Downsizing and why Britain needs a plan to house our elderly
A new report has just put the spotlight on older people downsizing, suggesting that millions of under-occupied homes would be freed up and those moving would gain health and quality of life benefits.
According to the report, part of the Housing our Ageing Population: Positive Ideas series from the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Housing and Care for Older People, there are eight million people in the UK interested in downsizing. This, according to the APPG, could free up 3.5 million homes, including two million three or four-bedroom homes.
ExtraCare has, for many years, helped older people downsize. We know how the practice – when combined with a range of measures to encourage independent living – has positive impacts on people and communities. Indeed, compared to building starter homes, constructing retirement properties effectively generates two homes for one, as people downsize into them and free up their previous home for sale or rent.
Take our work in Birmingham on downsizing, which we developed as part of our £200 million village cluster partnership over the past five years with Birmingham City Council. The five villages will provide a total of 1,152 homes for older people by 2017.
As a direct result of our efforts to help older people downsize, 628 family-sized homes have been released, and 125 council homes have been returned to be relet by the council.
For example, our recently-opened, £39 million, state-of-the-art Bournville Gardens Village incorporates 18 community facilities, from a café bar to a hairdressing salon and fitness suite. The development offers 300 residents a holistic approach, integrating their lifestyle, homes and care. In fact a third of residents receive help with their care, including dementia, ensuring that they can maintain and enjoy their independence within the community.
Villages like Bournville Gardens support local health and wellbeing board targets and the public purse. For example, Birmingham’s NHS costs have been reduced by 38%, including regular and routine GP visits and unplanned hospital admissions. Recent independent research by Aston University shows how health benefits for residents soar while care costs are cut by over a third.
As well as improvements to health and quality of life, residents are no longer isolated. Meanwhile, our village-style developments also support the city’s integrated housing strategy.
Such work played a role in ExtraCare winning the Outstanding Approach to Innovation award at the UK Housing Awards, which recognises innovative methods, the creation of cost savings and the delivery of better outcomes for people.
Yet despite the clear benefits, as our work proves and the APPG report stresses, only 1% of British people over the age of 60 live in tailor-made retirement homes. The government, meanwhile, is focused on measures catering to young first-time buyers, like Help to Buy and Starter Homes.
ExtraCare has already lobbied politicians on the fact that the over 60s interested in downsizing are currently sitting on £400 billion of housing wealth, which could be used more effectively (the equity could supplement falling pensions or pay for care bills). There are also environmental benefits when housing is built to energy efficient and sustainable standards on centrally located brownfield sites (as the majority of our village-style developments are).
Among the solutions are for the government to focus on the housing and care needs of older people, and for planning reform to encourage a new breed of purpose-built retirement homes.
Older people seem invisible in property and housebuilding strategies. Yet ignoring their housing needs – and in particular, failing to combine their living requirements with their care and wellbeing support – is inefficient and means potential social, health, care and public finance benefits remain untapped.
Mick Laverty is chief executive of The ExtraCare Charitable Trust.
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