Flexible and adaptable homes needed, report finds

Anna Dixon, Centre for Ageing Better chief executive

More than two million people aged 55 or older are living in a home that endangers their health or wellbeing.

As many as 4.3 million homes in England do not meet standards set by government and are excessively cold, or damp, or contain hazards that put the occupant at risk of tripping and falling, a report by the Centre for Ageing Better has said.

Its research found 9% of homes (just over 2 million), meet the most basic standard of accessibility. This means they have level access to the entrance, a flush threshold, sufficiently wide doorframes and circulation space, and a toilet at entrance level. Just 10% of homes contain at least one adaptation – such as grab rails or ramps.

‘This is not enough to meet the needs of the current population – let alone the needs of the population of 2040, when one in four of us will be 65 or older,’ the report said. ‘The vast majority of older people live in mainstream housing, rather than specialist housing, such as a retirement community or sheltered accommodation. We need more homes built to a higher standard of accessibility, homes that are adaptable and flexible enough for all of us to live in them, throughout our lives.’

The report, The State of Ageing in 2020, warned as well as low-quality housing, poor health and a lack of social connections had exacerbated the impact of the pandemic particularly among the less well-off.

People in the North in their 50s and 60s, on average, were more likely to have three or more long-term health conditions than those in the South. One in five 50-64-year-olds in Tees Valley and Durham have three or more such conditions, compared to less than one in ten of those living in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire.

People who live in the wealthiest areas have almost twice as many years of disability-free life ahead of them at 65 than those living in the poorest areas.

Anna Dixon, Centre for Ageing Better chief executive, said: ‘In recent years we have made great progress in reducing pensioner poverty, increasing life expectancy and improving health. But not all places have seen the benefit of these gains and too many people have been left behind.

‘The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened these already shocking inequalities, with those in poor health hit harder and those who are poorer less able to recover financially from the impact of the crisis.

‘If we continue on our current path, the gap between those who are able to enjoy later life and those who struggle through it will be even wider for future generations than it is for the present one.’