The UK Government is today publishing a major new housing strategy giving older people greater choice and addressing the challenges of an ageing population.
Hazel Blears and Housing Minister Caroline Flint will announce a range of measures to bring about a fundamental change in the way we build future communities alongside an expansion in existing support available to older people that will help them to live safely and, where they choose, independently in their own homes.
Lifetime Homes, Lifetime Neighbourhoods: A National Strategy for Housing in an Ageing Society is the first of its kind in the world. It represents a major shift that puts housing in the frontline in both supporting older people's aspirations and preventative care, placing the needs of older people at the heart of policy making.
Hazel Blears said: "Demand for housing is high - being driven to a large extent by older people. Not only do we need to build more homes, but the right kind of homes too. That means 'lifetime homes' suited to families with pushchairs right through to older people in wheelchairs.
"By making age friendly changes both inside and outside of homes we can help to break the link between old age and dependency."
The Ageing Strategy focuses on the work that is being done by government in the short and longer term to improve housing and neighbourhoods to make them better meet the needs of older people.
Housing Minister Caroline Flint said: "This is about giving all older people a better choice. The vast majority of people want to stay independent in a suitable home at they get older. We have a responsibility to support that desire by increasing the housing choices that are available.
"Meeting the needs of an ageing population is one of the major challenges we are facing as a society. But whilst it's a big challenge, even a small change or adaption to a home can transform an older person's life."
Announcements to 'future proof' all new homes will include:-
- From 2013, we want new standards for all new homes meaning they are built to age friendly designs marking a fundamental change in the way we currently build homes. Sixteen key features make up the 'Lifetime Homes' standard and will mean that wider doors, improved design of bathrooms and staircases big enough to take stair lifts will be a feature of every new home - ending the need for costly adaptations. We will review take-up in 2010, with a view to bringing forward regulation in 2013 if take-up in the private sector has not matched market need or expectations. Research shows that better thought-out and more flexible design means these simple, commonsense changes could be made without significant additional extra costs.
- To accelerate progress, from 2011, all new social housing to be built to the 'Lifetime Homes' standards - ensuring the public sector is leading the way in supporting older people. By 2011 we will be building 50 per cent more social housing than we do today, tens of thousands of tenants will benefit from the new standards.
Government also wants to see more 'age friendly' neighbourhoods:
- Lifetime neighbourhoods. A new drive with local planners and key partners like design experts CABE will be launched to promote new 'age-friendly cities'. It will look at how new developments, neighbourhoods, towns and cities can be better designed for older people.
Just as our homes have not been built with an ageing population in mind, neither have many neighbourhoods - research suggests one million older people feel trapped in their own homes with poor neighbourhood design a significant factor. Figures suggest that around one third of older people leave their homes on average only twice a week.
New implementation guidelines will set out how developers and councils should carefully consider better paving and kerb design, convenient access to public toilets and amenities, good street lighting, well located bus stops, information services, disabled parking bays and accessible public transport.
Eco-towns, of which ten are planned nationally, will be the first 'age-friendly cities'. The Olympic Village will also promote exemplary inclusive design and lifetime neighbourhoods, thereby maximising the potential legacy for all after the Games finish.
And to better support older people in their current homes, we will:-
- Develop a national rapid repair and adaptations service which will support a major expansion of handyman schemes across the country. Backed up by £33 million of investment, this will enable an extra 125,000 older people every year to get repairs and adaptations to their home to support them living independently.
- Establish a new dedicated National Housing Advice and Information Service providing expert advice for older people. As well as helping older people to access low cost or free maintenance and repairs services for their homes carried out by trusted professionals, the advice line will also provide crucial information and guidance to support older people making choices about their accommodation needs for the future - ensuring that they are fully aware of all the options that are open to them and keeping them safe in their homes for longer.
- Increased funding through the Disabled Facilities Grant to support more people make crucial adaptations to their homes now. £460 million will be available over the next 3 years (a 30 per cent increase) for changes such as installing stair lifts, walk in showers and wider doors. Adaptations of this kind can help people stay mobile and live independently for longer.
Demographic trends show that more people are living longer. By 2026 older people will account for almost half (48 per cent) of the increase in the total number of households - this will result in an additional 2.4 million older households than there are today.
The Government is clear that urgent action is required now to better design communities and support older people.
The Strategy is key to better meeting older peoples' aspirations to remain independent in later life whilst ensuring a major new emphasis on practical prevention of accidents and injuries that can put a strain on the budgets of local councils and health services.
Research indicates that home safety modifications and adaptations can reduce falls by up to 60 per cent. Older people's falls already result in 1.25 million hospital admissions each year, at a cost to the NHS around £750 million.
Paul Cann, director of policy and external relations at Help the Aged, said:
"This strategy is enormously important. Housing is the backbone of older people's quality of life, affecting their health, well-being and independence.
"We live in an ageing population and our housing must meet the needs of older people, both now and in the future. We're delighted the Government seems to have taken this on board. The commitment to housing advice, repairs and adaptations will help older people who want to continue to live independently now. The promise to build new houses to 'lifetime homes' standards will mean there is more appropriate housing for people of all ages in the future.
"Older people often tell us that they want to live in their own homes for as long as possible. This strategy will hopefully be a spring board to this becoming a reality."