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I wish to raise one group in society that is often overlooked in debates on housing and homelessness—the elderly. By 2040, as many as one-third of all 60 year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point. They could be living with insecurity and in poor accommodation, with increasing numbers relying on housing benefit.
The elderly should have the right to a safe, secure and comfortable home, especially when they may be ill, disabled and less resilient. The charity Age UK has highlighted concerns about the 1.9 million pensioners in the UK living in relative poverty, 36% of whom are private tenants. It wants to see laws to improve the take-up and availability of the disabled facilities grant—only 7% goes to the private rented sector. Security of tenure needs to be extended to five years so that private tenants can access these grants.
The private rental sector cannot meet the needs of vulnerable elderly people, many of whom live in terrible housing conditions that affect their health and well-being. Lack of security of tenure prevents them accessing repairs, improvements and adaptions because of a fear of losing a tenancy or being subject to unfair or abusive behaviour.
Only by providing more social housing of good quality and affordability can we help keep older people healthy and living independently, and reduce the need for residential care. We need consistent standards for all sheltered and extra-care housing in the social rented sector, and all new build should comply with the lifetime homes standard so that the need for adaptation is lessened as tenants age.
Homelessness among the old is also on the increase, rising by 40% in the last five years. The Centre for Policy on Ageing estimates that in England on any one night, around 400 older people aged 55 and above may be sleeping rough. Age UK is concerned by some local authorities’ reliance on the private sector to meet their duties under the new Homelessness Reduction Act by offering financial help to access housing, resulting in people who lose one insecure private tenancy being helped to find yet another insecure private tenancy. There must be more affordable options in the social rented sector.
Shelter’s commission is correct in calling on the Government to invest in a major 20-year social house- building programme, culminating in 3.1 million new social homes. Labour is committed to a major council house-building programme. We must as a country meet the challenge and create a new generation of housing equipped to meet the needs of an ageing society.