It’s not just "generation rent" that is struggling; the government must do more to support the elderly in finding a comfortable home for later lifeby Clive Betts / February 27, 2018 / Leave a comment
From issues of affordability and social housing to the discussion over where best to build more homes, housing policy is never far from the centre of the political debate.
While a great deal of attention is often given to steps to help young people in the housing market, with a growing ageing population there must also be a focus on ensuring that we can support older people to live comfortably in later life.
By making sure we have the right measures in place and the housing on offer is suitable to the hugely varied needs of older people, we can not only go some way to easing pressures in the wider housing sector but also help to address another of the great challenges of our time—how to look after the ageing population and reduce demands on a social care system that is already under pressure.
The Communities and Local Government Select Committee, of which I am Chair, has just published a new report on precisely these issues. Underpinning our recommendations is a call for a national strategy for older people’s housing to bring together and improve policy in an area that has been too disparate and disjointed for too long. A key aspect of this is increasing the supply of new homes for older people.
National and local planning policy should be coordinated to encourage the construction of more of all types of housing for older people. Just as you would expect in any other age group, the needs and preferences of those in later years is very varied so we should make sure this is reflected in the type of accommodation on offer.
Extra care, retirement, sheltered and accessible housing across the social and private sectors is needed. We heard evidence of a shortfall in supply of specialist homes for older people in the face of significant demand. This limits the housing options available to older people and the opportunity to derive the health and wellbeing benefits linked to specialist homes.
An amendment to the National Planning Policy Framework to emphasise the key importance of the provision of housing for older people in both local authority plan making and decision taking would send a strong and much-needed message.
To help with delivery at a local level, councils should also be required to publish a strategy explaining how they intend to meet older residents’ housing needs and identify a target proportion of new housing to be developed for this purpose and identify suitable well-connected sites for it.
Reforms to the planning classification of specialist housing would reduce the level of planning obligations required from developers and act as an incentive to build more of these age-appropriate homes. The Committee heard that the level of planning obligations—which require the negative impact of a development to be mitigated—is increased as a result of the communal areas which are a feature of specialist housing. This is impeding the delivery of homes.
Encouraging planning authorities to facilitate and developers to build more homes would have a large and lasting effect for generations, but the committee is also calling for smaller practical steps that would make a huge difference to older people, especially those who would like to remain in their own homes.
The government should restore funding to the FirstStop Advice Service to run an expanded telephone operation giving a valuable holistic service for older people so they can be properly informed and make the best decisions about where and how they want to live.
This would give advice on everything from heating and care options to adaptations and moving home.
Another measure that would have a real everyday impact would be the expansion of Home Improvement Agencies to ensure there is at least one in each local authority area. Most older people would prefer to stay in their homes, and proper support from handypeople and a “trusted trader” scheme could have a significant role to play in providing small repairs, general maintenance and ensuring that they could stay comfortable, safe and healthy.
We would hope ministers will now take our recommendations seriously as the government brings forward its green paper on social care later in the year. Ensuring the right kind of housing is in place can help reduce the need for home or residential care, relieving pressure on the health service and helping older people stay healthy and live independently in their homes.