Housing for older people: A festival of ideas

Jeremy Porteus, founder and director of the Housing LIN, writes about this year's conference.

In our latest blog Jeremy Porteus, founder and director of the Housing LIN, writes about this year's conference.

For keen cricket followers, the weather in early March does not always bode well for celebrating the start of the new season.

With our annual festival of ideas held in the Ashes Suite at the KIA Oval, London, this year’s Housing LIN (Learning and Improvement Network) conference sent everyone home bowled over with inspiration for improving specialist housing options for older people.

Once again, Legal & General were one of the key sponsors who made the event possible. Our relationship is a natural fit, given that so much of the conference’s agenda – and the challenges our sector faces – relate to the need for diverse funding options for housing and care in later life.

It is estimated that some £1.4 trillion is tied up in housing owned by older people – two thirds of which is mortgage-free. We need financial products such as lifetime mortgages that encourage and support older people to move to homes that better meet their needs as they age. That could mean ‘rightsizing’ to a more manageable home or moving to specialist housing where their current or future care needs can be met.

Legal & General’s influential research report, Last Time Buyers (PDF, 3.14 MB), identified last year that we also need much greater diversity of tenure – from specialist homes for outright purchase through to shared ownership, market rent and social rent housing.

Closely tied in with these funding issues is the question of the amount of specialist housing for older people that we as a country are building. In policy discussions around health and social care the impact of our ageing society is taken for granted.

Yet in the housing sector, which I consistently argue should be seen as the third pillar of support and independence alongside those two services, we seem unwilling as a nation to meet the needs and aspirations of a changing demographic.

Legal & General’s managing director for individual retirement, Bernie Hickman (photo, right), rightly noted at our conference, just 1% of the new housing built in the UK each year is specialist accommodation for older people – yet 27% of our population is aged over 65.

Chaired by Shaun Lay, BBC World at One, our conference sought to generate and promote ideas around these funding and supply questions facing both the commercial / private specialist housing sector and social housing providers.

However, the Housing LIN is also a vocal and important advocate for more diverse and aspirational housing options for older people. Since our launch a decade ago we have been passionate advocates of high quality design and services for an ageing population.

Inevitably, at our conference focused on how we can further improve the design quality of specialist housing for older people. Having grown accustomed to choice and well-designed homes during their working lives, the retired people of today and tomorrow are unlikely to settle for second-best in retirement.

Anna Dixon, chief executive of the Centre for Ageing Better, outlined the three key factors that older people had told researchers were key for a good later life. These were health, financial security and social connections. Those factors can impact on each other and are inter-related.

We work closely with EAC (Elderly Accommodation Counsel,) a key source of expert advice for older people and their families thinking of moving from their family home. John Galvin, the long-serving director of EAC, gave a thoughtful presentation examining the factors that continue to put many older people off moving. He emphasised that providers need to involve residents and prospective residents in re-thinking specialist retirement housing for ‘a good later life’. His talk underlined the theme of our conference: ‘People Powered Change’.

That theme was reflected in both the panel discussions – including one in which Bernie participated. These explored issues such as:

  • How older people can shape and control the forms of housing available to them
  • How existing specialist housing can be reimagined and redesigned by working with residents, carers and local communities
  • How the design of extra care housing is changing in the light of experience and evidence to better meet the needs of older people.

I am pleased that Legal & General recognise the need to involve older people and their families and carers in planning and delivering the specialist housing of tomorrow.

Speaking at the recent EAC awards, which Legal & General and the Housing LIN both support, Bernie praised providers who promote their housing by highlighting the views of existing residents and their families. New specialist housing needs to promote independent living in well-designed housing that is part of local communities.

Legal & General are contributing to the diversity of provision by supporting the funding and construction of housing schemes; for example, with innovative off-site manufacturing techniques.  

By supporting events such as the EAC awards and our conference, they are also contributing to an ideas factory that can develop solutions to the financing, design and choice challenges facing the specialist housing sector.

And as we saw at our conference last month, we can get together to produce some magical thinking in a festival of ideas that will really benefit all of us, whether passing 50 or hitting a century.

Copies of all the presentations from the annual conference can be downloaded from: http://www.housinglin.org.uk/Events/HLINAnnualConference2016/