Longer life is a gift, but it comes at a price.
That’s the conclusion of the House of Lords report ‘Ready for Ageing’, published last week by the Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change.
One of the most comprehensive studies on the impact of our ageing population, it states that both Government and society are ‘woefully underprepared’ for managing the changing nature of our population across a wide range of policy areas, including pensions, housing, health and social care. It adds that no Government has yet had a coherent vision or strategy to ensure our country is ready for ageing. Unless preparing for this change begins in earnest, we risk letting a manageable policy challenge becoming an unmanageable public services crisis.
While the conclusions are alarming, it is positive to see the report focus so strongly on the role that housing plays in ensuring that longer life becomes a benefit and not a curse. The report states that the housing needs of older people need to be better addressed and given the same political priority as the housing needs of younger people. It makes three main recommendations to make this happen.
First, we need to make better use of housing equity. Many older people have seen the value in their homes increase considerably but have not viewed this as a solution to the challenges of living longer. People with housing equity need to be able to release it simply, without excessive charges or risk, to help pay for retirement and support their incomes. The report calls for Government to work with the financial services industry to improve its equity release products, as well as people’s confidence in them.
Second, housing must be used to preserve independence, which should be the central goal of housing policy. Well-designed and warm homes reduce the need for health and social care. For instance, home adaptations reduce slips, trips and falls and reduce hospital admissions and overnight stays. The report quotes one study by Care & Repair Cymru that shows how every £1 spent on home adaptations equated to £7.50 saved for the NHS. The report calls for the Government to support the role of home adaptation services through better public funding (perhaps by re-allocating some of the NHS budget) and through the growth in equity release schemes.
Third, the report calls for greater provision of more suitable, specialist retirement housing. It quotes a 2012 Shelter poll that concluded that 33% of older people (about 6 million people) would consider living in retirement housing if it was available. However, there are just 500,000 dwellings of this type in the UK, with four fifths being in the rented sector when most older people are home owners. The report calls for better local planning by local authorities as well as a review of the National Planning Policy Framework to encourage private housing for older people, recommending again that central and local government give as much priority to promoting adequate housing for older people as is currently given to housing for younger people. It also highlights the role of the new Health & Wellbeing Boards in joining up thinking in local housing, health and planning departments to ensure councils plan adequately for their ageing populations.
The Lords should be congratulated on publishing such a wide-ranging and hard-hitting report on the impact of ageing, and particularly for their focus on housing. The report has the potential to lead to a step change in the Government’s attitude towards managing demographic change, and we look forward to its response.
Paul Teverson is Head of Public Affairs at McCarthy & Stone. http://www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk/