By Gerald Lee, CEO, St Monica Trust
Gerald Lee is the outgoing Chief Executive of The St Monica Trust, which runs four highly regarded retirement villages in the south west of England, he is also a member of the BEN board of trustees. In this blog, Gerald talks about the lack of supply in retirement housing and its impact on the health and wellbeing of older people.
The fact that the UK population is ageing has been widely reported for years, but we are still not producing sufficient housing designed for older people. According to Age UK, over 65s will make up nearly a quarter of the population by 2034. 4.4 million of us say we will consider buying a retirement property when the time comes, but only 2.8% of new builds are retirement housing so we are facing a structural shortfall of suitable housing for older people. Retirement villages are one solution but we need a range of options for people wishing to downsize and find homes that are easier to live in and maintain.
Housing that is specifically designed for older people enables them to stay in their own home for longer, meaning the move to a nursing home can be delayed or avoided altogether. But, as people live longer and longer lives there will almost certainly come a time when, even if you live in a well-designed house, support will be needed. The age of 80 is generally when people start to feel they would like some help, certainly at the St Monica Trust’s retirement villages our residents are mostly octogenarians. The exception to this is where there is a specific care need, which means a move to a supported environment may happen at an earlier age.
Another demographic timebomb that retirement villages can help defuse is the 3.8 million over 65s who live alone in the UK. Whether through widowhood, divorce or choice this is a huge number of single households. The reason this matters is because the first line care provider is usually the spouse or partner, but these singles don’t have one, so their care needs must be met by external agencies or by living in a supported retirement community.
The message about the benefits of living in an environment or community that is designed for older people is slowly getting through to policymakers and developers. We’re finally waking up to the fact that retirement housing can enable people to stay in their own homes for longer, improving health and wellbeing and reducing the burden on hospitals, but we need to act fast if we’re going to have sufficient, good quality housing for older people. The UK is way behind countries like the US and Australia, but I’m optimistic that we’ll start to catch up.