Across Wales, thousands of older people are living in homes that are inaccessible, energy inefficient and in disrepair. Becky Ricketts, Policy and Research Officer at Care & Repair Cymru, takes a closer look at the situation and what can be done.
It has never been more important to look after our homes. Care & Repair Cymru’s new report, The State of Older People’s Housing in Wales looks at the challenges facing older people and how third sector support services can help create improved living conditions and better health for some of our most vulnerable, low-income homeowners. From leaky gas fires to rotting floors, hazardous staircases, and leaking roofs to damp mouldy walls, the adverse experiences of some of our most vulnerable older people are an indication of a major policy gap.
A GROWTH IN COLLABORATION TO SUPPORT A GROWTH IN DEMAND
In 2021-2022, Care & Repair helped 56,897 older people and completed over 58,000 individual home improvement works, with thousands needing multiple repairs to their home. Clients are referred to us with multiple concerns – uneven flooring, rotten windows, penetrating damp, an inefficient boiler, and no grab rails outside their front door is an increasingly common scenario.
These challenges require a collaborative solution. By taking a whole person approach, bringing together third sector providers who can help support poor housing, a lack of disposable income, deteriorating health and an inaccessible community – we can make sure older people are getting the support they need. Care & Repair work closely with a range of partners including University Health Boards, Nest (Welsh Government’s fuel poverty scheme), Local Authorities and other third sector organisations to deliver a holistic service for our clients. Working together brings specialist knowledge so that support is tailored to each individual older person, particularly important for those with more complex needs.
As a voluntary sector organisation, we are operating in an increasingly complex environment. One in five homes in Wales have a Category 1 hazard present, meaning the home poses an immediate risk to health. This rises to over one in three for homes built before 1919. With impacts of poor housing conditions going unchecked during lockdowns, and now the cost-of-living crisis leading to older people being unable to afford repairs, thousands have no choice but to turn to Care & Repair.
The report brings together challenges that Care & Repair see every day but are too often beyond our control to mitigate:
- the overall challenge of improving homes
- the impact of the pandemic
- cost increases
- a shortage of reliable contractors
- the increasing complexity of completing projects
- and lack of funds to help those on low incomes
These challenges directly influence how quickly we can help those who come to us – the longer they wait, the greater the risk of deterioration both in housing condition and health.
HOW DO WE HELP?
All Care & Repair clients are offered a free Healthy Home Check to assess their home for hazards such as falls risks, mould, damp, gas safety and so forth. Too often, older people seen by Care & Repair cannot afford the repairs to their home, and so accept living in dangerous conditions despite the damage to their health and increased risk of falls. These risks are heightened in those living with sensory loss or another disability, and so it is even more crucial that repairs are available and affordable across Wales. We cannot accept that any older person should be living without such support.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
To improve the lives of current and future generations, we believe that a national safety net housing repair grant should be made available, targeted to low-income older people living in poorest conditions in the owner occupied or private rented sector. Distributed and overseen by Care & Repair as a proven trusted partner of Welsh Government, a safety net would enable older people in need across the country to access support and intervention to repair their home and live safely, comfortably, and independently.
Better housing conditions will improve health and reduce fuel bills. With increasing alarm over levels of fuel poverty and carbon emissions across Wales, our work would also help tackle energy inefficiency and carbon emissions and would make an important contribution to keeping older people warm as well as working towards Welsh Government’s goal of decarbonising all 1.4 million homes by 2050.
The voluntary sector in Wales is already delivering strong preventative impacts and social return on investment. For example, every £1 spent on Care & Repair’s Hospital to a Healthier Home service saves the Welsh NHS £8.60 on delayed discharges and transfers of care. A collaborative approach works. Our Hospital to a Healthier Home and Managing Better partnership projects could provide even greater social returns with the introduction of a safety net repairs grant and would reduce demand downstream within the NHS and Social Care.
Finally, increasing emphasis on prevention as advocated in our report would support the outcomes of progressive Welsh Government policies such as an Age Friendly Wales, Healthier Wales, and Prosperity for All.
Do you have any thought on the issues raised by this blog? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.