This blog was contributed by Paul Gamble, Chief Executive of Habinteg Housing Association.
Effective housing policies will make or break the UK’s ability to meet the challenges posed by our ageing population. Building homes that remain accessible for all stages of a person’s life and can be adapted easily, taking into account diverse and changing need, just makes sense.
Habinteg and Age UK have both contributed to the Government’s review of housing standards consultation and made the case for national standards that increase the supply of accessible homes. The new three tiered approach recommended by the Government needs to prioritise access issues. Without this local and national commitment, the homes of the future will simply not provide for the needs of the increasing number of older and disabled people in the UK.
An ageing population
The projections could not be clearer. By 2030, one in three people in the UK will be aged over 55 with the number of disabled people estimated to rise to 4.6million by 2041.
People want to age in their own homes as independently as possible, for as long as they are able.
Though specialist retirement and extra care housing plays a role, it is our general housing stock that will take the strain. Currently only 6% of older people live in specialist accommodation. When you consider the high costs of specialist housing, it becomes even clearer that a mainstream solution is essential.
Access Level 2 or Lifetime Homes
The basis for the Government’s proposed second tier for access (this would be similar to the Lifetime Homes Standard – but may give local authorities discretion over implementation) is based on Habinteg’s Lifetime Homes Standard, specific design criteria that can be universally applied to new homes at minimal cost. We want Access Level 2 to be the default setting for all new homes built, not a ‘luxury’ or additional standard delivered at the discretion of good local plans.
The Lifetime Homes Standard includes basic features that make the most difference; level access, wider doorways and, crucially, the potential for lower cost adaptations. The standard is underpinned by five simple principles: Inclusion, accessibility, adaptability, sustainability and value.
The Department for Communities and Local Government estimates the cost of a Lifetime Home to be around £500 extra for a house and £100 extra for a flat. This represents sound public investment and long term value when compared with the other financial pressures of ageing (pensions, health costs support needs).
Why accessible homes?
The accessibility of housing affects us all but it is disabled and older people who bear the brunt when they find their homes hampering their independence and homes of friends and family off limits altogether.
In cash strapped times it’s important to realise that access isn’t a luxury.
The savings generated from the health and social care budgets alone by building accessible homes are substantial and viable.
The ability to safely discharge patients from hospital knowing that their home is suitable frees up NHS resources. Lifetime Homes have many useful features already in place meaning less expensive adaptations.
The Standard’s inclusive approach also supports the wellbeing and sustainability of families and communities, combating isolation and enabling diversity. Mobility increases because basic access is a given across a wider area.
Building Research Establishment data (published by DCLG) shows that household falls leading to hip fracture cost £726 million in 2000. Adaptations made easy by the lifetime homes criteria, along with the basic access features it provides , help reduce the number of falls.
If the average cost of treating a hip fracture is £28,655, that’s 4.7 times the average cost of housing adaptation (£6,000) and 100 times the cost of fitting grab rails. The upfront cost of Lifetime Homes is clearly an investment worth making.
The Government’s review of housing standards represents a golden opportunity to get housing policy right for future generations. Making the Level 2 Access standard a national default will equip housing providers to tackle the challenges ahead. We need more homes, but they must be inclusive homes.