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The Irish Times view on housing and older people: a vague but useful roadmap

The Irish Times View

Planning is vital if the needs of an ageing population are to be met close to amenities and transport services

Forward planning is vital if the housing needs of an aging population are to be met close to amenities and transport services. Photograph: Rui Vieira/PA Wire

A Government policy document on housing options for an ageing population is clear on what needs to be done to meet a growing demand for appropriate homes but is extremely vague on the likely costs and the timescales involved in delivery. Despite that, it is a welcome contribution to official thinking and the establishment of a more coherent approach to delivering a range of necessary services to custom-built units and estates.

The fact that Ministers of State at the Departments of Housing and Health Damien English and Jim Daly unveiled the policy statement reflected its aspirational nature and its place in the Government’s priorities. The document recognised a looming problem on the housing front and offered pre-election assurances that steps were being taken to deal with it. Drawing together a broad range of official studies and reports, the policy recognised that the number of people over 65 is likely to reach 1.4 million, or one-quarter of the population, by 2040. This rapidly-ageing cohort and their housing needs has knock-on implications for health, transport and planning policies.

Cost savings are also a factor. At present, there is an over-reliance on expensive residential care, which the State subsidises. The policy envisages greater supports for independent living, employing assistive technologies, with people staying in their own homes or in shared, purpose-built, public/private complexes with specialised services. Local authorities will be encouraged to include the needs of these people in their housing and development plans and, with State agencies, give guidance to private developers and voluntary housing agencies. Unspecified financial supports are referred to in the document, designed to encourage those occupying large and under-occupied homes to share or to downsize. But details are not expected until late next year.

An inter-departmental group will be established with responsibility for directing and monitoring progress. The use of brownfield sites for the construction of inner city “age-friendly” estates is envisaged, as is a revitalisation of town and village centres through the development of socially-supported, integrated communities. Surveys found that 30 per cent of householders over 65 would be prepared to move home if age-friendly accommodation was available.

The current housing shortage would suggest these are long-term proposals. Nevertheless, planning is vital if the needs of an ageing population are to be met close to amenities and transport services. Specialised housing is a key element, but a socially-connected environment is equally important, as is an integrated package of health services and social care.

The Government has identified what needs to be done. It should get on with it.