Categories
Blog Post

Healthy Homes for Healthy Lives: How Specialist Housing Can Address the Ageing Population Challenge

The UK is getting older

The UK has a rapidly ageing population – a growing demographic that will only put further pressure on our already desperate housing crisis. It is projected that, by 2039, the number of people aged 75 and over will double from 5 million to nearly 10 million.

Over recent years, the Government has focused policymaking on specific reforms to help younger people get onto the housing ladder; or, in some cases, they have actively abandoned any progressive housing reform at all. Schemes such as the Help to Buy ISA and Help to Buy Equity Loan threw a lifeline at those first-time buyers looking to get their foot on the housing ladder amidst a backdrop of austerity and a squeeze on the public purse. However, in this focus, the Conservatives have failed to properly address the vulnerable, rapidly ageing population who are unable to pursue the specialised housing they need.

Recently we have seen the need for a better approach to older people’s housing championed within Parliament and the establishment of the Older People’s Housing Taskforce, a joint effort from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and Department of Health and Social Care. However, with the change in Housing Minister once again and the looming General Election next year, the Taskforce is unlikely to make the necessary progress to address older people’s housing challenges. Research from the National Housing Federation (NHF) argues that we need 38,000 new homes for rent for older people each year; much more than the 8,000 we are currently achieving.

Specialised social housing for older people is an important and necessary way to ensure that older people can live in homes that suit their needs, and to address vital health concerns. To address this, the next Labour Government will need to implement a significant programme of building for older people, embedded across two key commitments made at the 2023 Labour Party Conference: Angela Rayner’s commitment to building 1.5 million new homes, and Wes Streeting and Andrew Gwynne’s 10-year plan for a National Care Service.

What can Labour do about it?

Labour have recognised the need for adapted housing and have included provisions for this within the National Policy Forum document. However, whilst this is useful, there remains a need for large-scale development that can provide the need for housing at scale and foster communities.

This is where a partnership in Birmingham may provide the outline to give Labour a big step up in achieving its ambitious home ownership target whilst pursuing a deeper social cause

An exceptional scheme

In 2004, when Birmingham City Council was looking at closing 29 care homes that had become unsustainable, they pursued an alternative programme that would address the shortage of care options whilst increasing provision for older people on middle incomes and those requiring social housing. The programme was not only aimed at meeting the needs of older people, but also those in Birmingham seeking family-sized homes, as the initiative sought to release these back into the market, including social housing underoccupied by older people.

The resulting partnership with the ExtraCare Charitable Trust saw a £200 million strategic programme to build five large scale Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) in Birmingham: New Oscott Village in Erdington , Pannel Croft Village in Newtown, Hagley Road Village and Bournville Gardens Village in Edgbaston (pictured) and finally Longbridge Village, completed in 2017. Homes became available for outright purchase, shared ownership purchase and affordable/social rent.

In total, the partnership resulted in a total of 1,168 units being built in five retirement villages.

Of these, 30% were for affordable/social rent, freeing up 342 units of social housing that were previously underoccupied for families requiring accommodation, providing a solution to both meet the needs of the ageing population and address the housing crisis facing younger generations.

The partnership also supported Birmingham’s diverse population. 70% of Pannel Croft’s residents are from Afro-Caribbean backgrounds, helping to facilitate a community for the older Afro-Caribbean population in Birmingham.

The subsequent health and social care benefits of the partnership, confirmed by a longitudinal study conducted by Aston University, resulted in savings for Birmingham City Council in social care costs, savings for the local NHS in Birmingham and savings for older people living in these IRCs – highlighting how increasing such partnerships can address both the housing and care challenges of an ageing population. The partnership also helped the Council to reach its own Health and Well-Being Board targets, with a 38% overall reduction in NHS costs and a 46% reduction in routine and regular GP visits for those living in the IRCs. Replicating this partnership across councils nationwide would tie in perfectly with Labour’s aims for both large-scale housebuilding and a National Care Service.

What next?

This example also demonstrates the wide-ranging socio-economic benefits that the building of social and affordable housing brings. By rolling out this partnership on a larger scale, Labour can facilitate a cyclical housing market where all older people who wish to downsize and move into accommodation such as IRCs can do so, and younger people and families can access family-sized homes. The role of IRCs in Labour’s National Care Service was noted in the Fabian Society’s recent report on this topic, which noted that “a major expansion of housing-with-care and supported living schemes” should be a “high priority”, recognising that “the UK has far less specialist housing for older people than many comparable countries, and what is available often does not provide sufficient support to prevent care home admissions when people’s needs grow more complex”. To remedy this, Labour should mandate that all local authorities have an older people’s housing plan which specifically mandates for provision of specialist housing and care for elderly.

Going further, Labour have recognised the urgent need to release parts of our greenbelt for development. Labour should aim to strategically release large parcels of land in conjunction with local councils, specialist housing providers and developers to develop these sites. In areas around cities, this could involve greenbelt land, allowing residents within cities to downsize and release valuable housing stock within urban centres.  By pursuing this, Labour would be bringing more homes back into the market, helping a vulnerable demographic and providing solutions to both councils’ rising social care costs and our ever-growing housing crisis.

Joshua Lee works as a Senior Researcher for Henham Strategy where he specialises in housing and planning policy.

Sarina Kiayani is Policy and External Affairs Manager at ARCO and sits on the Fabian Society Executive Committee.

Categories
Blog Post

Raising Exempt Accommodation Standards

As the cabinet member for housing at the UK’s largest local authority, one thing I quickly learned was that it’s not simply enough to assume that a roof over someone’s head solves all their problems. Tackling homelessness is of course very high on the agenda, but the quality of accommodation and the support on offer is also key.

That’s why in Birmingham we are focussing on the exempt accommodation sector. Exempt accommodation is an unregulated type of supported housing. It is often used as a means of housing those with no other housing options, such as prison leavers and people from other vulnerable groups.

This sector has almost doubled in size in the city over the last two years, from 11,500 units to close to 20,000 and we’re seeing huge increases of exempt housing in some neighbourhoods, as private landlords build up portfolios of leased and owned accommodation, and then apply for registered provider status, exempting them from licensing regulations and local scrutiny. Over £200 million is spent on such housing in Birmingham alone.

Such accommodation can only be regulated through the Housing Benefit system and the regulatory standards for registered providers, overseen by RSH (Regulator of Social Housing) not local authorities on the ground. There is little or no regulation of care, support or supervision provided, merely an extremely vague requirement for it to be ‘more than minimal’. Lax Tory regulations means the sector is ripe for corner-cutting, exploitation and profiteering.

And, while there are many responsible and respected providers, there are also horror stories of vulnerable people being exploited and of neighbourhoods being blighted by an explosion of sub-standard accommodation.

So as a Labour Council what are we doing to fix things in Birmingham?

We’re focusing on halting the growth in exempt housing while vital oversight work can be carried out to:

  • Improve property standards through inspection and intervention
  • Improve support through increased scrutiny of claims
  • Gather intelligence of suspected organised criminal activity and dealing with anti-social behaviour with the police
  • Better scrutinising new claims for Exempt status

In Birmingham we are working with responsible providers who, once accredited, become the main point of referrals for statutory agencies.

We are also rolling out a Quality Standards Framework and a Charter of Rights for residents (both co-designed with people who live or have lived in exempt accommodation) to set a local standard until Government regulations catch up.

A growing number of key partners across Birmingham have now signed up to only referring to providers that adopt both the Quality Standards and Charter of Rights. This of course requires a robust inspection regime and we are piloting one in the city.

But there is only so much we can do as a Labour Council. Ultimately we need the government to change course too.

The exempt sector has been, and sadly continues to be a rich market and there’s a clear need for stronger regulatory powers so that those who provide poor standards to their tenants, face real consequences. This effort is being spearheaded in Parliament by Steve McCabe, Liam Bryne and Shabana Mahmood on behalf of Birmingham’s Labour MPs, and new West Midlands PCC – Simon Foster.

On 19th April Birmingham Labour Group in collaboration with the Birmingham Labour MPs launched a city wide petition calling on Government for urgent policy reform:

The local impact in some areas is causing a misery for tenants and local communities. We firmly believe there should be local impact assessments implemented and tests of whether someone is fit to be a landlord to protect communities. We just need government support to do so and have put a bill to parliament that would guarantee this.

In Birmingham we’re making a difference and our message to unscrupulous providers is that we’re coming for you and your time will soon be up.

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Cllr Sharon Thompson</span></strong>
Cllr Sharon Thompson

Sharon Thompson has been a Labour Councillor for the Birmingham North Edgbaston ward since 2014.

Once homeless herself, and a single mother at an early age, Cllr Sharon Thompson is currently the Cabinet Member for Homes and Neighbourhoods and on the WMCA Housing & Land Delivery Board.

Categories
Blog Post Uncategorized

Second city a key battleground where housing will matter

With such a strong focus on the London mayoral election, it is hard for others standing for election in the rest of the UK to get a look in at present.  But there are many other vitally important contests where housing issues will be an important factor.  On May 3 elections will take place for 131 English, all 32 Scottish and 21 Welsh councils – full list here.
Birmingham will be a crucial bellwether election, where the contest is close and Labour is challenging the Tory/LibDem Coalition, but even here the media seems more interested in the referendum on whether to have a mayor than it does in the issues that directly affect people’s lives, like housing and education.