Earlier this week, my firm published a report into the future of elderly care in the UK . The research, published jointly with Cebr, makes for extremely depressing reading. If nothing changes, then by 2029, the UK Care system will be at breaking point*

The reasons for this are complex and interrelated. A combination of a rapidly ageing population, insufficient government funding, poor policy decisions and a lack of capacity is bringing the system to its knees. According to the Cebr Report, the tipping point will come in 2029.

Whilst the challenges are daunting, the crisis is not inevitable. It can be avoided, and the provision of specialist, purpose built, retirement accommodation has a vital role to play.

Well designed, specialist, accommodation not only helps residents live independently for longer, but it can also help reduce the burden on the NHS and social services. The Homes for Later Living: Healthier and Happier Report found that the NHS and social services save on average £3,490 per year per person living in specialist housing for older people.  This is not only due to efficiencies in scale, but also because people are less likely to have accidents, resulting in injuries that require hospitalisation, when living in accommodation designed specifically for their age bracket.

The report also finds that building 30,000 units of specialist accommodation per year over the next ten years would save the government £2bn a year. 

Despite this, 45% of councils still are not planning sufficiently for where elderly people in their communities will live. Whilst recent revisions to the NPPF do place greater emphasis on the need to plan for all segments of the community, national planning policy still places greater weight on encouraging housing for first time buyers, through the introduction of First Homes, or help to buy. 

This needs to change. Investing in specialist accommodation for the elderly, including developments designed for 'right-sizers', would not only reduce the pressure on the NHS and social services in the longer term; it would also help to take the edge off the crisis in the wider housing market. Our research shows that there is £1.2 trillion of equity currently held in homes owned outright by people aged 65 and over, with two or more spare bedrooms. If only a small proportion of these people could locate suitable accommodation to enable them to down-size, that would release a significant amount of family housing on to the open market.

Providing a wide choice of suitable accommodation for the elderly, including properties suitable for down-sizers, retirement villages, care homes, extra-care apartments and sheltered accommodation would provide significant economic and social benefits across the country.  

In 2019, we found that only 44 out of 329 authorities had clear plans for retirement living, care home, or nursing home developments.  More local authorities need to be making clear plans, or the sector will run out of space to house older people creating a capacity crisis.

Government reform has been promised, repeatedly, since 2017. The most recent white paper (promised in the autumn of 2019)  is significantly overdue and nine years after its publication, the majority of the recommendations in the Dilnot Report have yet to be implemented.

The Care Crisis can be avoided, but only if we start making changes now.

* the report can be downloaded here