It came as no surprise to me when I saw the findings of the recent ‘State of the Nation’s Housing: An ILC-UK Factpack’ report from the International Longevity Centre (ILC) earlier this month. It’s the latest report to highlight a major issue: baby boomers are stuck in housing that is unsuitable for their needs, a situation that is putting the whole property market at risk of grinding to a standstill.
It’s been well-publicised that the UK is in the midst of a housing crisis, yet government and housebuilders alike have exacerbated the situation with an ongoing focus on the wrong end of the market. Of course, it’s crucial that we pay due attention to making home ownership an affordable and realistic possibility for young people, and building new properties is a big part of that. But what is continually overlooked is that alongside housebuilding pledges, we should be encouraging older generations to downsize – as the ILC research highlights, our existing housing stock is becoming increasingly under-occupied; by over 16 million people to be exact.
These are much needed houses that families could move into immediately should there be suitable, high quality but most importantly aspirational retirement living options available for the older generations. This would go a long way in easing the already severe strain and lack of movement in the market.
The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People, which includes members such as Lord Best OBE and Ruth Cadbury MP, has recently called for greater incentives for the 8 million over 60s that are reportedly interested in downsizing. Help to Buy assistance for older buyers, exempting older people from stamp duty when moving to a smaller property and encouraging councils to ensure that local plans give priority to older people’s needs are just some of the proposed reforms and things we wholeheartedly support. While these are promising signs, we mustn’t try and run before we can walk – the fact remains that the level of choice of suitable housing for those over 65 must be improved.
However, the ILC report paints a bleak picture for countering this issue with a worrying shortage of 160,000 retirement housing by 2030. It’s vital that Theresa May’s new government now recognises the increasingly important role the retirement living sector plays in the housing mix, so we do not allow supply to dwindle further. Only then can we avoid what could be a potential housing black hole in the future.