In July 2020 CEDu3a member and housing expert Janet Sutherland delivered an online talk on the subject of Our Homes for Our Future, asking U3A members to think about their homes and their future housing needs. Janet has developed her talk further, and we are delighted to reproduce it here, as it is a topic that has engendered a great deal of interest within our U3A. She hopes you will complete the questionnaire highlighted in the text, as this may help you plan for your future. You will also find a link to the questionnaire at the end of the article.
Our homes for our future
In July 2020 I gave the CEDU3A monthly online talk on Our Homes for Our Future. Planning for our future wellbeing and independence is an important topic, and I hope this article will reach some members who could not attend the monthly talk. If you did attend, and filled in the Zoom poll, please do respond to the questionnaire which asks a few more questions.
If you did not attend the talk please may I encourage you to fill in the questionnaire. I hope it will help you think about your home and your future housing wishes, and the more of us that fill it in, the more we may be able to influence the choices that we will be able to make about our future housing.
Many of you, probably most of you, will be living in homes perfectly suited to your changing needs, perhaps with some adaptations and improvements – and these have a key role to play in helping people stay independent for as long as possible. These changes may give you many more years before you may need to consider a future move.
Indeed, we will never build enough new homes for all of us who would like to move. So please don’t feel guilty if you want to stay put! However, some older people find that they cannot live well in large family homes, that may be hard to heat, clean or repair, or pose risk of falls, or be too far from public transport and amenities, or absorb much of their energy to keep going, that might be better spent in social engagement or other pursuits.
I hope the questionnaire will help you consider what you might wish to do to your home to ensure it does support your independence. I will write more on this in the future, as Care & Repair England are hoping to develop an on-line resource to help people future proof their homes.
Planning for future well-being
I am suggesting that we try to plan for our future well-being as soon as possible, even if we decide to act at a later stage. We do know that making decisions becomes harder as we age.
In the UK, far fewer of us move in later years than in most comparable countries. We each need to do all we can to preserve our own independence, especially now as COVID-19 has exacerbated problems in our already failing care system.
As a nation we are not doing enough to address the housing needs of our ageing population, and we urgently need to provide a wide range of options. We know many more of us would move to somewhere attractive and affordable, were it available. This would reduce the need for care, as the right home can add 5 years of independent living, helping us live younger longer, and free up much needed family homes.
We know that where we live – our home and our neighbourhood – can have an immense impact on our health and wellbeing. We want to live in homes and neighbourhoods that add life to our years. Being connected to communities can reduce isolation and improve quality of life and well-being. What can we do to achieve this? The opportunities and choices available to us will vary hugely according to where we live, and whether we are owners or tenants of our homes, but across all price ranges and tenures, we do need a much wider range of options to cater for different preferences, price points and tenures.
When we talk of housing for older people we tend to think of retirement housing ( including sheltered housing, retirement villages, extra care housing), yet many of us want to live in mixed age communities, in lifetime neighbourhoods (which meet design criteria to be safe and inclusive, encouraging social interaction, and green and walkable). I think Crouch End meets several of the characteristics of a multi-generational, age friendly neighbourhood, and will be even better if we can encourage some new provision here to meet our changing needs.
A few facts
The world’s population is ageing!
In the UK, 1 in 4 of us will be over 65 by 2036, and
The number of over 80-year olds will double to 6 million by 2036
In UK, only about 5% move to specialist housing, and
Over 70% of over 65’s are owner occupiers
A 2018 House of Commons report suggests a third of over 60’s (up to 4 million!) would move if somewhere local, attractive and affordable were available.
One Size Fits All?
Our big housebuilders mostly provide one size fits all and often new homes cannot be adapted (with thin stud walls, so you cannot put a second handrail on a staircase), and do not meet lifetime homes standard (a list of features to help us stay independent, even suitable for use by a wheelchair user). They are not building the homes we need. Most people want to stay in their existing neighbourhood, and continue to live in a mixed age community. There is a huge shortage – we need at least 400,000 new homes for older people by 2030, but are developing less than 5,000 each year.
At the July 2020 CEDU3A monthly online talk that I gave on Our Homes for Our Future, the Zoom poll found that 43% were thinking of moving, with 91% wanting to stay local. Most wanted houses (35%) and flats (28%), but 28% were interested in co-housing/co-operatives, and 11% in retirement housing. Could this information influence local developments? For example, if we had known this, might we have been able to influence the development of new flats at Hornsey Town Hall – perhaps it could have included a co-housing scheme?
If more of us fill in the questionnaire, we may be able to influence future developments to meet our needs. The Crouch End Neighbourhood Forum (I am on the Committee) is drawing up a Neighbourhood Plan, and so there is an opportunity for you to engage in that to identify future needs.
National U3A Future Lives Group
I am a member of a national U3A “Future Lives” Group, and my aspiration is that this topic will be debated in many U3A’s around the country, as even if only 10% of the English membership of over 450,000 engaged in it – there are enough of us that we have the potential to be major influencers of change, and this is badly needed.
Now please fill in the questionnaire, or read on first, for additional information
Improving our homes
The bulk of age-friendly housing will be accomplished by renovation or retrofitting, because about 80 percent of the homes people will be living in by 2050 are already built.
Renovation programs come in many varieties but the fundamental approach – increasing accessibility and home safety with modifications like bathroom grab bars – is highly adaptable and can benefit almost anyone.
Design-led innovation can lighten the load of ageing, and ideally adaptations to one’s home should be made while you still feel fit, and certainly before getting to a crisis situation. Design has moved on, and adaptations can be simple and subtle, with trip hazards removed, eye level controls, and natural light maximised for weaker eyesight.
There is considerable potential for technology to support healthy ageing. Improving the thermal efficiency of our homes is another essential. Cold is one of the greatest threats to health as we age, and fuel poverty is a real issue for many. I do hope the government will adopt a green recovery plan as a response to our current economic situation, and to help us achieve the challenging zero carbon targets. I would welcome zero VAT on home energy efficiency works.
Owner or tenant?
Home owners may have more choices than tenants, although there are many owner occupiers who cannot afford to look after their homes or consider moving, and some of them may be living in very poor housing conditions.
If you are a Council or Housing Association tenant, you may be able to have adaptations to your home, but your options to move may be limited, as there are so many fewer, than people who need them.
We are especially concerned about people with low retirement incomes for whom increasing housing costs, or rents and insecure tenancies can cause considerable stress, made worse by the development of care and support needs when there is a lack of social or supported housing to move into, and care in the home is increasingly hard to obtain.
In 2015, under 6% of over 65’s lived in the private rented sector, split between the luxury end, and very poor conditions in the cheaper end, but this proportion is increasing rapidly, and we are now seeing an increasing number of people growing older in the private rented sector. The forecast is that there will be another 1.5 million households over pension age living in privately rented homes within the next 25 years, and that for a third or more of them, the rent will become too expensive or their homes not be suitable for their changing needs. At present, landlords may be unwilling to allow, or refuse to carry out adaptations. Some people living in the worst conditions in the UK are in the private rented sector. Many of these would need access to affordable housing, of which there is alarmingly little.
Options for moving home
I have spoken to several of our CEDU3A members who have rightsized, and made local moves, and there are many common themes, which also are reflected in the wider national picture. If people are going to make a planned move, they usually do it in their 60’s or early 70’s. If we leave it longer the decision becomes more emotionally complex, and so it is put off, as we know that making complex decisions does become harder as we age, and a decision once made in our 60’s that we might have got on with, might be one we put off thinking about in our mid 70’s and beyond.
One reason that we put it off is not being able to face the huge task of decluttering and the pain and hassle of sorting and parting with a life time’s possessions, many with precious memories. Some people say it can take 2 years to do this!
Then in later years sometimes a move becomes urgent, perhaps after a bereavement or accident. Without the time to plan, some people then move into care homes who may not have needed to, had they lived in a home that supported their independence.
Looking around Crouch End area we can see examples of small homes on garage sites, which can be a way of downsizing whilst staying within your neighbourhood. Community-led housing schemes are growing in popularity (and it is a shame the co-housing scheme at Woodside Square did not proceed). They go by many names: you may hear the phrases collaborative communities – co-production, and housing co-operatives.
In the UK we lag behind many other countries in developing these, yet in many countries they are hugely popular with all ages, and can have particular advantages for those who may now be without children, or on their own. The range of options is considerable.
In co-housing, homes are designed by or for the people who are going to live in them – “It’s people-powered housing – getting people to think about what’s best for them and their community, as opposed to being passive recipients”. Co-housing is a form of group living set up and run by the people who live in it. Occupants subscribe to a set of defined values and aims; they enjoy their own accommodation, personal space and privacy, but in addition have common areas in which to meet and share joint activities. The aim is to promote neighbourliness, combat isolation and offer mutual support. Residents will also be encouraged to become involved with the local community. The community aspect of co-housing can help address loneliness. According to figures published in 2018, 5 per cent of UK adults “often or always” feel lonely, and 16 per cent feel lonely some of the time. The number of people living alone surpassed 8 million in 2018, and is projected to rise further.
So far, we have looked at housing without support. There is also a range of specialist housing for older people, and a move to specialist housing can help with housing and support needs in later life, and delay or reduce the need for social care. Whilst in the past specialist housing for older people was mainly thought of as sheltered housing or care homes, we now have a much wider range, although options are not to be found everywhere. The range starts with:
Developments with easy access designed with older people in mind such as Woodside Square, Muswell Hill, with some flats aimed at over 50 year olds. McCarthy and Stone schemes of retirement flats usually have a common room and encourage social interaction, but do not usually provide care (you get your own if needed).
Purpose built homes in a community setting provide separate homes, with community facilities and care if needed. This might be in a retirement village, such as ones provided by the Extra Care Charitable Trust. But after COVID-19 these models with lots of communal activities may be less attractive. In extra care housing you have your own flat and care provision, with communal facilities. In the UK less than 5% of our homes are in retirement or sheltered schemes, compared to about 13% in Australia and New Zealand and about 17% in the USA.
Call for action
Let’s be actively engaged citizens – let’s all be involved in making the case for what we want – collectively we can make a difference, and encourage policy makers and developers to provide it.