We can all agree that many of those in their retirement years have needed our support more in the past 18 months than ever before.
For many in this age bracket, the pandemic has been a deeply isolating and frightening time. Many were shielded in homes unsuited to their needs and cut off from their families.
Thankfully, those who lived in specialist retirement housing reported more positive experiences. In a recent survey of more than 2,000 Churchill owners, 74% said they felt care and support was on hand if they needed it and 90% said they were thankful they had a dedicated lodge manager on site.
This is because the independent retirement living model is designed to help older people live healthier, supported and more connected lives. It helps keep people out of hospital or care-related settings by providing safe and sociable communities designed to enhance wellbeing.
Given all these benefits, the government’s proposals for a new sector-wide developer tax would be manifestly unfair to the housebuilders who provide this much-needed product, and who played no part in the cladding crisis.
The government’s decision to exempt housing-with-care providers, but not retirement living providers, suggests a misunderstanding of how the retirement living model works, and the significant value it brings to residents and society.
Research has shown that as much as £2.1bn worth of savings could be passed to the NHS if the retirement living model is prioritised, as it reduces reliance on health services by enabling older people to continue living independently in safer and more appropriate housing. The proposed tax poses a threat to this potential being realised.
Looking at the wider picture, for those small and medium-sized builders who survived the 2008 crash and often supply niche housing types, the tax could well drive some of them out of business.
So who should pay? The fairest and most effective way of recovering the costs that come with fixing the cladding crisis is to apply them to those who bear responsibility for the issues at hand – the ‘polluter pays’ principle.
Given the urgency for people living in these conditions, the government has rightly stepped in to cover a lot of the upfront costs, but it is entirely reasonable that the chancellor would want those responsible to play their part too.
Ultimately, either the safety rules were broken or they were inadequate. Where a housebuilder or contractor has not met the standards in place at the time, they should meet the cost of putting it right. Where the standards themselves are inadequate, then responsibility would seem to rest with the government and statutory bodies responsible for signing them off and enforcing them.
Some argue that because some housebuilders have profited from taxpayer-funded Help to Buy, they should all share the cost between them, but what about those housebuilders that have never benefited from HTB, such as those in the retirement housing sector?
Yoking them into a sector-wide tax would be a double-whammy for those who have already found themselves actively disadvantaged when trying to compete with housebuilders that have made HTB products the mainstay of their business.
If the government is serious about supporting SME housebuilders and encouraging greater diversity of housing supply, it should take those who have had no part in the cladding crisis out of the scope of any future new tax designed to pay for it.
Spencer McCarthy is chairman and chief executive of Churchill Retirement Living