Last week I wrote a scathing critique of the Governments White Paper on Housing and my view that it will do very little to improve the desperate shortage of housing for older people in the U.K. At much the same time the Welsh Assembly had received a report on housing options for older people in Wales and I have been asked to comment on that by one of the reports expert contributors.
The report is entitled ” OUR HOUSING AGENDA: MEETING THE ASPIRATIONS OF OLDER PEOPLE IN WALES “. It took a year to produce and it is a subject close to my heart. At first glance it looks more comprehensive and wider in its implications for other related services than the UK Government’s hastily cobbled together White Paper. It deserves more consideration than a short blog, so over the next few weeks I will publish my comments in a series of weekend posts. Rather like the chapel ministers I remember hectoring their congregations on Sundays 😀
- Overall it is a very good scoping review with an holistic outlook on the housing problems of older people.
- It makes clear that most people want to stay in their own homes and certainly stay in their own community.
- Nonetheless, the report recognises that this can be increasingly difficult in terms of mobility, frailty and the upkeep of older housing as people get older and more isolated
The report seems to have started a with pre-judged conclusion that new better quality retirement housing is the obvious solution to older peoples housing needs. Given that I spent most of my working life developing and managing retirement housing, you might expect me to agree with this, but I don’t. Of course new housing has a part to play, but it will only ever reach a few of the many elderly people with needs which go beyond accommodation.
Much could be done to help people remain in their own homes at a fraction of the cost of providing them with new housing, especially when so many of them have expressed this as a preference :-
- An All-Wales falls prevention programme, as commented on in the report, could save the NHS money and enable people to remain in their own homes. Especially if it was complemented with a substantial aides and adaptations budget.
- An energy conservation programme for the many older properties in Wales would improve health as well as saving on household expense.
- A welfare benefits check has been shown to significantly increase the uptake of state benefits and reduce the number of elderly people living on or near the poverty line.
- All these services exist in some areas. A more co-ordinated one stop later life service could raise the profile and effectiveness of the provision to enable people to “age in place”
- These things alone won’t be enough, attention also needs to be given to transport and social opportunities, to address the issue of social isolation. I will come back to this later.
These are not directly housing issues but indirectly they often lead to greater costs in hospital or residential care and ultimately are the negative reason why older people have to move on from their life long home. Furthermore, support for these issues addresses the core aspiration of most older people which is to stay in their own home.
So my first key observation is that dealing with the broader issues in this report will reach far more older people at a much lower cost than building new retirement housing.
I do acknowledge that this will not be enough to meet the needs of the growing numbers of older people and their increasing frailty. More housing will be part of the answer, but the question is :-
Can it be delivered on the scale envisaged in the report ?
Innovation has to be the other dimension, because everything tried so far hasn’t kept pace with the problem. It is however difficult to deliver without bold and imaginative thinking. It needs seed funding for pilot projects and rigorous evaluation, before rolling out on a bigger scale.
These two issues will be covered in my next two Sunday posts …………..