As the average life expectancy in the UK rises to just over 80 years old, Paula Broadbent, head of LIFEstyle by ENGIE, looks at the ‘state of the nation’ when it comes to age-appropriate housing and care and how we as a region can better provide for our older generations.
The hidden UK housing crisis facing the older generation
Engineers through the ages have excelled in ensuring communities across the UK have clean water and sanitation, builders have developed quality, warm and dry housing, micro biologists have developed medicines. Whilst we take many of these once pioneering developments as standard, there is no denying the immense impact they have all had on quality of life in the UK. Not least when it comes to extended life expectancy for the majority.
This, teamed with a lack of people of working age, able to support that older generation, means our aging society is being left behind when it comes to proper provisions in later life, including housing. And, as the UK retains one of the highest average life expectancies in Europe, this new challenge starts to feed into the wider housing, health and social care crisis.
Major initiatives, such as Help to Buy, launched by the UK Government and property developers to help support and address the housing crisis that has taken hold across the UK, further exacerbate this situation given its focus has to date been placed on starter homes. This leaves older people in the UK often forgotten when it comes to homes that meet the complex needs of an aging population.
As a shortage in appropriate homes and care services for older people increases, the UK is seeing a strain on a number of its services, from the NHS to the private care sector, meaning the country is at risk of not properly providing for the older generation – and Yorkshire is no exception.
Something has to change. We need be smarter in creating ways to ensure older people can live healthier lives, in homes that meet their needs and enable them to be independent for longer.
A change in offering?
Of course, any new approach takes careful planning, extensive research and meticulous consideration. We already know that we are seeing a growing number of over 55s, approaching retirement, many of which have children that have flown the nest, and in turn are finding themselves living in large family homes that are often too big or expensive to run and offer little by means of accessibility – if not now, then in the future.
Our own research shows us that while people in this generation would welcome the opportunity to move into the right home, with such a heavy focus on building for first time buyers, aspirational and accessible homes are lacking for over 55s. An innovative approach and a new style of housing for the older generation is therefore needed.
To this end, it’s important that we shift focus from ‘down-sizing’ to ‘right-sizing’.
By ensuring our older generations are able to find homes to meet their needs now – and in the future – we will see a rise in individuals relocating to secure a more comfortable, independent lifestyle for the foreseeable future. And we can do this by providing homes that can be easily adapted as a person’s needs change without compromising on style or function, as well as giving owners the opportunity to design everything about their home, from choosing the layout, to the finer details of wet rooms and adjustable kitchen units.
At the same time, it’s also important to place emphasis on creating a positive culture around housing for the older generation. As our name would suggest, for us it is all about ‘lifestyle’, so we believe community should be at the heart of developments for the older generations, with central hubs to host social events and activities, and with additional services made available, including gardening, domestic and care services, window cleaning, handy helpers and even dog walking, all of which bring tangible benefits when it comes to health and happiness.
This approach also ensures our homes meet our customer’s social needs, helping minimise the isolation that many people feel as their families grow up and leave the area, they suffer the bereavement of a lifetime partner or are one of the increasing number of older people experiencing divorce. In all cases, these occurrences can leave the older person living alone for the first time, and our homes seek to mitigate the impact of this.
The future of housing for the over 55’s
Ultimately, if we want things to change, it’s paramount that we, as a nation, put the older generation at the heart of what we do when it comes to housing.
In this respect, we’re excited about the prospect of providing something genuinely new for our aging society. We know the concept is proven, having already launched ENGIE’s own LIFEstyle offering at Waterton Green, near Walton in Wakefield, and a second development launching in Scarborough.
In order to ensure society as a whole, flourishes, our aging population simply can’t be ignored. Older people can and do offer huge value to society, it is therefore absolutely vital that the nation’s approach to housing and care changes, and becomes more holistic, to ensure that the correct provisions are put in place in advance of older people having to resort to desperate measures.
If we look after and support our aging population better, other strains felt by society will ease. The provision of appropriate later life housing and care can ultimately help to alleviate the NHS, free up larger family homes, which in turn eases the housing crisis and helps to lift pressure on local services, such as ambulance, doctors and social care.