England has a rapidly ageing population.
The number of people aged over 65 is projected to grow from 10 million to almost 17 million by 2035, with significant implications for housing and support needs. Older people can have a range of specific housing requirements, and a range of policy responses is therefore needed.
This ageing society is one of the greatest challenges for housing and national government has identified this as an area where significant changes need to be made, not only in the actual buildings but in challenging society’s perceptions of what housing for older people should mean.
“To achieve sustainable development, economic, social and environmental gains should be sought jointly and simultaneously through the planning system.”
In 2013, The House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change published a report entitled ‘Ready for Ageing?’ The report underlined the impact that poor housing can have on health and social care services, and acknowledged that ‘many localities have a need for greater provision of more suitable housing for older people, with more support services’. Since the report was published there has been a rapid development of strategies to encourage greater integration between health and social care, and housing for older people is now beginning to be explicitly included in the planning framework.
“By 2026 older people will account for almost half (48 per cent) of the increase in the total number of households [in the UK], resulting in 2.4 million more older households than there are today.”
Lifetime homes, lifetime neighbourhoods: A national strategy for housing in an ageing society
The National Planning Policy Framework directs local planning authorities to plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends, market trends and the needs of different groups in the community, (including older people). The key tool used by local authorities for assessing housing needs is the Strategic Housing Market Assessment (SHMA), which informs the Local Plan as well as neighbourhood plans, Joint Strategic Needs Assessments and Joint Health and Wellbeing Strategies, helping to connect health and social care strategies with housing and planning. Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessments (SHLAAs) complement SHMAs by identifying the potential supply of land for housing, including for specialist housing for older people.
At local authority level, Local Plans set out local planning policies for their areas. These often include policies on design (e.g. requiring development to meet the Lifetimes Homes standard), and housing for older people, and may also allocate sites for housing for older people (although this is rare to date). The Localism Act has given more power to local people to set policies for their area. Local authorities are required to work in partnership with local communities and share their evidence base to help inform the development of neighbourhood plans, which could help to deliver housing suitable for older people where this is one of the objectives of local people.
Making our community ready for ageing, a report recently published by International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) with the support of charity Age UK, sets out steps local authorities should take to ensure communities can function with an ageing population. The report says that if we are to cope with demographic change we need to build far more houses; and that this housing needs to be set within age friendly environments and needs to be designed inclusively to accommodate people’s changing circumstances and needs over their lifetimes. The planning vision, the report suggests, “should be that of inclusive places for an ageing population, with lifetime home standards in all mainstream housing (in which the vast majority of older people live) alongside specialist and retirement housing”. It also recognises the need for planning to facilitate a greater choice of retirement housing. The provision of green space is also given significant emphasis, with the report suggesting an appropriate minimum standard of access to green space (to be applied by planners to new residential developments) might be based on the Accessible Natural Greenspace Standard (ANGSt).
The impacts of climate change on older people, a potentially vulnerable group due to increased likelihood of deteriorating health that comes with age, also need to be considered when planning for older people’s health and wellbeing. There is increasing evidence that vulnerable older people make up the bulk of the fatalities from flooding, heatwaves, cold snaps, air pollution and storms; of some 14,800 deaths in France caused by the 2003 heatwave, 70% were people over the age of 75. Impacts include both direct impacts on health and wellbeing and indirect impacts, including through disruption to services that older people rely on. Options to improve the resilience of vulnerable older people to climate change include ensuring older people have access to local support networks, health and social care, timely information and coping skills; as well as ensuing the physical and social infrastructure of nursing homes allows adaptation (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2013; Oven et al, 2012; Stockholm Environment Institute, 2008).