Memorandum by Elderflowers Projects Co
Ltd (AH 30)
Elderflowers Projects Co Ltd is carrying out
background research and developing innovative and practical designs
for new housing solutions for active older people from the age
of 50 upwards.
1. This submission is concerned with the
impact of the ageing of our society on housing supply. Little
attention has been paid to this aspect of ageing but it is our
contention that as the population ages an increasing proportion
of the housing stock will tend to be under-occupied by the elderly
living alone or as couple households. (The elderly are defined
as those aged 50 or more, which is the standard government definition.)
This means that less and less of the housing stock is available
for younger households, and this tendency has contributed to the
housing supply problem. The trend towards under-occupation affects
both owner occupied housing and social housing. (In principle
a social landlord can require an old lady to move out of a four
bedroom house, that is now larger than she needs, into smaller
accommodation but in practice this rarely happens.)
2. Due to the lack of suitable alternatives,
elderly "empty nesters" tend to remain in the homes
that they have lived in for many years even though they may no
longer be happy living there, or find it difficult. A substantial
part of the older section of the population has problems that
are recognised, in particular isolation, fuel poverty, paying
Council Tax. However it is not perceived that in many cases a
move to more suitable smaller housing could solve these problems.
It is suggested by Elderflowers that provision of suitable housing
for older households, aged between 50 and 70 who are not in need
of care, would not only be to the benefit of the households concerned
but would add to housing supply by releasing the larger family
homes previously occupied. Because the accommodation to be built
for older households would be smaller (and very often take the
form of flats) building a given number, of units, say 100, would
release 100 family homes and require less land than building 100
new family homes. Elderflowers is currently seeking to develop
a pilot, mixed tenure, project in Milton Keynes.
3. The table below, which is derived from
the Survey of English Housing, looks at whether households are
over-crowded or under-occupying their homes based on the "bedroom
standard". The "bedroom standard" is the number
of bedrooms that a household is calculated to need on the basis
of the household composition. Households with fewer bedrooms than
the bedroom standard are over-crowded. Those with two or more
bedrooms above the standard are deemed to be under-occupying.
(The bedroom standard does not allow for a spare bedroom which
is now generally considered not to be a luxury.)DIFFERENCE FROM BEDROOM STANDARD BY AGE OF
HOUSEHOLD REFERENCE PERSON
|Difference from bedroom
||Age of household
||Older age groups
||45 to 49
||50 to 54
||55 to 59
||60 to 64
||65 to 69
|Two or more below
|Two or more above||533||792
Two or more below
|Two or more above||31||42
Source: ODPM Survey of English Housing.
4. The table shows that under-occupancy rises with age.
In the 45-49 age group 31% of households are under-occupying,
this rises to 42% in the age category 50-54, to 52% in the age
category 55-59, to 56% in the age categories 60-64 and 65-69.
(Were even older age groups included in the table, the rate for
those aged 70 or more would probably be even higher.)
5. For those aged 50-69 the overall rate of under-occupancy
is 51%. This compares with 36% for all households. The estimated
3,262,00 homes under-occupied by the 50-69 age group represent
16% of the whole housing stock in England, and 44% of all under-occupied
homes. In 1981 the proportion of all households under-occupying
was 25% as compared to the current 36%; the ageing of the population
has been a major factor in the growth of under-occupancy.
6. Under-occupancy can be expected to increase in the
future as the population continues to age. In 2002 there were
19.8 million people aged 50 or over in the UK, some 33% of the
population, whereas in 1961 the number of older people was only
16.0 million. There was a 24% increase over the last four decades
of the twentieth century. A further increase is projected to 25
million in 2021, when older people, ie those aged 50 or more,
will represent 40% of the population. (Some 25% of the population,
16.1 million, will be aged 60 or more.)
7. In general the private sector and social landlords
focus on providing housing for families with children. Where housing
is provided specifically for older people it is intended to be
housing for people with substantial care needs. In the public
sector this takes the form of traditional housing for the elderly.
In the private sector it takes the form of housing schemes catering
for those whose income is high enough to pay for costly services.
Examples of these retirement homes and "villages" serving
the top end of the market are those built and run by Abbeyfield
and McCarthy & Stone. Most of the new housing built for older
people tends to be focused on security, shelter and care, with
the result that such housing is usually fenced off from the rest
of the community with restricted entry, and paid staff caring
for the residents and providing security. In some cases certain
members of staff live on site. The future needs of older people
are seen in terms of care, security and dependency. Even for providers
appealing to a wider market, such as ExtraCare, the emphasis is
still on security and the residents are still dependent on the
ministrations of a large paid staff. Therefore the costs of living
in such settlements include substantial service charges to pay
for the staff in addition to normal maintenance etc.
8. Older households on low to medium incomes cannot afford
the private sector housing, and if they are relatively "fit"
they do not qualify for, and would not wish to move into, traditional
public sector housing for the elderly. When sheltered housing
was first built there was an influx of people who were then in
their sixties, with the result that many sheltered housing complexes
are now filled almost entirely with much older people, many of
them frail, and those developments are now not attractive to younger
pensioners (and those in their fifties) even if space is available.
9. It is widely acknowledged that there is "a shortage
of affordable, suitably sized and accessible housing for older
couples or people on their own within the mainstream housing market,"
to quote Prof Sheila Peace of the Open University. The result
is that many people who would move to more suitably sized housing
remain in their over large houses as long as they are able to,
often well into their 80's.
10. Housing for the elderly has traditionally been geared
to the needs of the infirm/ill. However, many people entering
the third age are fit and active and living a useful life, many
still working. They are neither in need of care nor of institutional
accommodation, and would probably refuse even to consider either
for themselves. It is proposed that these people, with low to
medium incomes, should be considered as a market for a different
kind of quality housing, and associated facilities geared to their
specific needs. The intention would be to produce a new kind of
moderately priced housing for a more mixed age range than conventional
housing for the elderly, and which is attractive, non-institutional,
non-care-centred, and yet will be able to meet residents' changing
needs for many years (during which time some of them can expect
to become less fit, and couple households can expect to become
single person households).
11. For the new type of housing to be successful the
target group would need to find the package sufficiently attractive
so that they would consider moving from their existing accommodation.
In addition they would need to understand the importance of making
housing decisions at a young "old" age (ie between 50
and 70) when they are more capable of moving. The implications
of remaining in their own homes into their seventies and beyond,
would be made clear to them and the alternatives presented so
that they can make informed choices.
12. Provision of more suitable housing for older households,
who are not in need of care, would not only be to the benefit
the households concerned but will have advantages for society
as a whole. In the first place under-occupancy of the existing
housing stock will be reduced. In addition because households
in the targeted group are small, new developments intended specifically
for older households will have a higher density of dwellings per
hectare than new developments intended for traditional families.
Thus less land is required to provide say 100 dwellings for older
households than to provide 100 family sized dwellings. However
providing 100 dwellings for older households will release the
dwellings currently occupied by these older households for use
by families. Hence providing suitable sized dwellings for older
households is a more efficient way (in terms of land "take")
of providing family housing.
13. Another advantage of making suitable provision for
older households is that this will reduce the problem of inadequate
maintenance by elderly owner occupiers leading to physical deterioration
in the housing stock. For various reasons, including lack of income,
elderly owner occupiers are often unable to maintain their homes
to the standard that they would wish, leading to long-term deterioration.
14. Providing appropriate housing for older households
will also reduce the classic "housing rich but income poor"
problems of older (particularly pensioner) households. Many older
households are in fuel poverty, meaning that to heat their home
to an adequate standard would cost more than 10% of the household
income. Moving to a well insulated smaller home should ensure
that a household escapes from fuel poverty. Paying Council Tax
and other property related charges can also be a problem for older
households living in homes that are large in relation to their
current income. Means tested rebates are available but there is
often a reluctance to apply for such rebates. Moving to smaller
accommodation should make Council Tax and other property related
charges more affordable, particularly for households who are able
to withdraw some of their housing equity.