September 23, 2020

2m older people’s health is at risk from poor-quality housing, says major report

Over 2m over-55s live in poor-quality housing that puts their health and wellbeing at risk, according to new research by the Centre for Ageing Better and Ipsos MORI

The report, The impact of Covid-19 on 50-70-year olds in England, highlights that many older people experience deteriorating mental and physical health due to the pandemic and has sparked fresh calls to address the chronic shortage of purpose-built later living accommodation in the UK. 

The report highlights: 

  • Almost half of England’s 4.3m homes that are classed as ‘non-decent’ — i.e. there is a serious hazard present which poses a risk to the occupant’s health or safety (like excess cold, or potential for a fall) — are occupied by someone over the age of 55. 
  • Those living alone were more likely to say their mental health suffered due to Covid-19 (43% compared to 36% of those who were cohabiting), with many participants saying they missed social contact with family, friends and support groups.
  • Around half (54%) of those surveyed said had a medical or dental appointment cancelled due to the pandemic

Research launched in June found that just 2.5% of the UK’s 29m dwellings are defined as retirement housing, and the stock is heavily skewed towards houses with three or more bedrooms. Just 7,000 new homes built each year are designed for older people, but this is insufficient to serve the 180,000 65-plus households that will be created each year over the next decade. 

The Centre for Ageing Better’s report comes amid calls to address this shortage and to help people who wish to downsize, partly through tax changes that would give ‘last-time buyers’ the same stamp duty discount that first-time buyers receive.

This, along with a housing strategy for older people that ensures local authorities provide enough retirement housing in their areas, would give much-needed choice to older people and would kickstart the housing market by freeing up existing family homes. 

Delivering purpose-built homes for people in later life would not only enable them to lead healthier lives for longer in accommodation that is far better suited to their needs, but also reduce pressure on health and social services. 

One company seeking to develop purpose-designed retirement communities is Guild Living, a company which, in partnership with Legal & General, has already outlined plans for town centre projects in Bath, Uxbridge, Epsom and Walton-on-Thames in Surrey. The company plans to offer tailored-care for residents, who will be supported by a range of services which are being developed using academic research from University of Bath.  

Guild Living’s focus on town centres can create jobs and drive footfall, supporting other local businesses with the fast-expanding grey pound. The company plans to include an array of facilities that will be open for local people to use – including childrens’ nurseries, communities centres, GP surgeries and restaurants. 

Phil Bayliss, CEO of Later Living at Legal & General and chairman of Guild Living, commented: “Britain’s housing stock is the oldest in the EU, so it should come as no surprise that more than two million over-55s live in homes that put their health and wellbeing at risk.

“This report clearly demonstrates the urgent need to provide purpose-built homes that meet the needs of people in later life. 

“If the UK is to ensure its housing policy works for everyone, we need to reform the planning system to provide older people with greater choice in terms of where they live, while ensuring the moving process is as straightforward and affordable as possible. 

“As we look to bounce back from the current crisis, our economy will become more agile and stronger if we can make better use of existing housing stock by encouraging downsizing to great later living options and thereby freeing up more family homes.”

Eugene Marchese, co-founder and director at later living developer and operator Guild Living, added: “Ensuring that people in later life live in high-quality, safe and mentally-stimulating accommodation should be a national priority that requires urgent and immediate action from both local and central government. 

“By restoring people in later life to the heart of our communities, in a Covid-secure environment, we can ensure that they are living happier, healthier and more socially active lives. 

“Simply put, the UK needs more purpose-built later living communities, ones that accommodate the individual lifestyle and health needs of their residents by including Covid-secure amenities, and on-site care if it is needed.”