Many older people are staying in their homes until a sudden crisis, such as divorce, eviction or failing health, forces them to move, new research shows.
Conducted by Manchester School of Architecture researchers, the ‘Rightsizing’ report, commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority and funded by Centre for Ageing Better, looks at the types of houses older people live in across the UK, the sort of house moves they make, and the reasons why.
Despite common assumptions that most people want to downsize or enter specialist accommodation as they age, the report reveals that when it comes to choosing a home, older people are motivated by the same desires as other age groups. For example, wanting more space for guests, moving to a nicer area, and better access to green spaces.
For these reasons, the report calls for UK local authorities, planners and developers to shift their emphasis from downsizing to “rightsizing”, when it comes to planning housing provision for older people. “Rightsizing” is described as an older person’s active, positive choice to move home as a means of improving their quality of life.
Rightsizing re-frames the housing offer for older people in terms of the actual availability and accessibility of the options they need and desire.
The research reveals that many over-50s cannot move home in the way that they would like, due to a lack of suitable housing options and inadequate provision of support and advice. Just 3.4% of people over the age of 50 move home each year, which is half as many moves compared to the rest of the population.
Just 7% of UK homes meet the most basic accessibility standards, yet many older people still refrain from moving until a sudden crisis, such as worsening health, eviction, or divorce, means they have to.
Although those with higher levels of wealth can more easily move, and those on the lowest incomes receive more support from social care providers, those on low- and middle- incomes can find themselves trapped in homes which are no longer appropriate for them as they age.
There is a lack of mainstream residential development that serves the needs of older people. The current focus on providing extra-care housing and age-restricted retirement living might be serving the needs of some particular groups, but these are not suitable for everyone and are not always embedded within existing communities where older people have established vital social networks.
Local plans should explore diverse, adaptable housing options within existing communities, focusing on the accessibility needs of people now and in the future.
In this way, older people, regardless of income, tenure or locality, will be more able to move into homes which suit their needs, meet their aspirations and improve their quality of life, without them becoming disconnected from their communities. For people who want to move, but can’t, more options and support should be available to help them move if they want to.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “In March this year, Greater Manchester was recognised by the World Health Organization as the UK’s first age-friendly city region. This is great news, but more action is needed if we are to meet the challenges of a fast-growing older population and make life better for us all as we age.
“Thanks to devolution we have the opportunity to do things differently here, and I believe we can make Greater Manchester the best place in the UK to grow older. To succeed we need to make big changes at a strategic level – not just on housing, but also health, social care, transport and employment.
“Research like this and the work of the Ageing Hub within our Combined Authority has helped position Greater Manchester as world-leaders when it comes to research on ageing, and I urge policymakers to capitalise on this expertise we have available.”
Rachael Docking, housing lead at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “It’s often assumed that people want to ‘downsize’ to more manageable properties as they age. In fact, people in later life have the same desires to improve quality of life as any of us.
“We need to move away from a focus on delivering homes ‘for older people’ and deliver an adequate and diverse supply of adaptable, accessible housing that’s fit for people of all ages.”
Professor Stefan White, Manchester School of Architecture, Manchester Metropolitan University commented: “Our report argues that ‘Rightsizing’ enables a more proactive and nuanced discussion about the diversity of requirement for older people’s housing.
“Rightsizing re-frames the housing offer for older people in terms of the actual availability and accessibility of the options they need and desire. While this requires housing strategies to engage more fully with the local circumstances of older people, we believe it releases great potential for positive action.”