John Tonkiss is the Chief Executive of McCarthy & Stone
The UK’s population is ageing fast, and it is changing the shape of society like never before.
The number of over-65s in our country is set to rise from 11.8 million today to 17.3 million by 2037. Over the same period the number of over-85s will almost double, from 1.6 million to three million.
Addressing the immense pressures that this dramatic shift will bring is one of the most important public policy issues facing politicians today. The Government has rightly identified it as one of the “Grand Challenges” in its Industrial Strategy. And it goes to the heart of the forthcoming Social Care Green Paper.
In seeking to solve the social care conundrum that has vexed politicians for years, it is vital that the Green Paper considers the issue of housing. This view is also supported by Damian Green who has promoted the need for more and better housing options, such as retirement communities, to help people downsize into something more suited to their needs.
Our rapidly ageing population is bringing a new housing crisis to the fore, with millions of older people stuck in homes that are no longer suitable for their needs due to a lack of alternatives.
Research carried out by YouGov found two in five over-65s think they will have difficulty living in their current homes in future as their health changes. This is likely to place increased pressure on the health and social care services due to an increase in slips, trips and falls in homes which are no longer fit for purpose.
Too often people are faced with a choice between staying in unsuitably large family properties or moving into full-time residential care homes before they need or are ready for round-the-clock help.
However, there is a middle ground. Retirement communities can fill the gap between completely independent living in a family home and fully cared-for options – and be a critical part of solving the social care challenge.
Retirement accommodation provides a ready-made community with services on tap, including the ability to increase care provision as and when it is needed in many developments, while also maintaining people’s independence with their own private apartment.
McCarthy & Stone is at the forefront of developing this type of housing, which helps people live longer, happier lives, and we are the largest provider and operator of new retirement communities each year. It also delivers major benefits to society, in line with this Conservative Government’s policy goals.
That includes significant health and social care savings – a Government study found that living in a retirement community can save the state £3,500 per person every year.
It also includes tackling loneliness, championed by Theresa May, by providing a community for people who might otherwise be living alone.
Our communities help unlock the housing chain, with research showing that for every one retirement property bought, three further moves on the housing ladder are made possible – turning the dream of home ownership into reality for younger generations.
They also help save people money. New research published this month shows that running costs for our standard retirement apartments are typically much lower than a customer’s previous home, saving them c.£1,200 a year on average, despite significantly increased services and facilities. Customers could also save c.£13,300 a year in care costs compared to a residential care home.
But despite clear demand for more retirement homes, only 162,000 properties have ever been built for ownership thanks to red tape and other funding issues.
The Social Care Green Paper is a chance to put this right, by recognising the importance of specialist retirement accommodation.
Reform of the planning system to create a package of policy measures would remove a major hurdle to boosting supply. This includes a new planning use class for specialist retirement housing, as recommended by the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee, to help to clarify the definition of retirement housing and address the viability issues that affect this form of housing. Another solution is looking at stamp duty reforms to free up the housing market and help our customers move.
We are ready to play our part to tackle the social care challenge and help people thrive long into old age. A little extra help would go a long way.