Yesterday, 1 July, Parliament held its first ever debate specifically considering retirement communities. The debate in Westminster Hall was called specifically to consider the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the housing-with-care sector however it demonstrates the Government’s recognition of the growing importance of housing and care provision in the UK.
The benefits of a growth in the sector are widely recognised; research indicates that there are clear health benefits, and consequent cost-savings to the NHS, to residents living in such retirement communities – reflecting on the pandemic, figures indicate that fewer residents of retirement communities died compared to the same age group in the general population.
However, it is estimated that in the UK just over 0.5% of over-65s live in retirement communities compared with 5-6% in New Zealand, Australia and America where the sector is more established and, fundamentally, there is sector-specific regulation.
Responding to an open letter to the Prime Minister and calls in the debate for, amongst other things, sector specific-regulation and planning reform specifically addressing housing-with-care, Helen Whately MP, Minister of State for Social Care, reflected that:
“We are working across Government and also working with stakeholders, with the sector, on how we can achieve it. We are indeed considering the proposal for a taskforce … . Yes, the partnership approach is absolutely one on the table.”
With the expectation that, by 2040, the number of people aged over 65 in the UK will increase by more than 40%, the need for retirement living to play a part in broader healthcare strategy as well as the solution to the housing crisis is clear. It is, therefore, welcome that the sector is beginning to attract attention in Government.
There is clearly a shortage of specialist housing for older people ... However, the Library briefing outlined three things needed for specialist housing for older people: sector-specific legislation, which we need to see in place; clarity in the planning system, because it is not about building houses all over the place but about having the right kind of housing in the planning system; and funding options for affordable housing-with-care provision.