The rising number of people living with disability, mainly due to an ageing population, has emphasised the need for more prevention interventions and not just in the health and social care arenas.
In particular, policy-makers should be considering the needs of the last-time mover market much more seriously.
A recent report published by the Lancet has forecast that longer life expectancies will place greater demand on care services in the coming decade.
The research, conducted by the University of Newcastle, predicts that there will be an additional 353,000 older people with complex needs by 2025; causing demand for care home places to increase significantly.
It also reveals that the number of adults over the age of 65 living with substantial care needs has doubled between 1991 and 2011.
Growing age-related disability, which will inevitably accompany an ageing population, represents a major challenge for society.
As well as doing more to boost health and social care provision, there is an urgent need for greater focus on the issue of suitable housing for the elderly and a wider approach to policy development.
Much has been done in recent years to boost the housing market by creating incentives for first-time movers; making it easier for younger people to access the finance needed to get a foot on the property ladder.
Whilst these changes have been well-received, there has been a worrying lack of focus on the needs of those at the other end of the market, the last-time mover market.
This is where specialist accommodation is urgently needed for those living with a disability or with other specialist care requirements.
As things stand, many homes are simply not suitable for older people as their needs change and adapting them may not be affordable.
Add to this the rapidly-growing number of people renting in retirement and the fact that private sector landlords may be reluctant to adapt their properties to meet the needs of a disabled tenant, and the scale of the challenge that lies ahead becomes evident.
If older people reach a point where they need to move to more suitable accommodation, they are currently faced with a serious lack of supply spanning the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.
Of course, many older people want to stay in their own homes (whether rented or privately-owned) for as long as they can, which is completely understandable.
However, if their condition worsens and it becomes necessary to move, they need to have options available to them. By doing more to boost the provision of attractive retirement housing or extra care schemes, it may even be possible to encourage older people in under-occupied houses to move at a slightly earlier stage, whilst they are still relatively fit and healthy.
This could help to alleviate the housing crisis by freeing up property for the benefit of others.
Despite an acute shortage of supply, planning is often a major obstacle. Disagreements over the precise details of a scheme and its intended users often impact a development’s viability, or at the least can cause significant delays.
It would seem sensible to agree a definition for age-specific housing and allocate a new planning use class to it, with clear guidance on the planning implications.
Not only will this reduce ambiguity around intended usage of properties, it should eliminate the need for lengthy discussions at the planning stage.
Additionally, providing local authorities with delivery targets for age-specific housing, rather than just the current need to plan for it, will provide the last-time mover market with more suitable options.
After all, as the saying goes, ‘what gets measured gets done’.
In order to respond to the challenge of creating more properties for older people, developers and operators will need structured incentives from a Government that is willing to take a fresh look at ways to solve the housing crisis, whilst putting the needs of the last-mover market much higher up the list of priorities.