'Call for strategy on older people's housing a welcome recommendation.'
A national strategy on older people's housing is desperately needed, says Sarah Davis, after a parliamentary committee published a report following its inquiry into the issue.
The call for a national strategy on housing for older people is the way forward if we are to see a breakthrough in the delivery of more age-friendly housing and a coherent approach to developing greater integration across housing, health and social care.
We need to take this broad approach to ensure a flexible and effective response to our ageing population. So it was good to see this as the headline recommendation in the recent report from the Communities and Local Government Committee, following their inquiry into housing for older people.
The committee had clearly listened to and appreciated the evidence and arguments from the sector that we need to focus on more comprehensive and joined up approach to delivering the housing and services that older people require. As its starting point, their report calls for more independent information and advice services for older people. Navigating not only the different housing options, but thinking about this alongside pension advice, and planning for what care and support needs we have is a complicated business. The recommendation to expand the provision of FirstStop Advice, to provide a national telephone service line is a great start, but we also need investment in its partnership with local agencies to help people with face to face advice where they need it.
Given that over 90 per cent of older people remain in their mainstream family home, the expansion of home improvement agencies with handyperson services is vital. Increased government investment in disabled facilities grant, and its inclusion in the Better Care Fund reflects recognition of the importance of housing intervention to support people’s health and wellbeing. But it is not only about adaptations; a healthy home needs to be affordable to heat, maintain and repair to remove risks of accidents and harm too. The report notes the progress of the Home (Fitness for Human Habitation and Liability for Housing Standards) Bill as an important mechanism to tackle issues for people in rented accommodation. We support the bill and are keen to see it passed. We need to think as well, about the challenge for low income older homeowners, with limited equity/low value homes, and how they can access help to tackle the problems in their homes (evidence from Care and Repair England to the inquiry highlighted that, in 2012, 79 per cent of households aged 65 and over in a non-decent home were owner occupiers).
CIH supports the campaign for accessible homes, so the call by the committee for new homes to be built to higher accessibility standards (category two of the building regulations as the default) is very welcome. Many older people want to remain in general housing so we have to ‘future proof’ this by making it easier and cheaper to adapt in the future – and it is not only older people who can benefit from this increased accessibility.
We also need more choice for older people, more specialist homes to buy and rent (retirement housing and extra care models) that increase options, but that also have the right standards and support that can help to reduce increased dependence on health and care services. The recommendation for more integration across housing, planning, health and social care to ensure we identify and meet the needs for such housing in Local Plans, located in well connected areas. That is really important and we look forward to this being reflected in the National Planning Policy Framework and guidance.
We also hope that the recommendation by the committee that the forthcoming social care green paper considers the potential for specialist housing to play a greater role in providing care will be taken on board. This will help to drive forward greater integration of housing with health and care in planning for local services. We saw a breakthrough with the previous Care Act 2014, in terms of including housing in the agenda, but we still need to see such approaches becoming more widespread – such as those highlighted in the CIH and Skills for Care publication - Housing's role in effective hospital discharge.
The inquiry’s report is really useful and timely; lets hope we see its valuable recommendations shape what is to come.
Sarah Davis is a senior policy and practice officer at CIH.