Over the past two weekends I have been offering my thoughts on the recently published report ” OUR HOUSING AGENDA: MEETING THE ASPIRATIONS OF OLDER PEOPLE IN WALES “. It is a comprehensive and ambitious effort to build a vision for housing for older people in Wales. (You can see my earlier posts by clicking on “Retirement Housing” in the TOPICS LIST).
Like the rest of the UK, the demographics of the elderly population are changing on a scale not seen before. In Wales there are particular characteristics which need to be addressed. Many of the oldest elderly grew up in the relatively impoverished industrial era of Aneurin Bevan. The coal mines, the slate quarries, the iron and steel industries, were the life blood of large areas of Wales at the beginning of the 20th century. That left a legacy of housing not well suited to growing old.
In many cases the oldest generations’ baby boomer children have inherited this legacy. They form the big wave of baby boomers who are now entering retirement. We should also not forget that in the hinterlands of the industrial areas there are also many older people isolated in rural communities.
These are my broad conclusions about the report’s proposals:-
The first significant point about older people aspirations is that most of them wish to stay in their own homes. For the majority of them, the barriers to this option, whilst they may be significant, are not insurmountable. Indeed the reality is that if nothing is done, that is exactly what will happen anyway, but for many people remaining in their homes will leave them more impoverished as costs rise and in a deteriorating state of health. As the report states, there is much that can be done to help and support people to stay in their own homes. This point was covered in my first post and highlighted the benefits of falls programmes, energy conservation measures, welfare benefits checks etc. Many of these services are provided by voluntary / charitable organisations, often supported by Local Authority or Health Authority grants. Sadly in these austere times these are the very areas that are being cut.
Nonetheless, enabling people to remain in their own homes, not only fulfils their aspirations, but is likely to be cheaper to the public purse than the alternative higher costs of residential care and / or frequent hospital admissions. Therefore it is essential to develop a much expanded programme of pro-active healthcare in terms of well-being programmes. This then needs to be complemented with Social Services support for those who also need care in the community. This is the opposite direction to the way Public Policy has moved in recent years when austerity has forced both Health and Social Services to concentrate only on the very frailest older people. This is not another vainglorious cry for more public money, welcome as that would be. Rather we need to find new and innovative ways of supporting these programmes and self-financing much of the care. Certainly it is the case that many older people are asset-rich and income-poor and if we can find ways of unlocking the assets they have in their homes to provide for their care, it would enable them to live at home for much longer. However, the existing ways of doing this in the form of equity release, do not represent good value for money and new innovative financial models have to be developed.
The second key area in the report is the proposal to develop 20,000 new retirement homes. My second post expanded on the proposition with considerable scepticism. Not because it isn’t a desirable option, but its achievement is unlikely without radical changes in the approach to how new housing can be both financed and planned for. All the current housing finance models for affordable public housing, require substantial capital grants, which are not likely to be available on the scale required. Models do exist with a cross-subsidised blended mix of public and private ownership. Shared ownership would unlock the assets of existing homeowners, but not if they need continued grants support for the unpurchased equity. The second half of this development problem is the planning system and its link to the availability of land. As discussed in my earlier post, this would need a radical review of Section 106 Affordability Requirements, CIL Payments and probably Greenbelt restrictions. All of this can only be achieved with strong political support at National and Local Authority levels. Whilst public funding would help to kick-start this programme, there is no question that a housing programme on this scale will require substantial private investment.
The third key ingredient to delivering the report aspirations, has to be innovation. Large institutions such as Governments, Local Authorities and Health Authorities are not generally known for their innovative skills. For such a radical shift in approach, it will be necessary to harness the goodwill of these institutions to trial new ideas in a series of pilot projects. The best and most successful of these might then show the way to rolling out a bigger and more comprehensive programme in future years.
My final thoughts go beyond the Report’s findings and suggest a possible way in which a large-scale programme to meet the housing aspirations of older people in Wales. I will write about this in a final blog in the weeks ahead but first I need to consult with my fellow GrumbleSmiles Trust Trustees and also with some of the authors of the Report.