English | Cymraeg Tel: 029 2076 5760 Connect: Twitter

A crucial role to play

Housing can play a vital part in making Wales the best place in the world to grow older, says Heléna Herklots

In recent years, we have seen growing recognition of the crucial role that housing plays – alongside health, social care and other key public services – in people’s health, wellbeing and independence. Having the right home is important for us all, but can be especially important for a good quality of later life, particularly as older people spend more time in their home and immediate neighbourhood than any other age group.

During the recent general election campaign, however, the focus on housing was very narrow, often confined to the number of houses that each party would build if they were elected. Whilst this was perhaps somewhat inevitable, given the focus on headline figures and media-friendly soundbites, it meant that other key aspects of housing policy were often not fully debated or discussed.

We heard very little about the importance of improving the quality of our existing housing stock, for example, or the ways in which home adaptations and new technology can help to keep people safe and independent in their homes as they grow older. There was also very little discussion about the importance of ensuring greater integration between housing and other key public services such as health and social care.

As someone who worked in the housing sector for a number of years, and has worked alongside the sector throughout my career, I know these key issues are being consistently raised with politicians and policy-makers, and it is disappointing that they often seem to be given relatively little attention, particularly at a UK level, despite their importance.

In the devolved Welsh context, there is greater recognition of these issues and we have seen important initiatives – such as the development of regional partnership boards and public services boards – which aim to ensure that housing, and the way it interacts with other services, is a key part of the policy agenda. However, there is still a long way to go until housing is seen as an ‘equal partner’ and action in a number of key areas is essential.

We need effective planning, both in the short  and long term, to ensure that housing can meet the increasingly diverse needs of an ageing society, a society in which the number of people over the age of 85 is expected to grow significantly, a society in which people are working longer, are more likely to live alone, have caring responsibilities and may live a greater distance away from loved ones. We need to look at the population and wellbeing assessments data available to us, alongside engaging with older people in a meaningful way, to create an accurate picture of current and future housing needs in Wales.

We must also look at the ways in which we can broaden the housing options available to older people. Many of the older people I have met and spoken with who are considering moving into a type of housing that could better meet their needs -such as extra care housing – have told me that there are a lack of suitable and affordable options available to them, particularly if they do not wish to leave the communities they have been part of for many years.

And we need to consider housing in a broader sense, as a key part of communities that are age-friendly, communities that enable rather than disable, communities in which people can get out and about, do the things that matter to them, remain engaged as active citizens and access the services and support they may need as they grow older, or as their circumstances change.

The report published by the Expert Group on Housing an Ageing Population in Wales in 2017 – Our housing agenda: meeting the aspirations of older people in Wales – called for similar action. It included a number of important  recommendations, such as providing help for older people to remain in their home or help to move if they wish, developing Lifetimes Homes standards and revised planning standards that include the housing requirements of older people and tackling unfit housing. To date, however, we have not seen enough tangible action to take these forward and deal with the housing issues currently being faced by older people.

It is crucial that the Welsh Government’s forthcoming Strategy for an Ageing Society includes a focus on taking forward these recommendations, alongside providing assurance that housing will be fully recognised as being a fundamental component of health and well-being and that subsequent policy and practice around housing will reflect this.

Housing has a crucial role to play in improving the lives of many older people throughout Wales and I will continue to support the important work being delivered throughout the housing sector, highlighting good practice, as well as challenging  and making the case for change and action where this is required.

By working together we have an opportunity to influence policy, drive change and deliver improvements to housing that will make a positive difference, both to people’s lives and our communities – we have an opportunity to make Wales the best place in the world to grow older.


Heléna Herklots is Older People’s Commissioner for Wales

Sign up to our email newsletter

Every two months we'll email you a summary of the latest news & articles on the WHQ website. Better still, if you're a fully paid up magazine subscriber, you'll get access to the latest members-only articles as well.

Sign up for the email newsletter »

Looking to advertise in our magazine?

Advertising and sponsored features are a great way to raise your profile with our readership of housing and regeneration decision makers in Wales.

Find out more »