By Cratus Associate, Helen Tilton
We are experiencing a dramatic shift in age demographic in the UK, and we need to plan for the reality of what that will mean now and in the future. Like it or not (more on that later) older people need to be at the heart of housing policy and decision-making.
In some parts of the country, ONS projections indicate more than 40% of the population will be over 65 years of age in 20 years’ time. More poignantly, the number of households with someone aged over 85 years will almost double over a similar timeframe. Inevitably there will be an increase in the number of people with age related and health conditions that can create barriers to accessibility, and it will affect how we use and interact with services, and the spaces we live in.
In the development industry we often talk about involving ‘hard to reach groups’ when it comes to engagement in the planning and design of development projects, but from an age perspective it is often the lack of inclusion of young people that is the focus. The middle-aged or newly retired are often more active, or enabled, to contribute. Unfortunately, ageism is a factor in terms of how much we typically value particular voices, and it can stem from the false idea that older people are a burden or that they have a negative impact on the economy (which based on evidence around caring responsibilities, volunteering and spending power, just doesn’t ring true in reality).
So, what happens if you are an older person but aren’t part of that ‘active’ older age group? What if you are being constantly told through the media that your opinion isn’t representative, or is too inflexible, or too confrontational just because it raises important issues that need to be balanced with new growth challenges? Or, what if you already go the extra mile – perhaps you are the community elder that is respected locally to support the cultural and social values of your area?
In consideration of these sorts of important issues, local filmmaker Neil Maggs recently interviewed five older Bristol residents to create a short film, “Living at Home: Five Stories from Older People”, produced by the Bristol Older People’s Forum in collaboration with Care & Repair England and Bristol Ageing Better. The film offers a snapshot into the lives of people whose voices are often ignored, touching on topics such as stereotyping, neighbourly support, housing affordability, the need to stay in the community, the importance of older people influencing decision-making, and the challenges of lockdown and isolation.
What might this all mean in terms of housing policy and development? The Centre for Ageing Better points out that we need housing stock that is suitable for everyone as they age, and it must be a central issue for housing policy. Fundamentally, we need to be building sustainable homes that promote independence and wellbeing because they are adaptable. Alongside this we also need a major programme of investment to support people on low incomes, across all tenures, to improve their existing housing condition. This includes investment in retrofitting existing homes in order to make them safe, digitally connected and energy efficient.
Designing with older people in mind – and for that matter the very young and less abled – makes for adaptable places that make good sense both ethically and economically.
“Living at Home: Five Stories from Older People” is available to view here