Opinion

Social care reforms lack the holistic perspective

Paul Foster, Executive Chair, Castleoak
The UK Government’s commitment to raise funds for social care through NI contributions has been seen as a victory for the social care sector. And it is. More people on the breadline will no longer have to cover care costs. More people will have access to some Government support for their care. And the pressure of spiralling care costs has been eased. But the reforms only address one aspect of a growing issue, and only partially at that. Making more funding available for care does not address accommodation or sustenance. People will still need to sell their homes to cover the cost of aging. And it does not go to the root of the problem – how can we minimise reliance on care in general? Other countries like Sweden, New Zealand, and even the US have taken a much more holistic approach which facilitates a different lifestyle. It’s about acknowledging the issues caused by the current system and choosing to live differently. Housing-with-care is an essential piece of the puzzle. ARCO estimates that providing care in this setting costs £1,222 and £4,556 less per person per year for those with low-level and high-level care needs, respectively. The physical and mental benefits for residents lead to a 38% reduction in hospital visits. And a £5.6bn saving will be made for health and social care if 250,000 people aged 65+ live in housing-with-care by 2030. Those are the stats. For individuals, it means an easily accessible community which you can engage with as much or as little as you want to. Having the option of building relationships keeps you connected to the world, whether they be acquaintances that you wave to when you’re walking through your front door or deeper connections with people who share your interests. It means less time spent ‘dwelling’ on times gone by and what the future holds and more time living. It means assistive technology enabling you to live independently for longer and receiving the right level of personal care only when you need it. So what’s the problem? Provision isn’t where it needs to be, with only 0.6% of over 65s in the UK living in a retirement community/assisted living, and with that comes a lack of options for the level of care required, location, features and affordability. Luckily, investors are turning their heads to this area over sectors like retail – in fact, we’ve never seen this level of demand in the 35+ years we’ve specialised in this area. But the recent ruling to classify housing-with-care under Use Class C2 will mean that provision for affordable housing will need to be accounted for in planning applications, providing a further barrier to a critically undersupplied market. The challenges associated with under provision must be overcome and matched with a change in how we perceive housing-with-care and, with that, aging. A stiff upper lip is a common ailment in the UK. We like to think that we can cope until we really can’t. As a result, we hold onto homes which, once our pride and joy, are no longer manageable. We become wistful over the fact that our lives aren’t as busy as they used to be. We resent the fact that our children don’t see us as often anymore. Added to that is our distaste for renting, a yearning to ‘possess’ our homes and a fear of being ghettoised. Culturally, it may seem like a hard sell but, as our population ages, generational perspectives will change. Younger generations are much more open about needing help and aware of the need to look after their mental health. Renting is a reality for many, with estimates that there will be more than a million renters aged 65+ by 2035. And as provision grows, so too will options that are integrated into our locality of choice. Choose to live in a repurposed and lively city centre, at a boutique communal suite just around the corner from your family, or in a cosy, quiet neighbourhood by the sea. In keeping with the holistic approach, the necessity for moving to a housing-with-care model goes beyond addressing immediate care needs. Space. More than 500,000 bedrooms will be freed up if 2030 housing-with-care targets are met and the apartment-style approach will use six times less space than family homes. Not to mention the operational carbon-saving benefits that could be achieved through optimised, smaller dwellings. The latest social care reforms, while noble, have been rushed. Perhaps this is by design to tackle the immediate crisis. But further measures need to be approached more holistically if we’re to solve the problem long-term. We need planning barriers for housing-with-care to be removed. And we need incentives and education to help people see the advantages and appeal of a different approach to life as they get older.

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