Record numbers of people are now living beyond 100: How can the right type of housing help them and their great-grandchildren?

Spencer McCarthy

The ONS has this week published its latest update on life expectancy of the UK population, and the findings are no surprise. They show a record number of us – 14,570 to be precise – are now surviving to the age of 100.

The number of people aged 100 or over has quadrupled over the last two decades, and in the last decade alone the number of centenarians has risen by 65%. There has also been a dramatic increase in the number of people aged over 105, with 850 people reaching that age last year, up from just 130 in 1985.

These figures are new, but they underline a familiar trend. The rapidly growing older population has been recognised for some time, and it presents many challenges to our society and its housing needs, as well as some opportunities. Where will they live, how will we look after them, and how can we ensure they enjoy good quality of life as well as pure longevity? And what does it all mean for the younger generations who might live even longer?

Evidence suggests that a growing number of older people are feeling isolated, lonely, and unhappy. This can start a long time before reaching 100, and it can have a serious impact on health and wellbeing. It begs the question, what’s the point of living longer if you can’t live a socially active, happy and fulfilling lifestyle in retirement?

Better housing can’t provide all the answers, but it can make a huge difference.

A recent report by the International Longevity Centre UK highlighted that specialist retirement housing is a potential solution for millions of older people whose needs are changing. New retirement communities come in different forms, but they’re all tailor made for older people looking to enjoy a comfortable and fulfilling lifestyle, surrounded by like-minded neighbours and maintaining as much independence as possible.

Providing more of this type of housing has many wider benefits. It helps older people remain more active and socially engaged, increasing their quality of life and general wellbeing. This in turn reduces the burden of NHS and social care costs for the taxpayer. When health and social services practitioners do need to visit retirement communities, they can see several residents at once, making them more efficient and again reducing costs for the taxpayer.

So the wider benefits are clear, but what else is in it for the younger generation? How about more family homes, and in turn more opportunities for first-time buyers? In fact far from being seen as a problem, older people can actually hold the key to solving the housing crisis, by downsizing into smaller properties, and freeing up the larger family homes they no longer need.

According to research by Housing LIN there are 8 million people over 60, in 7 million homes, who are interested in downsizing. That’s a huge potential supply of under-occupied family homes that could be benefiting the younger generation. Crucially though, these downsizers need quality, specialist housing to move into.

We know the new Government is serious about increasing housing supply to address the chronic shortage of homes in the UK, but it’s vitally important that this new supply will be the right kind of properties that genuinely meets the needs of our population as a whole.

Of course measures to help young people get on the property ladder are important, but simply building increasing numbers of starter homes is not the silver bullet to the housing crisis, particularly when we have an ageing population. We need to look further up the ladder, and realise that by helping those stuck at the top, we’ll in turn be helping the hopeful first-time buyers stuck at the bottom.

By looking at the wider picture, we can achieve real positive change and build more of the right types of home to improve lives across every age group.

Spencer McCarthy, chairman and CEO of Churchill Retirement Living