Wiltshire’s Need for Older People’s Housing

The UK has an ageing population and it is widely acknowledged that problems with housing this population need to be addressed.  Concerns are made regarding the ageing population in relation to public health, social welfare costs and loneliness. The UK has been failing to adapt to the far-reaching changes, which  will result in a changing and ageing population. Fundamental changes are needed to the provision of care to older people and the housing options available to this demographic. There is a lack of housing available for older people to downsize to throughout the UK, and research shows that older people are largely not moving, in part due to the lack of a suitable supply of downsizing housing. This article will discuss the problem Wiltshire is facing with an ageing population, and how this should be a fundamental priority for Wiltshire Council to address.

Key Research on the Ageing Population

Notable research has evidenced the urgent need for specialist housing for the older population. One of the most prominent and influential reports has been the “Mayhew Review – Future Proofing Retirement Living: Easing the Care and Housing Crises”. In the report, Mayhew outlines the longstanding issues relating to housing and older people and that the pressures on the adult care system, and ultimately the NHS, due to bed-blocking, is a growing concern. The review identified that the delivery of more extra care and housing, specifically targeted at meeting the needs of older people, will not only increase health and wellbeing for the older demographics of communities but, crucially, free up open market homes, reducing the need for the construction of around 50,000 homes per year. The All Party Parliamentary Group published an inquiry entitled ‘Housing Care for Older People (HAPPI 4)’, which found that new housing could preserve the independence of older people and save NHS and social care funds. There is currently a critically low amount of retirement housing being built, which is an increasingly serious issue due to more than 4 million people aged 55+, who are actively seeking to move properties but cannot find new homes with the right location, tenure and affordability. In the last 3 years, only 8% of these people have moved.

Supplying older people’s homes will not only benefit the older generation, but the positive impact will be just as significant for the overall population, especially on health care. Research by Homes for Later Living found that there is a chain reaction in the property market, with the supply of older people’s housing,.  This research identified the ratio that for every one retirement property bought, an additional two houses are freed up down the chain for other buyers. This indicates a consequence of more homes available for families and first-time buyers, helping with the current housing supply crisis.

To address the housing needs, there needs to be a range of different accommodation types for the older generation ranging from independent living accommodation, sheltered housing and extra care facilities. Clustered housing is a preferable design for active older people, as living in clusters supports social interaction but also benefits social care, reducing the need for carers’ travel as rounds will be done in the same areas; this is specifically important for rural settings. Supplying these homes in locations where older people currently live is crucial, as there is a resistance of older people moving away from their current social networks – therefore, housing delivery in rural areas should be a primary focus for Wiltshire Council.

The Ageing Population in the UK and Wiltshire

The UK population is getting older. The percentage of older people aged 55+ is to increase by 15.7%, with the population of older people in the UK set to reach 13 million in the next 10 years.  At the time of the 2021 Census, in England and Wales, over 11 million people – 18.6% of the total population – were aged 65+, compared with 16.4% at the time of the previous census in 2011. With older people comprising at least 25 – 30% of the population in many areas of the UK, fundamental change is needed to enable the housing market to be able to provide and cater for older people. By 2038, Wiltshire’s population aged 55+ are projected at 223,436 people – equivalent to 41% of the County’s population.

Underoccupancy in the older population is a growing concern, many homeowners aged 55+ tend to have more bedrooms than are needed, due to continuing to occupy the same house they raised families and with adult children moving out.  The rural areas of Wiltshire saw 86.3% of homes underoccupied (with 1 or more bedrooms unoccupied), compared to England’s national average of 68.8%. This portrays the problem that Wiltshire is facing in rural locations, and the urgency for suitable accommodation appealing for downsizing older people is needed more than ever within the County.

The Approach to Older People’s Housing

The overall approach to housing an ageing population will be through supplying a variety of older peoples housing specifically designed for the challenges you face as you get older, such as being adaptable for caring needs and being built to M4(2) building standards. The overall aim is to enable older people to live alone and unassisted for longer. The best design for these settlements is clustered older people housing, from between 10 – 50 houses per development, supplying the community alongside downsizing houses. Ultimately, through an increased awareness of the growing issue, and action being taken to mitigate these issues, more schemes addressing older people will address housing the UK’s ageing population and consequently benefit the housing market and health care system.

It is a key interest for Impact Planning Services, as a practice, active older people developments have featured within multiple applications focusing on addressing housing for the ageing population. IPS have submitted applications in Tandridge, Wiltshire and Swindon Borough districts, alongside ongoing applications. They include suitable housing for active older people to live independently, which address the housing needs of the ageing population.