England’s hidden housing crisis

Within five years, a quarter of the English population will be aged over 60. Yet new housing is being built with little regard to the needs of our ageing population writes Chris Dobson.

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) has launched a call for urgent action to tackle the severe lack of age-friendly housing. In its report ‘A home for the ages: Planning for the future through age-friendly design’, the RIBA emphasizes the importance of well-designed, purpose-built new homes that enable people to play a more active role in their communities as they age.

The report, which includes data from Centre for Towns, the independent non-partisan organisation that provides research and analysis of towns, and ComRes, the market research consultancy, reveals populations in towns and villages all over the country have aged significantly in the last 40 years, a trend that is set to continue.

The cost to the NHS of inappropriate housing for people over 55 is projected to reach £1 billion per year by 2041 in first year treatment alone. A quarter of over 55s are currently considering moving home but over half feel that the housing options available are inadequate and demand for age-friendly housing outstrips supply.

Age-friendly design brings wide positive impacts for all generations enabling people to keep socially and economically active for longer and reducing dependence on public services.

Failure to plan for an older population is putting a huge strain on the public purse not just because of health/social care costs but because of the failure to realise the untapped potential to the economy by supporting people to relocate.

The RIBA recommends age-friendly design so that all new build housing is accessible and adaptable; the removal of barriers in the planning system that restrict the delivery of age-friendly homes; the provision of better information and support for people who want to move home, and integration of public services so that people can be more actively engaged in their own communities.

A final recommendation is the introduction of Government-funded design awareness training for planners and local councillors and new settlement programmes incorporating Lifetime Neighbourhood principles.

Tim Bailey, Xsite Architecture and regional chair, RIBA, says: “Our society is changing dramatically – we are living longer, our families and communities are dispersed, and in too many cases we are cut off from public transport and social infrastructure. Change is necessary in the way we plan, design and build houses to meet the challenge.

“Providing places to live for our ageing population is a crisis looming fast within the housing crisis. This RIBA report calls for housing that is thoughtfully located, excellently designed and flexible enough to address the issues faced by people growing older. We call on the industry to collaborate and deliver.”