Published On: Mon, Sep 19th, 2016

Fall in home ownership: no longer a London only problem

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rachael-dockingThere was a time when home ownership was only an unrealistic dream for those living in London; however, the recent Resolution Foundation report shows that this is becoming a harsh reality across the country, particularly in northern cities. Between 2003 and 2016, home ownership in Greater Manchester fell from 72% to 56% – an even sharper drop than London. Home ownership across England is now at its lowest since the peak in the early-2000s. 

At the same time, private renting is increasing. The Resolution Foundation report states the proportion of private renters in England nearly doubled between 2003 and 2015, and in Greater Manchester it almost tripled. Private renters in England now outnumber those in social housing –18% v 17%. While this is a small difference, it is a significant difference, as it is the first time this shift has happened.

This is worrying, as current housing stock is not well suited for people as they age. Only 5% of properties in the UK have the basic characteristics to allow independent living for older people, such as baths that are easy to get in and out of. Of these, the majority are in the social rented sector. Private rented property is more likely to be older and in disrepair, and private renters are the most likely to feel that their accommodation is unsuitable for their needs, compared to social renters and owner occupiers.

Home adaptations can improve the accessibility and usability of someone’s home, which can help people feel more confident and in control of their daily activities. Furthermore, the impact of poor quality housing on health is similar to that of smoking or alcohol, and the cost to the NHS of just the first year of treating health problems caused by poor quality housing is estimated at Ј1.4bn.

People in later life spend more time in their homes and immediate neighbourhood than any other age group. Good housing and age-friendly environments help people to stay warm, safe and healthy, and enable them to do the things that are important to them. But compared to the rest of the population, people in later life are more likely to live in homes that are in a state of disrepair and pose a threat to health.

People in later life who live in environments that do not suit them can find it harder to get out and so are more likely to risk physical inactivity, isolation and depression. Uneven pavements are a common cause of falls in later life; and a lack of seating or public toilets can be barriers to getting out and about. At the Centre for Ageing Better we want more people to feel in control even as they face increasing difficulties with daily living due to ill health, cognitive decline or disability. We want to create better places to grow old in which everyone can feel involved, connected, remain active and healthy, get around without difficulty, and access services and facilities.

Current tenants’ rights if they live in private rented accommodation that is not accessible are relatively limited. Rules introduced in the Equality Act 2010 improve things: it’s harder for landlords to refuse permission for home adaptations to be installed. But grants to support this (disabled facilities grants) are only given if you intend to stay in the home for 5 years.  So while changes in the Equality Act have tried to protect tenants’ rights, there are clearly still a number of barriers in trying to make adaptations to a private rented property.     

So, what can we do to tackle this? We recently announced a five-year partnership with Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) to develop and share innovative approaches to tackling social, economic and health inequalities.  Housing has been identified as one of the key early priorities.  Through this local approach, we have an opportunity to look at new innovative models of housing that will not only support Greater Manchester to ensure more of its older residents live in suitable and adapted housing, but seek answers to the national housing crisis. 

While the interest in the housing debate is growing, there is still no clear policy on how we are going to tackle the rapidly changing housing market, particularly around issues of accessibility. It’s time we look for new ways to support individuals to access more suitable and diverse options and supply of housing.  

Dr Rachel Docking of the Centre for Ageing Better

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