This blog is one in a series of blogs on the Future of Ageing, published in the lead up to the ILC-UK Future of Ageing conference on the 24th November. To register to attend this conference, click here.
With homeownership levels among 25-34 year olds dropping from 59% to 35% between 2004 and 2014, the need to build more new homes suitable for our young population is undoubtedly essential. It’s also good retail politics for the Government given the positive headlines generated by initiatives like Help to Buy.
But the price of this single-minded focus is that the housing needs of older people risk becoming the forgotten part of the debate. In recent weeks, we have sat in a planning meeting with a Chief Executive of a leading English local authority who told us that he did not want older people to feature in his plans for the regeneration of his town centre. He declined to progress our proposals for an Assisted Living Extra Care development, preferring new homes for young people on the site. Older people would not use his new cinema or eat in his new restaurant, he told us.
The result of this laser-like attention on starter homes is that older people have very few options when they wish to move somewhere more suitable. For example, just c128,000 retirement properties of all types have ever been built for ownership in the UK, for c11m older people, most of whom are homeowners. This helps to contribute to the very low rate of downsizing among older people, as well as high rates of under-occupancy, when we know that millions of older people actively want to move if the right options were available*.
As well as being ageist, the Chief Executive was also being short-sighted. We explained to him that our homeowners are actually more likely to use his local shops and facilities. They have more spending power (they no longer have high mortgage payments) and most have released substantial equity by downsizing, which they would be looking to use. This makes them ideal town centre inhabitants.
We also explained that new retirement housing is actually one of the best ways to help first time buyers. An average McCarthy & Stone development releases existing homes worth around £9m. These are predominately large family homes that were previously under-occupied. By encouraging the building of good-quality and well-located properties that older people want to move to, thousands of existing homes could be released, boosting local housing markets and, via the chains created, allow younger people to jump onto the housing ladder for the first time.
But these arguments still didn’t convince the Chief Executive. Nor did our statistics showing the significant health and social care benefit of retirement housing. Better housing for older people reduces demand on public sector resources; it means older people spend fewer nights in hospital and can return home more easily. It also allows people to stay in their home and out of care; the state saves on average £30,000 for every year one person delays or avoids moving into publicly-funded residential care. Social care bills account for about a third of an average council’s spend, so it feels like a mistake not to look at ways to reduce them through better housing supply.
We also explained that there are early signs of change in planning policy to balance the needs of first time buyers with older people. The updated National Planning Practice Guidance says the need to build more homes suitable for older people has now become ‘critical’, and the new London Plan sets Borough targets for building new retirement housing for the first time. But still just 1,919 retirement properties were built for sale in 2014, so there’s a long way to go before the UK builds the properties it needs for older people.
To help address this, we’re calling for a planning system that is more pro-active, more forward-looking and more balanced towards encouraging the provision of new housing for older people across all tenures. We hope later life will no longer be the forgotten part of the housing debate and that retirement accommodation can help to create a healthy housing chain that supports everyone back down to the first time buyer.
*Research by Demos in 2013 suggests 3.5m older people would consider buying a retirement property.
Director of Communications for McCarthy & Stone, the UK’s leading retirement housebuilder.
McCarthy & Stone are kindly sponsoring the ILC-UK Future of Ageing conference. Further sponsorship opportunities are available at the conference. For more information, please visit the ILC-UK website, or contact email@example.com.