A VERY early start but, actually, (aided by copious amounts of coffee) how refreshing to attend the Bisnow Later Living: Building Vibrant Communities event in London recently.
What also helped to shake off the morning cobwebs were the startling statistics unapologetically - and understandably - highlighted by the panels of experts in the later living field, one of which was chaired by our very own Edell Asquez.
For example, did you know:
- Of the 30,000 age exclusive homes needed to be built each year, only 7,000 were built last year across both private and public sectors?
- The number of purpose-built homes offering care services in the UK is 0.7%, far less than in Europe.
- Of the 6.8 million retirement age people who live alone in their own home, 3.8 million would be interested in downsizing/rightsizing? (where on earth to is the million-dollar question);
- We surpassed the milestone in 2020 of there being more over 65s in the UK than under 5s?
We are teetering on the precipice of a hidden crisis. So then, what is the solution to the stark supply/demand imbalance?
Well, if there was an easy answer then I wouldn’t have bothered setting my alarm to get to the event this morning before my own under 5 started stirring... but what was evident from the panellists - which included Lord Richard Best, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Housing and Care for Older People - is that people need to get more angry, more vocal, on the topic of the rapidly changing population demographic.
In particular, we need to get planning authorities at local and national level to push this higher up their policy agendas and take the lead on compelling policy initiatives to drive diversity of residential development. Take the likes of Central Bedfordshire (my home turf) for example, which requires housing developers to dedicate 10% of their schemes to age exclusive housing and, in turn, the developers see this reflected back in the land value.
There was also a call for legislative change to provide a conscious ‘unfair advantage’ in favour of the older generation, encouraging them to ‘rightsize’ and break the chains which are stifling movement of housing stock – there is apparently an average of 2.7 house moves which will flow from just one rightsize move. One such legislative change could be in the form of a stamp duty holiday for people of pension age (and, presumably, if one rightsize move triggers even more house moves, then this equals a net gain in SDLT revenue for the Treasury). Or perhaps the government can find a way to facilitate a wider availability of shared ownership structures benefitting the later living market, thereby opening up attractive retirement community schemes to a wider demographic of the ageing population.
Another key takeaway from the event, apart from a cheeky pastry for the train home, was that the variety of fabulous later living schemes now being developed need to be marketed to the consumer loudly and in the right way, more so than any other living sector product, as the penetration rates are so low. Care homes, retirement villages, extra care schemes and beyond have come a phenomenally long way in recent years (far from the boxy rooms and lingering smell of those occupied by my grandparents’ generation) and they incorporate community at the heart of their designs. From cinemas, bars and hydropools to hairdressers, allotments and even golf courses, later living can now offer impressive lifestyle benefits. And not forgetting to mention, of course, the range of care provision provided to residents. In simple terms, we need to talk about ageing, and the key message needs to get out more widely to the consumer that these schemes are evolving the sector to a new level and offering attractive lifestyle propositions for those in later life.