home at an earlier age than they can at the moment. Yet their solution to this – the much trumpeted First Homes can only provide for a fraction of what is needed for that generation.
On the other hand, the White Paper includes not a single reference to the housing needs of older people.
Yet there is another approach, one which can help both generations and provide them with more good choices about where and how they live.
Earlier this year Professor Les Mayhew published a report – Too Little, Too Late? Which argued that one of the most effective ways of meeting our national housing target is to ensure that our existing housing stock is better distributed, by giving more older people who want to downsize good options – particularly more housing-with-care.
The report showed that there are more than 15 million “surplus” bedrooms in houses occupied by people over the age of 65 and with an ageing population this unused surplus of bedrooms is set to reach 20 million by 2040. The report also identifies the lack of age-friendly housing in the UK limits the options for millions of older people who would otherwise be open to moving, freeing up larger homes for families, who themselves would free up homes for young people.
From the evidence we see from older people themselves, there is a strong and unmet demand for housing-with-care – where they continue to have their own homes in a development with extensive shared facilities, 24-hour staffing and CQC registered domiciliary care.
Housing-with-care, most commonly referred to as Retirement Communities, Retirement Villages or Extra Care is fast growing in popularity – and a series of major investors have shown their willingness to develop the provision the UK needs.
By providing support and care when needed for older people who do not need to be in a care home, keeping them independent for longer, more active, more healthy and more well this form of provision can deliver billions of pounds worth of savings for the health and social care systems.
Currently, the UK’s lack of supply of housing-with-care means that many older people spend more time in hospitals than they need to and have few choices if they wish to move to more appropriate housing.
Behind this is the fact that 89% of local authorities do not have policies in their local plans to assess their local need for this form of housing or policies to encourage it. Nationally the picture is little better, with Ministerial Guidance being insufficiently robust or clear on what the choices are.
The way in which the housing and care needs of older people have been missed out of the White Paper is a symptom of the current lack of joined-up thinking in this area.
That’s why an increasing number of voices from the worlds of housing, care, older people’s charities, politics and major investors are backing our call for a Government Task Force and a clear plan to grow housing-with-care provision for older people which covers a range of issues including consumer protection integration in the wider social care system and, crucially, planning.
Our planning system needs to work for people of all ages. Ensuring that older people have more good choices will mean that more good housing becomes available for everyone.