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by GK Strategy 8th February, 2017

Does the Housing white paper help “Generation Stuck”?

The Government’s long awaited Housing white paper was notable for setting out a change in policy direction by Theresa May’s administration. The paper expanded the focus of Team Cameron/Osborne, who mainly focused their efforts on “starter homes” and various Help to Buy schemes – aimed at making the UK a property owning democracy. The white paper did clearly state the Government is keen to help people buy their own homes, but went further and set out objectives for other parts of the housing market, such as older generations in retirement.

Helping older people to downsize has often been muted as a policy to help free up family sized homes, but little action has been taken. Research[1] suggests there are 3.5 million people aged over 55 who are interested in downsizing and buying a retirement property, meaning there is a substantial chunk of the UK’s housing stock locked with owners who often do not use all the home and who want out. Yet it is no surprise that these 3.5 million people decide to stay in their homes, even after the family has left the nest, when considering the serious lack of suitable housing to downsize into.

Outside of care homes, which are not suitable or appropriate for many, only 141,000 specialist owner occupied retirement housing has ever been built[2]. That is a poor record considering the number of people looking to downsize, and the number of homes that could be unlocked to ease the housing crisis. Given that even the Housing Minister, Gavin Barwell MP concedes the Government has got nowhere near building enough homes for current and future generations, it is surprising previous governments did not go further to unlock this untapped source of homes owned by older people. There are vast benefits of downsizing such as maintaining independence, reducing utility bills, creating more comfortable and warmer homes and keeping people out of the buckling social care system. There is clearly a sense of “the fierce urgency of now” about the need to kick start the construction of retirement homes.

The white paper arguably sets out the initial steps that are required to spark this kick-start. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) will shortly introduce a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill on the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how they should meet the housing needs of older people. This is a welcome step, although DCLG and local councils will need their feet holding to the fire to ensure they “walk the walk”. A handful of councils including Redbridge Borough Council have successfully piloted retirement homes schemes, and councils would do well to learn from their trailblazing example. Retirement home providers and developers must work with local and national government to ensure the number of people looking to downsize, but who cannot, is substantially reduced – to the benefit of all. .

[1] http://6c6ad24b91280faab9ef-a33e598b21c2445c4eca86a9b4f92e58.r96.cf3.rackcdn.com/ILC-downsizing-report.pdf

[2] https://www.mccarthyandstone.co.uk/media-centre/national-press/warm-welcome-for-government-housing-white-paper/?showbacklink=true

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