Following the general election, the Conservative government has been given the opportunity to meaningfully address the country’s housing crisis.
But while there is no doubt that housing has been a key battleground in this hard-fought election, it was disappointing that only the Liberal Democrats chose to mention anything specific on the provision of better housing for older people in the various manifesto documents.
There is without doubt a desperate need for retirement housing. Changes made to pension rules demonstrate that the Conservatives have been committed to providing financial security for retirees and it would be disappointing if now it does not put similar effort into ensuring housing security in later life.
This is a critical issue that will become more prominent over the next few years. The number of over-65s in the UK is set to increase by more than 50% in the next 20 years and there is a severe shortage of necessary and appropriate housing that gives older people the choice to downsize, or rightsize, in later life. Currently, the UK has just circa 110,000 units of owner-occupied specialist housing for older homeowners, which is nowhere near enough, and less than other developed countries.
There are also much wider benefits that can be provided by this part of the housing sector. Retirement housing developments are usually high-density and located on brownfield sites, delivering a number of sustainability benefits.
Also, Demos estimates that the over-60s in the UK interested in downsizing are sitting on £400bn in housing wealth. By providing attractive alternative and age-appropriate housing to encourage downsizing from larger, under-occupied dwellings, vast stores of equity can be released. Around 60% of older people moving into our retirement developments come from homes with three bedrooms or more. This enables younger families to move into retirement accommodation, creating a healthier housing market and ultimately freeing up capacity for first-time buyers.
In addition, retirement housing caters to the specific needs of its homeowners through features such as on-site support and large shared areas. This level of care and security for residents reduces the need for external support and reduces the strain on public health infrastructure. The Institute of Public Care estimates that each specialist Assisted Living (Extra Care) development brings cost savings to adult social care budgets of around £1m a year. At a time when spending on the NHS is such a critical issue, surely we should be readily supporting measures that can share the load in catering to the needs of our ageing population?
In my conversations with members of all three political parties in the lead-up to the election, we discussed a list of tangible measures for the new government that will support the development of retirement housing and mark a significant step in establishing a sustainable housing supply across the generations. This includes:
- Exempt older people who are downsizing into specialist new-build retirement accommodation from stamp duty.
- Require local authorities to introduce policies to support retirement housing across all types and tenures in their local plan.
- Provide retirement housing with special planning status to acknowledge its social value.
- Establish a dedicated minister for older people with responsibility for publishing a national strategy that encourages retirement housing across all types and tenures.
I look forward to working with the new government to make this a reality.
Clive Fenton, CEO, McCarthy & Stone