Demand for homes has never been more apparent in the UK. Up and down the country government and developers are rushing to provide quality, affordable housing for the 220,000 new households expected to form in England each year over the next decade, as our population grows and the property ladder becomes more crowded.
The UK population is not just growing in size, it’s also ageing rapidly. Projections show that in 20 years’ time, the number of people aged 85 and over will be almost two and a half times greater than in 2010 and it is this figure that must be addressed now, before it is too late. As I mention above, it’s undeniable the government is committed to providing new homes. However the type of housing under mass construction is not always suitable for this ageing population and their changing needs as they grow older, making the current focus unsustainable. It’s crucial that attention is paid to this end of the market, to freeing up under-occupied family homes and allowing people to move through the property ladder, rather than just helping them onto it in the first place.
A generation of baby boomers are finding themselves trapped in unsuitable housing due to a lack of attractive alternatives or incentives to downsize. This is evident in recent reports that show 37% of all UK homes are thought to be under-occupied, of which half are occupied by those aged 50 to 69. The government therefore, needs to invest in a means of catering for the ageing population’s housing needs and providing realistic alternative accommodation such as retirement villages.
Retirement villages provide homes which can be adapted with care provision as and when needed and also allow owners to maintain their independence, choice and lifestyle for as long as possible, as revealed by a recent report from the International Longevity Centre (ILC-UK) funded by Audley Retirement and Bupa.
The survey of residents found that people living in this type of accommodation reported a strong sense of control over their daily lives, nearly 10% higher than those living in the community and also felt more secure in their homes, with 97% of respondents agreeing they felt safe where they lived.
Communal living also has a significant emotional impact on residents, most notably in reducing loneliness which has been linked to various physical health implications such as accelerating cognitive decline and even presenting people with a 64% greater risk of dementia. There are currently 800,000 people in England who are chronically lonely which, if left to increase in line with the population, could create a large burden on the NHS. The research shows that living amongst like-minded people has the potential to reduce the risk of social isolation, particularly for residents who move from more rural or remote homes. Nearly two thirds of respondents living in retirement villages (64.2%) could be classified as not at all lonely, and over four out of five (81.7%) said they hardly ever or never felt isolated.
Extra care housing offers people the opportunity to live in a community, while remaining in their own home and retaining their independence. No one wants to be in a care home – Audley research found that 99% of people would not choose to live in a care home – and very few should need to go down that route unless they specifically need to. The ILC report shows us that the quality of life in retirement villages far exceeds the alternatives faced by this generation at the moment.
Extra care is a seemingly simple concept, but government, business and society urgently needs to accelerate the provision of alternatives to current solutions. Alternatives like extra care housing which can help give older people what they need and want. This will not only act as a step in the right direction for the UK housing market, but prevent a NHS care crisis and improve the quality of life for thousands of older people.
Paul Morgan is Operations Director at Audley Retirement Villages
 Home Builders Federation ‘Housing Crisis Statistics’ – http://www.hbf.co.uk/media-centre/facts-statistics/
 “Viewpoint on Downsizing”, a report produced for the Housing Learning and Improvement Network (LIN)