You might not think that there is a shortage of housing in the UK, you might not care, you may well have heard all the arguments before and think well, it doesn’t affect me so I don’t give a damn. That’s fine, but then what about those people that it does affect, and how are they going to cope in older age?
The UK, as arguments go, is an island, and on an island there is only so much land available – unfortunately, land is one of the things you cannot manufacture or just simply create. And as a country with both an ageing and an increasing population; we are simply running out of space in which to house everybody.
Consider some of the facts about the UK population, at the end of July last year this was estimated to be just under 63.7 million, at the start of 1990 this figures was just over 57 million – that’s an increase of over 11% across the last 25 years alone. The UK birth rate is experiencing a boom. There are currently 12.26 births per 1000 of population each year while at the same time improvements in health and wellbeing mean there are fewer deaths – just 9.33 per 1000 of population – so natural population growth exists, add in the net immigration figures to the UK of 2.57 per 1000 of population then you can do the maths – our population is growing and recorded an increase of approaching 420,000 in 2013 alone. London alone now has an estimated population of in excess of 8.6 million and almost 25% of the total population growth last year settled there.
Now look at the economy. Although most commentators, and indeed the economic figures themselves show, the UK economy is now officially out of recession and is back in a ‘growth’ phase. Unfortunately, economic activity tends to lag behind population activity – after all it is some of the growth in population that helps to drive economic recovery and one of the major sufferers in the recent downturn has been the construction sector.
The Government has recognised the need to build more houses over recent years for two main reasons – the first being to help drive the economic recovery and the second to help house the growing population that we see. Financial stimulus has also been given to the sector with extension of the Government ‘Help to Buy’ scheme – with help like this it is no wonder that shares in the major housebuilders have been amongst some of the best performing on the Stock Market over recent months. However, despite this stimulus, we still have a problem – and the problem is that the UK builds far fewer new homes than is needed to house its growing population.
Experts predict that the UK needs to build some 250,000 new properties each year, but the figures show that we are, in fact, only achieving around half that number – let’s put that in perspective – it is estimated that we are now building fewer new homes per year than in any peacetime year since the First World War.
Mature Times readers will have seen the arguments often repeated in the national press around the subject of under-occupation of family homes by older people and the debate that this generates around whether ‘retirement housing’ could play a more prominent role in helping to solve our housing shortage. Going back to those population figures for a minute, just under 29% of the UK population are aged 55+, that’s in excess of 18.2million people, yet only 7% of them live in either sheltered or retirement housing.
So, should retirement housing be a more attractive and practical solution for older people?
Well, as the theory goes, the answer to this question should be yes. Just consider, purpose-built retirement housing means fewer worries about repairs and maintenance – often done for you as part of your service charge – it also provides a safe and supportive environment, and in certain cases can provide a level of care and support that can help people to live independently for longer.
The security element is important, especially if you are still active and go away regularly for holidays, or to visit relatives, as you want to know that your property is safe. There is also the wellness aspect of ‘retirement living’ – living with like minded people, who provide a supportive social environment, can help to combat loneliness and isolation amongst the elderly as well.
With all these positive factors why don’t more people do it? After all, in other parts of the World, Europe and America in particular, high-quality accommodation built in good locations with good facilities has been seen to make retirement housing more attractive. Perhaps it’s because it has a negative image, perhaps it’s a lack of awareness about what retirement or sheltered housing can offer, or perhaps it’s the fact that this type of housing is often seen as being part of the ‘decline’ stage of life, as opposed to a way of leading a more active, sociable and independent life – and let’s face it the stoic, stiff upper lipped Brit is not one for confronting their own mortality!
Whatever the reason, it’s a debate that needs to find a voice that needs to be more open for discussion. For every negative view there’s also a positive one, for every downside there’s an upside, for every doubter there’s a supporter.
What is clear is that this debate will not go away – I go back to what I said at the top of this article – we can’t create more land – what we have to do is find a way to create more housing that suits the needs of every part of our growing population – creating more attractive, affordable and sustainable retirement housing is one such solution.
Do you have an opinion on retirement housing; are you a professional in the sector that comes up against some of the issues we have highlighted? If so why not get in touch, we would welcome your thoughts and opinions.