South Staffordshire is facing a demographic time bomb that could leave many older people without adequate housing and support within just a few years, warns a leading local housing organisation.
Debbie Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stafford’s 5,500 home Housing Plus Group says a combination of factors are to blame, including South Staffordshire’s uniquely ageing population and the shortage of public funding for older people’s housing.
“This is a problem that isn’t going to go away and we need to start planning for the future now,” said Ms Griffiths, whose group includes South Staffordshire Housing Association (SSHA) and housing with care provider Care Plus.
“In South Staffordshire we already have above average numbers of people aged 50 plus compared to the rest of England and this imbalance is predicted to become even more acute over the next 15-20 years as England’s population ages overall. That poses a serious problem for anyone in their 50s or older living in South Staffordshire right now, because good quality housing with care, or Flexicare as it is sometimes known, could be in desperately short supply.”
She continued: “Staffordshire County Council has identified a need for over 9,500 units of specialist ‘Flexicare’ housing for older people by 2030, compared to the current provision of just 634. We want to help deliver this vision because we know from our own Flexicare housing schemes such as Vine Court in Cannock, what a difference this can make to older people’s quality of life. But with public funding for new developments and people’s personal support costs decreasing all the time, local authorities, housing providers and the NHS are facing really challenging times.”
Traditional sheltered housing meanwhile needs rethinking, she claimed, to offer a more flexible range of support options to people within their own homes. “At the moment, sheltered housing is trying to meet the needs of an increasingly frail client group with a ‘one size fits all’ approach which doesn’t make the greatest use of the resources it needs. From a financial point of view our own sheltered housing service has been running at a loss for some time and this is another problem we seriously need to address.”
“Given the choice, most people would prefer to remain in their homes with help and support available to meet their needs and this is how we need to be thinking for the future if we want to ensure a decent quality of life for our older residents.”
Councillor David Billson, Deputy Leader of South Staffordshire Council, said: “We are working with organisations such as South Staffordshire Housing Association to ensure that the services we provide for older people are fit for the future. Our ageing population and the pressure on public funds calls for innovative and flexible new approaches and we are pleased to see the association taking this opportunity to meet these challenges head on.”
Nick Maslen Chief Executive at Age UK South Staffordshire said: “A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development indicated that caring for older people could cost three times as much as it does today by 2050, with people aged 80 plus making up 10% of the population as opposed to 4% today. This means a huge pressure on public services as well as the many unpaid and unofficial carers who currently care for elderly friends and relatives . We very much welcome any efforts to minimise the effect of this and which offer older people greater choice, comfort and security.”
Ms Griffiths said Housing Plus was committed to working positively with its local authority partners at District and County level in South Staffordshire to help develop new and innovative housing and support solutions for older people. She added that SSHA was embarking on a consultation exercise with sheltered housing residents this month that would help them reach important decisions on how to make the service more responsive and suitable for current and future needs.