OPINION: Government must increase adoption of housing with care following Commons debate

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The Parliamentary debate on the effect of the Covid-19 outbreak on retirement communities on July 1 acknowledged the shortage of specialist housing for older people, while heralding the important role housing-with-care properties played in restricting the spread of the virus.

Kris Peach, executive director of Extra Care at Housing 21, a provider of Extra Care and Retirement Living across England, discusses the swift action that must follow this discussion, to expand affordable housing-with-care provision and improve quality of life for older people across the UK.

Independence is critical to the wellbeing of older people with Parliament’s debate on 1 July providing further impetus for housing-with-care to be placed top of the Government’s agenda.

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Office for National Statistics data from January shows one in five people – or around 18.5 per cent of the population – were 65-years-old or over in 2019 – and that figure is growing.

Conversely, just 0.6% of over-65s have the opportunity to live in a housing-with-care property. This is, approximately, only 74,144 people out of 12,357,408, based on the Office for National Statistics’ figures, and is in stark comparison to New Zealand and the USA, where at least five-to-six per cent of older people have access to housing-with-care.

As well as concerns around access, Parliament’s debate also raised the issue of affordability, noting only 66% of UK retirement properties available to rent are affordable. For older people in the UK, there is little choice of housing options meeting extra care criteria and the needs of the population.

Housing with care offers a much-needed alternative to residential care home settings, offering people the chance to live in a purpose-built apartment, living more independently and actively while also preventing isolation. With residents living in their own property, they have the peace of mind that 24-hour care and support is available on-site should they need it, in an emergency or through planned care. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdowns brought clarity to many on the detrimental effects of social isolation and loneliness to mental health and wellbeing.

Research from the National Institute of Aging indicates just how serious of a risk loneliness and social isolation in older people can be. Loneliness and social isolation has been linked to a variety of physical and mental health risks, including high blood pressure, obesity, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s disease and even early death.

Promoting independence, while preventing isolation, will be the key to physical and mental well-being for older people. A notable difference in housing-with-care, when compared with residential care homes, is that a resident with high care needs can remain living with a partner with no care needs, as well as beloved family pets. This helps to keep families together and can help to reduce the risk of loneliness and isolation, improving mental health outcomes.

Housing with care has proven an effective model in pandemic control, safeguarding the lives of vulnerable older people during the pandemic. It was touched upon in Parliament’s debate that residents able to self-isolate in their own homes in Extra Care schemes, helped to reduce transmission of Covid-19.

Wider benefits

An expansion of the housing-with-care sector could benefit wider communities, local authorities and the country as a whole. According to ARCO, even an expansion to a third of the levels in countries like the USA and New Zealand has the potential to stimulate economic activity by over £100 billion and create 40,000 jobs.

Furthermore, in 2015, collaborative research between Aston Research Centre for Health Ageing (ARCHA) and the Extra Care Charitable Trust found that Extra Care can create cost savings of £428 per person, per year, compared to the equivalent local authority funded care in the community, 

Housing with care is already reducing social care and NHS costs by up to 38% resident. We have also seen a reduction to delays in hospital discharges for new residents, as they are able to move straight into accommodation already adapted for their needs with flexible on-site care which can be provided dependent on the individual circumstances. This frees up hospital beds to benefit the wider community.

Furthermore, ARCO research also shows an expansion of the sector has the potential to free up 100,000 family homes, and could contribute to alleviating the UK’s housing crisis.

The Parliamentary debate cited around 18.5% of our population are currently in need of housing and care provision – a clarion call for Government support and that a clear roadmap and vision for housing-with-care is desperately needed. Simply put, the potential of the sector to vastly improve health, wellbeing and independence for older people can no longer be ignored.

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Sarah Clarke

The author Sarah Clarke