If forecasts are to be believed, the slow and steady march of Britain’s later-living sector is to give way to a stampede in the delivery of new, cutting-edge retirement communities.

Russell Jewell

Russell Jewell

While in the US, 6.5% of over-65s live in housing-with-care, in the UK, this figure is just 1%, according to Savills, and we must tread carefully in any impending rush to catch up.

While well-established US and Australian later-living markets have evolved in line with changing socio-economic landscapes over several decades now, Britain has much less experience to draw on. This means we must lay our fledgling sector’s foundations carefully - ensuring we plan for the different economic circumstances of Britain’s retirees - particularly as we navigate economic uncertainty, high inflation and a housing crisis.

According to Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO), two-thirds (66%) of the retirement properties built to date in Britain are priced either for affordable or social rent, with just 15% priced for middle-market purchase and, alarmingly, just 1% for middle-market rent.

Clearly, the road to this imbalance was paved with good intentions; everyone, no matter their income or savings, should be able to access high-quality housing-with-care in their old age.


The only way it can be tackled is through the normalisation of retirement living, which itself can only be achieved through boosting supply.

But if Britain is to realise the full socio-economic benefits of a flourishing later-living sector - from alleviating pressure on health and social services to tackling the housing crisis by freeing up larger homes currently occupied by older people - then it must not forget about the ever-squeezed middle.

In this country, Churchill Retirement found that more than three million over-65s would like to downsize from their current homes but feel unable to do so. This is curious, in that baby boomers generally, are hardly asset-poor. Savills reports the combined value of homes in England and Wales owned by the over-65s totals nearly £2trn, amounting to 42% of total homeowner equity in the UK.

With mechanisms such as equity release increasing in popularity, for many, downsizing to a mid-market retirement home would be well within financial reach.

So, what are the main factors cited as barriers to taking the plunge? A lack of choice over suitable available accommodation and the stress and cost of moving.

Another important consideration is our national obsession with home ownership, which is hardwired into our collective list of must-dos. Undoing this way of thinking is tricky, especially when it comes to communicating the benefits of downsizing to those whose homes have increased enormously in value over the past decades.

The only way it can be tackled is through the normalisation of retirement living, which itself can only be achieved through boosting supply. Addressing the shortage of mid-market homes for purchase and rent must also form a central element of our efforts.

The business case for doing so rings loud and clear: a vast majority of the circa three million retirees who would like to downsize but feel they are unable to do so will likely consider themselves as part of the squeezed ‘middle’.

So, as the UK later-living sector picks up the pace, many will prioritise being quick off the mark to get ahead of the competition. The victors in the long-term, however, will be those who can balance speed and agility while implementing a deep understanding of where demand comes from now, and where it will in the future.

Russell Jewell is chief executive of Untold Living

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The annual Later Living Conference (formerly Retirement Living) is returning at The America Square Conference Centre, London.

Book your seats now to join us on 22 June