Investment in retirement property is the key in delivering better health, better-designed homes and better social connection.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently declared loneliness a “global public health concern” – they said it’s as bad as having 15 cigarettes a day. Just consider that for a moment – loneliness has now been labelled a global public health concern. While this is genuinely alarming, it’s not altogether surprising.
The UK is aging rapidly and this presents challenges around housing, care and affordability. In the 2021 Census, over 11 million people – 18.6% of the total population – were aged 65 years or older, compared with 16.4% at the time of the previous census in 2011. By 2050 it is projected that this number will have nearly doubled to around 19 million.
This means there will be an additional 8 million people over 75 within the next three decades looking for accommodation that prioritises care and support.
We know that housing supply is challenging today and so is the pressure on residential aged care – a sector that is often confused with retirement living. But our changing demographic outlook in the UK will make things even harder, unless later life house is given greater priority.
Retirement villages across the country save country many millions of pounds every year by delaying entry into taxpayer-funded aged care facilities. This delay is centred around better health, better-designed homes, but also social connection.
But, here’s the good news.
Compared to older Britons not living in a retirement community, residents are 15% more physically active, 41% happier, they’re five times more socially active, twice as likely to catch up with family or friends and have reduced levels of depression and loneliness.
In fact, residents are 20% less likely to require hospitalisation after only nine months of living in a retirement community.
All of this reduced interaction with doctors and hospitals releases capacity back into health systems for those who need it most when they need it most.
This is not about telling older people that they must leave the family home – it is simply shining a spotlight on some of the benefits of ‘rightsizing’.
What is rightsizing?
The new figures from the English Housing Survey show that 53% of older households (one million) do not have the adaptations they need – up from 45% (864,000) in 2014-15. A third (33%) of households that need adaptations say their home is unsuitable and they want to move.
Larger homes can increase health risks as people age, with most cases of falls in older people occurring at home. Features like stairs without railings, clutter or poor lighting can create hazards for older people.
This is an important transition because when an older person sells the big family home and moves into a house that is more suitable for their ageing needs, it frees up housing stock for young people, couples and growing families.
So, it’s not just helping people in their later years – it’s helping people at the beginning of their housing journeys too.
It’s now clear that we have a housing type that is driving financial efficiencies for Governments through better-designed homes that minimise trips and falls, and also driving social connection at the same time.
This means people who live in a retirement community are experiencing fewer visits to the General Practitioner (GP), shorter hospital stays and delayed entry to aged care.
Making way for more retirement communities
Politicians are right to apply a laser focus on housing supply, but they also need to better understand the benefits if we can unleash more supply.
Planning systems don’t always make things easy for home building, and it’s no different in the retirement sector.
Government should consider minimum land allocations for retirement communities given the incredible benefits they provide. They should also set targets for this housing type the same way they do for social and affordable housing.
Retirement living is a secret weapon for Governments that are struggling to bring more housing stock to a market under duress – and the benefits are now clear for consumers, Governments and society.