A timely look at how Wales meets the housing needs of an ageing population

This week we published a report of recommendations  to the Minister for Communities and Tackling Poverty following an expert workshop on housing options for older people in Wales and what can be learnt from best practice. Today, Chris Jones, CEO of Care and Repair Cymru and a contributor to the expert workshop offers his view.

The fact that we are living in an ageing society is well documented. Over the next 20 years in Wales, numbers of people aged over 50 are projected to increase by 200,000 to a million, and by 2037, numbers aged 65 plus are estimated to increase by around 100,000 to 292,000. Growing older brings challenges to older people themselves, but also to policy makers who need to plan for meeting the needs of an ageing society, including their housing needs.

Care & Repair Cymru is a charitable organisation that works to ensure that all older people have homes that are safe, warm and appropriate to their needs. We visit some 30,000 older people every year in their own home and provide services to help them undertake repairs, adaptations, energy efficiency and other improvements to make their homes safe, warm and accessible, allowing them to remain living independently. We are experiencing ever increasing demand for our services, from older people wanting a home environment that is safe and appropriate to their needs. We are also seeing an increasing trend for older people wanting advice on finding and moving to more suitable accommodation, where making improvements to their current property is not the long term answer to their future housing need.

There are many reports and statistics that paint a picture about some of the poor housing conditions of many older people. For example, the 2008 Living in Wales survey suggested 29% of Welsh Housing had Category 1 hazards (conditions or disrepair with a high likelihood of harming occupants). Most common hazards were accidents and falls, and excess cold and damp. The survey also found that older people were more likely to live in properties with “Category 1 hazards”, and that 25% aged over 80 lived in damp homes. Furthermore, it is estimated that 140,000 pensioner households in Wales currently live in fuel poverty, and the Chief Medical Officer reported there were 1900 excess winter deaths in Wales in 2011/12, and 1100 in 2012/13, with 70% of these aged over 75. Another significant concern is long waiting times for major adaptations to make their homes accessible.

All this leads to the conclusion that a comprehensive and strategic look at how Wales meets the housing needs of an ageing population is timely.

From the 14 preliminary recommendations in the Public Policy Institute for Wales report a few are particularly welcomed by Care & Repair. Convening a cross-sector/stakeholder group, tasked with developing a housing strategy to address older people’s current and future housing requirements, in response to population ageing” will in our view help facilitate a more holistic, cross tenure and cross sector view of the challenges and solutions to housing for older people, development of more comprehensive thinking and ultimately a better housing strategy for older people. We are also pleased to see recommendations on “reviewing grant streams with the aim of supporting further investment in supply of housing with care, independent living, home maintenance and adaptations…”, especially given our view that investment in these services all contribute to the preventative outcomes of helping older people live independently in places they want to be, and out of places they prefer not to be such as hospitals, GP clinics, and residential care homes, all of which are also more expensive for the public purse. While the recommendations look to innovation and new approaches, such as more awareness raising and increasing choice and services that help older people “move on” should this be the best option for them, we are also pleased that it is equally emphasised  to keep the things that already work, with the recommendation that “public investment be maintained for existing and new good practice” and innovative, local-level services which:  support older people in all tenures to plan and make pro-active decisions about their housing options (“moving on” or “staying put”), particularly low-income and/or rural groups; and support vulnerable older citizens in their communities to “stay put” by providing local community coordinators who facilitate community-led mutual support initiatives.”

There is no doubt that meeting the housing needs of an ageing population is something that public services need to plan for. The Public Policy Institute for Wales report on this is timely, and we look forward to helping achieve ambitions within the report, and contributing everything we can to help older people live in appropriate housing over the years to come.

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