This week’s blog from our General Election Series highlights why everyone in later life should feel safe, comfortable and secure at home.
A decent and comfortable home environment is important to all of us, but it’s especially important as we age. Older people can be particularly vulnerable to the effects of the cold, damp and hazardous housing conditions. It’s estimated that poor housing costs the NHS £600m every year, with a total cost to society of up to £1.5bn. That’s why Age UK is calling for a comprehensive joined up programme to improve home conditions for older people and new affordable ‘lifetime’ homes built to higher accessibility and energy efficiency standards.
Helping people make adaptations
Many older people need help and advice to repair, adapt or modify their homes. Home improvement agencies and handy person services continue to play a key role in offering practical assistance and can identify the resources needed to pay for work. Yet in recent years these services have been cut back, despite widespread cross party agreement on the essential role they play.
In particular, we urgently need to protect and extend the availability of funding for home adaptations, such as Disabled Facilities Grant. Age UK believes housing support for older people needs to be a stronger component of the statutory obligations of local authorities to ensure meaningful integration with health and care services. This would back up specific policies to guarantee that all older people entering hospital are automatically offered help to improve their homes.
Investment in local housing services, working alongside the health and social services, can tackle and prevent the problems caused by poor housing. Such joined-up services need to bring together a range of related measures so that older people can live healthy, independent lives in a warm and comfortable environment.
As part of this we need an ambitious energy efficiency programme to tackle fuel poverty, and bring homes up to the E and F energy rating standard. It’s not enough to fix an older person’s heating without ensuring they can bath, cook a meal or get up and down the stairs. It’s a combination of coordinated actions that deliver independence and comfort.
A mix of housing options needed
We clearly need a wider range of affordable housing options, including sheltered and retirement housing. However, as we get older the vast majority of us want to remain in our own homes and stay as independent as possible. Yet only 5% of homes have the basic design features required to make them accessible for people with restricted mobility or a disability (a slight increase on the previous figure of 3%).
All homes must be lifetime homes
In reality, most of us don’t contemplate that we might have difficulties getting around our home as we get older. That’s why Age UK argues that all homes should automatically be built to a higher accessibility standard, which means they are easier and cheaper to adapt or modify if required.
The Government has recently introduced a new accessible home standards based on the ‘lifetimes homes standard’ (a set of basic design features that make all homes more accessible). However, it will be up to local authorities to make the case for what percentage of homes in their area should use this new standard. This isn’t good enough. We need to apply the standard to all new homes because none of us can predict whether we might develop restricted mobility as we age. But we still want the reassurance that we have the option of carrying out affordable adaptations, if they are needed.
The kinds of solutions promoted by Age UK are both practical and affordable. They would transform the lives of millions of older people, save money and benefit society as a whole.
On 7 May 2015, we will all vote to choose our future MPs and the next UK Government. It’s vital that once elected our politicians act on the issues that affect older people, today and tomorrow. Ask your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to become Age Champions