Senior living for everyone

60 is the new 40, according to scientists, who say longer, healthier lives mean people now hit middle-age later. That means their housing needs are coming under review.

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According to a report published by the Local Government Association in 2017, the number of people aged 65 and over is forecast to rise over the next decade, from the current 11.7 million people, to 14.3 million by 2025, a 22% rise.

This means one in five of the total population will be over 65 in 10 years’ time, which will become one in four by 2050.

In the UK, the vast majority of over-65s currently live in the mainstream housing market. Only 0.6% of over 65s live in housing with care, which is 10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5% of over-65s live in housing with care.

However, there are signs that government is now beginning to take this demographic time bomb seriously. Last year a House of Commons’ Communities and Local Government Committee called for the planning policy framework to be amended to encourage the development of more housing for older people.

And this was followed through in the changes to the NPPF last July, which places more pressure on local planning authorities to adopt up-to-date local plans and provide the right type of housing for different target groups, including older people.

And as an added indication of support, last August government said it would no longer cap benefits for supported housing tenants, which will now be paid through housing benefit. This gives a viability thumbs-up to supported housing developers.

In this respect, we will continue to see more specialist accommodation coming through, whether it be high-end residential care, age-restricted housing for “younger” older people or “extra care” where independent living is supplemented with supported services.

The key is the provision of flexible accommodation, so it can be adapted as residents grow older. Meeting Lifetime Home Standards, residential units will have more floor and storage space than the average flat with features such as partition doors, so that where residents become less mobile, the bedroom and living space can be opened-up to make it more open-plan.

A pre-requisite is understanding the needs of your residents. For example, we have been working with West Kent Housing Association on designing a variety of housing types for older residents.

West Kent Housing Association Property Director Mark Leader says all too often “people don’t make the right choices at the right time, only when they are forced to from a changing health situation.

“We are combating this by planning ahead by encouraging lifestyle decisions earlier based on in-depth research of accommodation preferences.”

West Kent has an approach it calls ‘Emerald’, where housing standards are dictated by extensive consultation with residents to inform future development.

An example of this can be seen in Swanley where it has applied a “hub and spoke” approach.

Its Bonney Court and Woodlands Court developments allow able-bodied and healthy individuals to lead independent lives in their own apartments but with an extra-care building, White Oak Court, around the corner, where residents of Bonney Court and Woodlands Court can use the facilities that include dining, hairdressers, chiropodists and care providers.’

The West Kent approach along with other enlightened providers needs to be seized upon by government as an exemplar of how this country should move forward on senior living.

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