The 1960’s, 70’s and 8o’s saw the birth and big expansion of sheltered housing initially led by Local Authorities and Housing Associations. Quickly followed by McCarthy and Stone and others in the private sector. It was seen as a response to the increasing number of older people who needed a limited degree of support mainly in the absence of close family or friends. The support was usually in the form of an on-site warden or “good neighbour”. This form of housing has stood the test of time and provides a good option for many elderly people to this day.
However, expectations have risen in the last 50 years, particularly in relation to space standards and accessibility for disabled people. Bedsits which may have been acceptable in the 1960’s are now difficult-to-let. Modifications to overcome these issues are expensive and not always possible.
At the very time when more retirement housing is required, Local Authorities are contemplating closure of some of their schemes. Alternatively they are considering lowering the age limit for entry, which could well lead to some real “bad neighbour ” problems.
The regional press regularly carry stories of residents worrying about the possible “reconfiguration” of their schemes. Just this week there are reports of both Rugby in Warwickshire and several schemes in Suffolk being considered for “de-sheltering”. This is no doubt only the start of a much bigger transformation to come.
However closure of housing that was only built 50 or 60 years ago, should be the last resort. There is no question that the concept of sheltered housing needs to be brought up to date with the use of more flexible support services and improved accommodation, but it still remains a good option for independent living. It allows people to down-size from family homes and for home owners to release some equity for their retirement.
Independent living still remains the first preference for most elderly people and we should try to accommodate that.