Poor quality housing is affecting an increasing number of people in their 50s and 60s and with a growing older population is a problem that needs attention, says the Centre for Ageing Better.
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted repeatedly the impact poor quality housing has on people’s physical and mental health. Yet around 4.1m homes in England do not meet basic standards.
Analysis by Ageing Better has found around half of these homes are occupied by people aged over 55. Problems like cold and damp are detrimental to health and make the lives of people of all ages miserable. And disrepair contributes to instances of slips and trips, which is a particular concern for older people.
Previous research by Ageing Better estimated a cost to the NHS of around £513m on the first-year treatment costs of over 55s living in the poorest quality housing. Yet a third of all non-decent homes would cost just £1,000 to repair.
The report, Getting our homes in order: How England’s homes are failing us, found a range of reasons why people didn’t make improvements to make their home environment more comfortable and safer, and not all were financial.
Lack of finances was the biggest barrier to change for more than two thirds of people aged 50-59, and concern about getting into debt and also being able to access finance through schemes like equity release. Not being able to access trustworthy tradespeople so resorting to short-term quick fixes was another issue highlighted.
The report also found tenure affected home improvement options as renters relied on their landlords to do this work.
Sometimes people’s emotional attachment to their home also stopped them from making changes. Many also did not perceive themselves “old enough” - or were not thinking ahead - to make improvements that could help them live more healthily and safely, and for longer in their home.
The report concluded: “People’s sense of home is complex and tied up with so many things beyond bricks and mortar. Future initiatives must not only concentrate on developing mechanisms for support in carrying out repairs and adaptations, but also have the intention of educating and sparking behaviour change at the earliest point.”
Jill Stewart, senior lecturer in environmental health and housing at Middlesex University, said this is a growing area of importance and concern. She is in the process of finishing another piece of research – with funding from the Association of London Environmental Health Managers (ALEHM) – that will be available shortly, into the housing support available for older people.
Stewart said: “There's been a groundswell of interest from nursing, from physiotherapists, all sorts of people, because the knock-on-effect is – quality of life aside, obviously – backing up into the NHS.
“A lot more older people are ending up needing healthcare interventions. So it's trying to look at how to help prevent that. And that's where we come in, in EH. So my work is about the housing side and there's been as well a growth of interest there.”
She added: “In a few years we'll have more older people than we will have children, across the world. People will be retired longer than they were ever in work because we are getting older and we're having less children. It's called population ageing, we are all shifting up in age.
“That puts enormous pressures on health and social care, on benefits, as well as on health care interventions and social care interventions like addressing loneliness, bringing food in and helping with shopping.”
Ageing Better’s report was compiled from interviews from 20 participants aged between 50 to 70, as well as an online diary where they looked at the problems they had in their homes. It was part of a larger piece of work by Ageing Better called The Good Home Inquiry, an independent look into the causes of, and solutions to, poor-quality housing.