Here is a forecast that that should shock us. By 2039, nearly half of rural households will be aged 65 or over. The average in rural England is already five and a half years older than the urban average and the gap continues to widen.
We are experiencing a ticking demographic time bomb in Rural England as our population ages rapidly. Policymakers must wake up to this challenge and ensure we have more houses suitable for the rural elderly and, crucially, the right sort of houses too.
That is why the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on housing and care for older people ‘Rural Housing for an Ageing Population: Preserving Independence’ inquiry was set up last July – to assess the housing and care challenges facing older people in rural areas and provide solutions. It is a blueprint for how all levels of Government should act to solve the difficulties faced by rural older people.
So what do we need to do? Firstly, we need more homes, of all tenures, suitable for older people in rural areas. Local authorities need to allocate specific sites in their local plan for housing for older people. Homes England should give Rural England the share of government funding its population deserves, with special consideration given to meeting the needs of an ageing population in rural areas.
Second, we need to ensure our homes are fit for an ageing population. At the very least, homes should be built to the Lifetime Homes Standard so they are accessible to all ages. But we should go further. The report contains new rural-proofed design features for new homes to be built to. These include access to outward facing on-site shared facilities, draught-free affordable warmth and access to private transport drop-off areas.
Third, we need to provide rural homes which fit with the services older people need. The report provides the example of Esk Moors Lodge in North Yorkshire Moor National Park. The scheme, a project between the county and borough councils, landowner and local community, provides 12 apartments to rent, with a range of inbuilt extra care facilities. These include meals, activities, and transport to health services. It is fantastic example of housing and social care being brought together, allowing older people to remain in rural areas near their support networks, with a high standard of services to match.
Failing to act now has grave consequences. Unfit homes means more accidents and expensive trips to hospital. Few or no realistic options for older people looking to ‘right-size’ prevents family homes being made available for younger households and increases social isolation as older people struggle to cope with unsuitable homes and gardens or alternatively are forced to leave the areas they grew up in to live many miles away from their support networks, family and friends. Rural England will be left with a housing stock completely unsuitable for its own population.
This is a difficult issue as the traditional solutions do not work so easily in a rural setting, but we must tackle it to create the homes our rural elderly need. The recommendations in this report are an excellent place to start.
"Unfit homes means more accidents and expensive trips to hospital"Follow Sue on Twitter - @SChalkleyHastoe