Last week, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ageing and Older People released a new report titled “Decent and Accessible Homes for Older People”. The APPG works to engage with the political and legislative issues before parliament affecting people in later life. The group – for which the national Age UK acts as secretariat – covers a wide range of issues from housing and transport to health and social care.
The Decent and Accessible Homes for Older People report aimed to understand the detrimental impact of poor housing on older people’s physical, mental and social wellbeing. As a result of this inquiry, the APPG for Ageing and Older People have made 13 recommendations for change, including the impact of poor quality, inaccessible housing on health, issues in supported housing and the private rented sector, as well as the importance of home improvement agencies. In this blog we’ll take a look through the findings of the report and see how the recommendations provided can help London to become an Age-friendly City.
The first thing to note is that the report doesn’t make for particularly happy reading, as it identifies major problems in the UK housing market. These problems include an abundance of poor quality and inaccessible homes which have a detrimental effect on older people’s physical and mental health. It is stated that this then has a knock-on effect on the NHS and the wider social care system, both by worsening the health of older residents and then by delaying their return from hospital due to the unsuitability of their property as a place for recuperation. This latter point is especially concerning when you consider that the cost to the NHS of delayed discharge from hospital is a staggering £500 a minute.
There is also recognition of the growing number of private renters of all ages, something that Age UK London highlighted within our Older Private Sector Tenants Programme research. Our findings chime with that of the APPG, which echoes our concerns that older private renters are put under large amounts of stress by rising rents and insecure tenancies. Whilst such issues affect renters of all ages, this is a particular concern for older renters who have less capacity for increasing earnings in line with rent rises and are more likely to have to cut down on working hours for health reasons.
It is now clear that across all tenures, older people are not living in properties that fit their needs. Essentially, as the report says:
“Many older people are living in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation, with little hope of being able to move somewhere better or improve their homes.”
We must improve the quality of UK housing stock to ensure that everyone can remain safe and well in older age. There are some useful recommendations for government action within the report, which aim to increase housing standards and to make clear the connection between housing and public health challenges. While the full list of recommendations can be read here, there are some suggestions that are worth exploring further.
For example, Recommendation 4 calls for all homes to be built to the lifetime homes standard, ensuring that they are flexible to the needs of older and disabled people. Building homes that meet the needs of older residents is a key aspect of an Age Friendly City and a clear example of making changes that would not only benefit the current generation, but many generations to come.
It is also pleasing to see Recommendations 12 and 13 focusing upon the experiences of older private renters, both through improving housing conditions and by increasing the number of adaptations available for housing stock. This latter point is incredibly important as our research found that many older Londoners were afraid of requesting adaptations for fear of reprisals from their landlord. Whilst this doesn’t alter the possibility that a landlord could see repairs and adaptations as an opportunity to raise the rent in future, it is at least a step in the right direction.
Overall, the report provides a useful summary of the difficulties faced by older residents, especially the effects that poor quality housing has upon their health. The 13 recommendations are a welcome addition to the current debate, especially in terms of increasing the accessibility of current housing stock. However, there does seem to be a lack of discussion around cost of housing and rent within these recommendations, an oversight that is especially noticeable in London where the cost of living is so high. Our recommendation from our Older Private Sector Tenants research that rents need to be genuinely affordable would be a useful addition.
Age UK London is currently in the planning stage of a housing campaign as part of our Age Friendly London work. To be kept up-to-date with our plans and to have the chance to feed your opinions and experiences into our campaign work, please sign up to our mailing list by clicking here.