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Why social care must not be forgotten in housing push

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LGC’s essential daily briefing

In her inaugural speech as president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, Julie Ogley said she was beginning to see housing as just as important to social care as the council interface with health services.

She told directors to focus on housing and accommodation in the absence of the social care green paper and encourage the development of homes that can be adapted to meet changing needs, as well as properties for people and their carers who already require support.

“Are you confident that councils in their local plans are focusing on the right type of housing for their current and future populations?” she asked, suggesting this was not the case in some places.

She admitted it takes time to influence local plans but added: “If we could have a better offer for older people so that they moved from their large houses, think about the impact this would have.”

Housing was a key point of discussion throughout this year’s Adass spring seminar, with delegates highlighting its importance for maintaining independence and quality of life, as well as managing demand for high-cost services that will inevitably rise as the older population grows.

A report this week by housing association Habinteg has provided a key insight into councils’ current plans in this area and whether Ms Ogley’s concerns were justified.

An analysis of 322 local plans in England found considerable variation in the scale of plans across the country. In London current plans would see one accesible and adaptable home built for every 24 people, compared to one home for every 270 people in the West Midlands and one for every 195 people in Yorkshire & Humber.

The research also found less than half local plans set specific requirements for a percentage of new homes to be built to accessible or adaptable standards.

The housing crisis is usually framed by politicians and the media in the context of younger people being priced out of the market, unable to find stability in an often-treacherous rental market and facing an uncertain future.

There is a pressure to build quickly and at scale, with little regard for diversity of needs and future demographics.

But the challenge should be considered far more complex than that. With nearly a third of the UK population projected to be 65 or over by 2036, there must be a significant shift in not just volume and varied tenure, but also homes that can provide the solace, security and comfort that people of all ages and needs require for the best opportunity to live fulfilling lives.

As Habinteg chief executive Sharon Carter points out, the English Housing Survey has found just 7% of current housing includes the most basic accessibility features.

She adds: “If we don’t address this deficit more older and disabled people will be making unwanted and costly moves to residential care, our hospitals will continue to struggle to discharge patients because of unsuitable home environments, and people will need more costly adaptations to support them to live safely.”

The evidence from local plans is disappointing. With no prospect soon of the scale of reform required to simultaneously put social care on a sustainable footing and address the failings of the current system revealed so powerfully by BBC Panorama’s focus on Somerset, a diverse housing strategy that could be pivotal to reducing future demand for high-cost and often inadequate support should be a higher priority.

Jon Bunn, senior reporter

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