By Paul Morgan, Managing Director of Operations, Audley Group
Housing continues to be one of the biggest issues facing the UK at the moment and it’s a topic never far from the political agenda. But the solution is not quite as simple as the politicians would have you believe. The only initiatives suggested by Government so far have focused on first time buyers – but there is another much larger group who also need help.
Thanks to the baby boomers we are now an ageing population – there are currently 9.9 million people over the age of 65 in England, a number that is forecast to rise by 20% over the next decade. However, only 2% of the UK housing stock is designated as retirement housing. This ageing population boom will present a huge pressure on housing in the UK because there is a serious lack of appropriate homes for this group to move into.
Far too many of the older generation continue to live in a family sized home that is unsuitable and too large for them to maintain. Two in five UK homes are under-occupied and half of these are occupied by those aged 50 to 69. If we could release some of these into the housing mix then we’d be helping to free up thousands of homes for first-time buyers.
Further, there is a wider societal impact to focusing on this end of the housing market. Quality communal accommodation for older homeowners has a positive impact on overall wellbeing, according to a report from the International Longevity Centre. Having care facilities available to people to bring into their own homes as and when they need them can significantly ease the load on the NHS and care system, as well as ensuring that older people live in a community of like-minded people and combat loneliness.
Few people want to move into a care home in their later years. In fact our research has shown 99% don’t want to. This comes as little surprise when you consider the existing stereotype around this type of housing. That is why we need to be creating more high-quality alternatives that offer the facilities, sense of community and flexible care for future health needs, matching the aspirations of this demographic as well as their changing health needs as they get older.
Another answer might lie in the long awaited green paper on social care, something that now sits with the new health minister Matt Hancock. The green paper is due to be published very soon and will hopefully recognise the important role that housing with flexible care can play in taking pressure off the system.
For too long, the perception has been that social care and health care are two separate entities. This has caused challenges and prevented any real resolution to the strain on the social care system. The move to integrate the two has seemingly stalled, to be replaced with funding promises that, in reality, will have little long-term effect.
The growth potential for retirement property as whole, and those with care facilities incorporated in particular, is huge, and enabling older people to move into appropriate housing will free up homes for others, creating much-needed movement in the property market. While we are not suggesting this is an immediate fix, a generation of older people living in properties far too big for them with no care is surely a factor in the housing crisis, as well as the number of incoming hospital patients in the NHS.
Now more than ever, we need to become less blinkered about focusing our efforts on just helping first time buyers. There is a need to create more alternatives to meet the demands of older homeowners and giving them the opportunity to downsize without compromising their quality of life. In turn, this will release an estimated £400bn of wealth currently locked in the housing ladder from those living in under-occupied homes.