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Improving housing options for older people

CaCHE Co-Investigator, Professor David Robinson, outlines a framework for guiding efforts to improve the housing options of older people. This blog draws on recently published research in the International Journal of Housing Policy

Population ageing is an established trend in the UK and is forecast to continue for many years. It is estimated that by 2043 16 per cent of the population will be 65 years old and over, compared to 12 per cent in 2018 (ONS, 2019). This shift in population toward older ages is a result of improvements in life expectancy and a decline in fertility.

The increasing number of older people in society is prompting demand for an array of new and extended services capable of meeting their diverse needs and preferences. Popular and political debate has focused on the implications for health and social care services. It is easy to see why, but there are other issues demanding urgent attention. A prime example is housing.

People often need to make adjustments in their living environment as they age. Traditionally, in the UK, this has involved older people either staying put and trying to make do in their own home, or moving to some pre-packaged option, such as sheltered housing or a care home. However, population ageing is driving demand for a wider range of housing options. This reflects both the shifting aspirations of older people, and a change in emphasis of health and social care policy away from high-cost, reactive, bed-based care and toward proactive, preventive care in, or closer to, the home.

There has been lots of discussion and debate about what a more age-friendly suite of housing options might look like. Research has cast light on the preferences and experiences of older people who stay-put and those who move to more appropriate housing. Parliamentary inquiries, charities and campaign groups, practitioners and policy-makers across the four nations of the UK have explored how housing policy and practice can promote independent living and healthy ageing. Something resembling a consensus has emerged from these debates, centred around five fundamental principles or priorities:

  1. Housing support and assistance services – repairs, maintenance and adaptations are critical to ensuring that older people who stay put in their own home are living in safe, appropriate housing that promotes independence and well-being.
  2. The accessibility and liveability of new housing – new housing should promote independent living in older age by providing dwellings that are accessible, flexible and adaptable to changing needs. This includes new housing that provides opportunities for downsizing.
  3. Specialist housing for older people – decent, affordable, appropriately designed specialist housing can allow people to live independently in a home of their own for longer. A move into specialist housing can improve quality of life and well-being for some older people.
  4. Information and advice – choosing where to live in older age is a difficult decision and many older people, family members and caring professionals require advice and information about available options.
  5. Housing, health and social care – health and social care services need to promote well-being and independence across all housing options. Strong strategic and operational links between housing, health and social care are critical to local solutions to meet the on-going health needs of older people, tackle health inequalities and address the wider health determinants of an ageing population.

These principles provide a useful yardstick against which to measure the strengths and weaknesses of policy and practice at the local and national level.

Currently, the situation in England doesn’t measure up well. Local analysis reveals that the public sector is retreating from its traditional role and the private sector to be displaying little appetite for filling gaps in provision – including the provision of housing support, specialist housing, and information and advice services. The result is a notable gap between the principles and priorities of provision outlined above and the existing housing options of older people.

If we are serious about delivering a diverse suite of options that meet the wants and needs of older people and promote independent living and healthy ageing, then concerted action is required across all five priorities highlighted in this framework.

Professor David Robinson is a Co-Investigator at the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence and Professor of Housing and Urban Studies at the University of Sheffield.

 
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Date: February 5, 2020 2:14 pm

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