More than 2 million older people are suffering physical and mental ill health and even death as a consequence of living in substandard and non-accessible homes, according to a cross-party group of MPs.
Substandard housing costs the NHS £1.4bn every year with cold, damp and other hazards causing falls and exacerbating conditions such as heart disease, strokes, respiratory illnesses and arthritis as well as contributing to poor mental health, according to an in-depth inquiry by the all-party parliamentary group for ageing and older people.
“Many older people are living in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation with little hope of being able to move somewhere better or improve their homes,” said Rachael Maskell MP, chair of the group. “Unless we work to find tangible solutions, older people and some of the most vulnerable in society will continue to live in substandard and unsuitable accommodation, the implications of which could be devastating to their physical, mental and social wellbeing.”
The report into decent and accessible homes for older people comes after an in-depth inquiry over the last year into the link between health and housing, home ownership, supported housing, and the private rented sector.
The inquiry also predicted that the number of older people renting in the private sector would soar in the coming years – often in unsafe, unsuitable and unhealthy accommodation.
Currently households comprising people aged over 65 account for less than 10% of all those living in the private rented sector, but their numbers are reportedly rising fast: a recent survey by the National Landlords Association found that the numbers of retired people in the UK moving into the private rented sector had increased by 200,000 over the last four years.
The report recommends a national housing strategy to help to improve housing standards for this and future generations of older people.
Lady Greengross, a cross-bench peer said: “Many older people are living in unsafe and unhealthy accommodation, and have little hope of being able to move somewhere better.
“To tackle this, more older people should have the option of living in sheltered or supported housing. Unless we work on sustainable solutions, vulnerable older people will continue to live in substandard accommodation, the implications of which could be devastating to their physical, mental and social wellbeing.”
Barbara Keeley, the shadow cabinet minister for social care and mental health said: “This report has highlighted the clear link between housing, health and care, and that living in poor quality housing can have a detrimental impact on older people’s physical and mental wellbeing.
“There are more than a million people aged over 65 in the UK with an unmet care need. For them, everyday essential tasks like getting out of bed, going to the toilet or getting dressed can be made harder by poor housing. Poor housing puts increased strain on an underfunded care system and can result in unnecessary hospital admissions.
“We need to see action now to create decent and accessible homes that meet the needs of the ageing population. By providing suitable housing for older people, we can prevent their health from deteriorating,” she added.
Lady Jolly, a Liberal Democrat peer, said: “There are increasing numbers of older people living in the private rented sector who are struggling with rising rents, insecure tenancies and a lack of social or supported housing to move into.
“We have to consider whether this sector can be suitable for all older private tenants, especially those with low incomes developing care and support needs. We urgently need to reform security of tenure for all private tenants as this will play a key role in improving conditions and accessibility for growing numbers of older people living in privately rented homes,” she said.
Andrew Selous MP, a member of the health and social care committee, said: “Everyone should be able to live in a decent, healthy, accessible and adaptable home that allows them to receive the right health and care services at home. It is important that we improve the conditions of our current housing stock so that it works for the older people living in them.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government refused a request to comment.