Housing crisis: What next for the elderly?

Housing associations are currently facing considerable challenges that an ageing society presents, but the evidence suggests that they also have the opportunity and skills to make a significant and positive difference to the lives of their older tenants.



The recent ITV Tonight programme (Housing Crisis: What next for the elderly?), featuring the research from the Centre for Ageing Better, really brought to life the stark reality of the housing crisis for an ageing population.

We started Invisible Creations for so many reasons, but changing lives, supporting independence and raising standards have always been at the centre and the ITV show highlighted one of the key issues we are trying to address.

This year, Centre for Ageing Better ran a survey which found that 90% of older people live in mainstream housing. The ITV programme posed the question, so what can we do to help make mainstream housing more suitable for older people?

We believe we have the answer, with Invisible Creations – a new social business, an idea that started life in the National Housing Federation’s Greenhouse programme, which is dedicated to designing products that don’t define us by our age. Invisible Creations design attractive, dual-purpose home adaptations that support mobility and retain dignity.

Invisible Creations key driving force is prevention – the products are designed to be installed into homes sooner to prolong independence.

It’s not just about building new homes – we need to future proof our existing stock!

An ageing population is, for the social housing sector, a business critical issue. Increasing supply is imperative for the sector, but adapting existing stock is also crucial to meet the needs of current and future tenants.

This will not only be important for housing associations as businesses, but also as social businesses, seeking to make people’s lives better by providing good-quality, stable housing and by investing in their residents’ economic and social wellbeing.

The UK population, like in many countries, is ageing with wide consequences for society and the economy. One in six people in the UK are now over 65, an increase of more than one million from 2001. More and more people are living beyond 80. And the elderly living in couples or alone now make up 25% of all households. Almost one fifth of these elderly households live in social housing.

A cost effective solution to support this ageing population, to live well in their homes for longer, requires more than simply the provision of ‘accessible’ or ‘lifetime homes’ it also needs better management of the current social housing stock.

The existing adapted housing stock needs be used more efficiently. Too often the expensive adaptations have to be removed at further expense when the next tenant does not want them.

It is incumbent upon the housing sector, and in consequence the economy, to make better use of its existing housing stock by adopting a strategic approach to adaptations; providing products that are disassociated with age and vulnerability and instead promote independence, choice and dignity, are installed into homes sooner, and prevent the need to be removed once a tenant leaves the property.

Research shows that most of the current housing stock in the UK does not benefit from a combination of key accessibility features, which allow for changing needs without some form of adaptation.

In order to provide homes that meet people’s needs as they age, homes need to be adapted sooner, and the Centre for Ageing Better provide strong evidence that minor adaptations can make the biggest difference for prolonging independence and reducing the need for residential care.

Minor adaptations are an effective and cost-effective intervention for preventing falls and injuries and improving performance of everyday activities and improving mental health.

So, if minor adaptations can make such a huge difference, why aren’t people getting them installed?

Research shows that delays in installing adaptations are detrimental, and these delays are often due to two main reasons. There are delays because of a complex system and lack of awareness of what is available to people to support them in their homes, and there is also the issue of design.

Both pointing to an inherent need to move to a new model that puts prevention, attractive design and strategic installation at the forefront of future processes.

Many people delay installing adaptations until they reach crisis point, so as not to ‘medicalise’ their home, and they instead choose to adapt their behaviour rather than adapting their home.

Research from the Centre for Ageing Better shows that many people delay securing home adaptations because of their clinical appearance and negative associations with vulnerability and loss of independence. The design of current equipment offered is practical rather than attractive and practitioners spoke of clients feeling adaptations ‘echo hospitals’ or that they ‘spoil the décor’.

Evidence shows that delays in installing adaptations can reduce their effectiveness.

Therefore, it is critical action is taken to move to a preventative model that provides more aesthetically pleasing, aspirational adaptations that are installed into homes sooner.

The business case for Invisible Creations not only helps the housing sector shape their strategic response, but also provides a valuable perspective and set of recommendations to other key stakeholders.

If you’re interested in finding out more or getting involved with the work Invisible Creations are doing contact laura.wood@invisiblecreations.co.uk