Healthier and Happier
This week a new report titled ‘Healthier and Happier - and Analysis of the fiscal and wellbeing benefits of building more homes for later living’ came across my desk. It has been produced by ‘Homes for Later Living’, a group specifically set up by Churchill Retirement Living, McCarthy and Stone and PegasusLife Group to promote greater choice, availability and quality of housing specifically for older people. It is another in a long line of reports from many different groups and companies which all get across the same point in a variety of ways. ‘Later Living’ has fast become the new word for Housing for Older People and encompasses the ever widening variety of typologies and tenures that make up this massively flourishing market in the UK for this sort of housing. It’s also a little more PC and relevant than the term of ‘last time buyers’ which I suggested a few years back!
The report re-rehearses the more than familiar refrain from the symphony of stats that often accompanies reports such as this but they don’t get any less staggering or remarkable. By 2020 there will be 2 million more people over 80 in the UK and this will increase to 10 million by the end of the century. 10 million people! That is more than the current population of London all over 80 years old. And don’t think for one minute that this means that we are all going to enjoy a longer care free life. Depressingly this means that people will live ‘less well’ for longer with increasingly complex care needs as the rise of dementia continues exponentially. That rise in people over 80 also means an increasing number living alone, facing social isolation. We are fast coming to the conclusion that loneliness kills. Most importantly this report recognises that, if things continue as they are, a huge proportion of the population will be living in accommodation that is inappropriate for them. Where this report differs from others is that it doesn’t view Older People as ‘The Problem’. It also recognises that for the vast majority of older people in this country, independence continues to be the most important attribute for them. Homes for Later Living recognises that what IS important, as is the case in any market, is choice. This choice has to range from enabling people to stay in their home for longer, independent living, housing with care, nursing care, and more higher dependency forms of housing. Where further consideration is required by the group, and indeed the entire industry, is how these forms of housing can be integrated alongside other forms of housing in proper intergenerational housing communities. The need for a radical step change in the approach to Later Living is overwhelming. However it is not me, nor the wider industry that need convincing. Many, including central government, are now advocating that homes for later living requires different treatment to main stream housing both in fiscal and planning terms. However, as ever, the treatment of this at local level is patchy at best. Don’t get me wrong - some authorities have embraced this challenge and tackled, head on, the tidal wave of demand for Later Living typologies within their boroughs and districts. However, often the gate keepers and decision makers are inconsistent in their approach to Later Living Typologies. All too often Later Living is a blatant retrofit to an otherwise questionable strategy to meet housing need in a borough. More often than not decisions made about Later Living in terms of demand and use class are shown to be incorrect through overturned appeals. The recent additions to the Planning Practice Guidance on Later Living Typologies is welcomed but goes nowhere near far enough. We need more guidance. We need more resources. But more than that, we need central government to start putting its weight behind this. Why is that an area such as Self Build (which in reality represents a tiny proportion of our society) has its own act of parliament, against which substantial weight is placed? Yet. The much greater need for Later Living typologies is accompanied by only a smattering of guidance and decent reports such as this? Where is the act of parliament that is much needed to enable policy makers and decision takers to place the weight against all forms of later living? We need to stop talking and start doing. 2020 is only next year.