The UK is among the world leaders in its provision of retirement living, but we are not keeping up with demand. With retirement communities becoming an increasingly popular option for older people and their families, the sector needs to do more to provide the supply. This will benefit older people and our health and social care systems, as well as freeing up larger family homes for those who need them.
This is the thinking behind Vision 2030 – our shared ambitions to grow and deliver ever-improving services to residents and to have a positive impact throughout the UK.
By 2030, we will have designed, built and started operating retirement community housing for 250,000 people. That’s equivalent to a city the size of Southampton. At the moment, our sector is the size of Crewe.
Retirement communities allow people to keep their independence for longer, access care and support if they need it and to have access to a good range of on-site facilities. Whilst residents have their own houses or apartments, they can also get involved in the community through a range of clubs, activities and communal facilities.
Currently, more than 60% of retirement community units are for people with moderate means. However, we are starting to see particularly fast growth in the private sector, which is meeting the desires of middle-income and wealthier older people to live their later lives in active, independent and supportive communities.
At the Vision’s heart is our goal to house 250,000 older people in retirement communities by 2030. This would represent the greatest ever expansion of our sector – and yet would still leave the UK with roughly half the provision that comparable countries such as New Zealand, Australia and the USA have. The Vision is specifically designed to address those issues which our members and retirement community operators around the world tell us are standing in the way of this sector growing and meeting its potential.
Only 70,000 (0.5%) people aged over 65 in the UK live in retirement communities, while the countries mentioned above all have 5-6% of their older population living in retirement housing. This represents a massive missed opportunity and one we are determined to put right. Vision 2030 gives us the blueprint and the foundations for how we will do this.
We will also be campaigning to raise the profile of these issues and will be relentless in highlighting the importance of taking the actions necessary.
Priorities for change
We’ve developed ten pledges to make our Vision a reality. These outline our priorities for the sector, to help it drive forward and expand.
1. Clear customer proposition
We know we have a communications challenge in front of us. We must explain what we are, what we are not, and what benefits retirement communities can offer older people and wider society. This is the first of our priorities, as it starts with our residents and we know that the test for each of our following priorities must be how they serve older people.
2. Effective self-regulation
When moving to a retirement community, residents have the right to full transparency on what to expect and what it will cost them. Our Consumer Code is already in place, backed up by a robust standards and compliance framework which includes rigorous external assessments. We will keep reviewing our code to make sure that the fair treatment of our consumers continues to be put first.
3. Enhanced health and wellbeing
When people move in to a retirement community, they are choosing more than just a building – they want opportunities to stay active and to get care and support if and when they need it. Another of our key priorities will therefore be to maintain and improve this offer over time, continually staying ahead of the curve and sharing our best practice.
4. Intelligent use of technology
This doesn’t mean implementing the latest expensive gimmick, but carefully considering the interests and needs of residents and staff. We will continue to explore how technology such as robotics can help us to deliver services such as personal care in a way which protects individual dignity and privacy and allows carers to focus on caring.
5. Highly trained workforce
The indispensable element in delivering good services and care is good people. With the care sector already facing skills shortages, we want to encourage people to see working in a retirement community as an exciting and rewarding career, one in which they will develop and be able to take pride in what they do.
6. Flexible model of tenure
We need to respond to changing circumstances, including moving away from what have been described as ‘feudal’ leasehold practices. We are clear that we do not need ground-rents for future expansion. A flexible model of tenure would protect the rights of residents. It will assure residents that they will always receive the services and support that they expected when they moved into their new home.
7. Sustainable funding streams
Our population is dramatically ageing, with the number of people over the age of 80 expected to double in the next 30 years. The current patchwork of funding arrangements around the country is not up to the task of providing for this increase. Whoever pays, whether it be the individual or their council, we will work with them to ensure that funding is in place.
8. Clarity in the planning system
One of the most challenging obstacles we have faced to-date is in getting more retirement communities built – largely because we are not yet fully understood by the planning system, with our holistic offer not fitting into existing boxes. We want to make our contribution to local communities – both in terms of development contributions and ongoing community engagement. This should also be accompanied by recognition of the important health and social care role that our communities play.
9. Sector specific legislation
All of the changes we want to make will be much more achievable if we can help Government to recognise the role we play in retirement living and care. We want consumers to know their rights and to be able to enforce them. Currently, this is extremely difficult with a confusing labyrinth of over 100 intertwined pieces of legislation applying to our sector – and a number of gaps and contradictions frustrating attempts to build for the future with any certainty.
10. Comprehensive and robust data
We know that people need, and increasingly expect, to be able to see how we’re performing and what impact retirement communities are having. Producing this data will help us put consumers first by better understanding who they are, what they want, and how our sector can help to meet their needs. This data is equally important for potential investors, lenders, regulators and operators.
Building for the future
Surveying the above, it seems like an ambitious project. But we believe these goals are also realistic, desirable and exciting. We also know that we can’t do it without working in partnership – both as a sector and more broadly.
For too long the narrative around housing and care for older people in the UK has been one of doom and gloom – but we are genuinely excited about the bright future we’re already building; one which we can all build together.
I’d therefore like to finish by issuing a personal invitation to you the reader – if the above sounds like something you’d like to see then please get in touch and let us know your thoughts on how we can deliver better retirement housing and care in the UK.
Starting this Autumn, we are recruiting Vision Supporters throughout the older people’s care, health and construction sectors. We’ll also be reaching out to forward-looking people in business and politics who share our ambitions to improve housing and care for older people in this country.
Have you signed up to Vision 2030? Share your thoughts and feedback on the project in the comments section below.