Earlier this month, the Government defined its mission at the Conservative Party Conference as ‘getting on with the job’. Whilst this was happening, many of us were wondering when we would get the announcements our sector needs which would let us get on with ours.
It was also interesting that, whilst the Housing Secretary strove to define the substance of the newly renamed Department for Levelling Up, in our sector we were faced with the opposite problem – struggling to reach an accepted name for a sector that is already very real and substantial.
Housing with care represents the single greatest opportunity for growth and innovation in the social care sector and can make a huge contribution to improving housing provision, regenerating town centres, tackling climate change, combating loneliness and reducing the strain on the NHS.
Housing with care developments typically consist of 60-250 dwellings for older people on a shared site, with high levels of integrated services, facilities, clubs and societies, 24-hour staffing, the availability of CQC-registered domiciliary care and meals prepared on site. There are nearly 80,000 people living in such developments in the UK and we believe that, by the end of the decade, there will be more than 250,000.
When it comes to terminology, though, we have a problem – Government has never adopted a single consistent name for our sector. Over 14 different terms are used in different Government documents to describe our sector – everything from extra care, retirement villages and retirement communities to retirement living, later living and housing with care.
This confusion and the consequent inability to target policies or regulation directly at us is reflected in unco-ordinated and contradictory Government approaches to our sector.
As an example, we are frequently told by Directors of Adult Social Care across the country that they want to see more housing with care provision to support people who have moderate or intermittent care needs. They understand that such provision is better for older people, as it keeps them independent for longer. They also know it can save the social care system considerable amounts of time and money by keeping people healthier and out of expensive institutionalised care settings. We hear the same messages from County Council leaders and many civil servants at the Department of Health.
Yet recently, The Treasury has declined our sector’s request to be treated the same way as care homes when it comes to the new Residential Property Developer Tax – out of a fear it would distort the market in favour of more care provision – i.e. in the exact way their colleagues elsewhere in Government would want it to develop.
Similarly, the recent White Paper from Department of Levelling up and Communities (DLUHC) on planning made not one mention of our ageing population and the need for more specialist housing for older people – and subsequent answers to parliamentary questions from the Housing Minister imply that the department regards current advice in this area as sufficient, despite the views of local councils that they lack the tools and definitions needed to help secure increases in local provision.
At ARCO, we have been pushing for two years for a cross-Government task force on housing with care to bring about the more joined-up approach needed to grow our sector and realise its opportunities. We are hopeful that ministers and civil servants have been listening to calls from the sector and large numbers of older people’s charities, investors and parliamentarians for such a task force – it cannot come a moment too soon as ministers assure us they wish to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic.
We are also acutely aware that much of the confusion around issues such as terminology is of our own making and for us to take the lead on resolving. That is why ARCO, our membership and our over 100 partners are getting ready to relaunch our sector with a new name and new identity – bringing an end to the confusion of terms out there and acting as a catalyst for future growth.
Older people and their families deserve to be able to make informed choices between clearly different types of provision. There will always be an important role for the great work done by care homes and nursing homes, but it is important for our prospective residents to understand how our more moderate and intermittent form of care provision is different.
That’s why our new name and identity is based on extensive and intensive work with older people to find a term that makes sense to them.
We believe we have found such a term, which integrates all the different features of our sector and makes these differences clear to consumers.
Tune in to our conference to join us for this new dawn.