Friday, 25 March 2011

How old is "old" - Bradford's over-50s housing strategy

Readers will be aware that I currently chair Bradford Council’s Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee. For our meeting next week we have a report – on its way through the Council system – entitled:

“Development of the Bradford District Housing Strategy for the Over 50s”

Now I don’t wish to bore you with the content of this report but to discuss whether there is any substantive case for the Council having a “strategy” for housing people who have managed to stay alive for half a century. First though here’s the Council’s patronising “case for age 50”:

The district’s Older People’s Partnership works on behalf of those aged 50 and over; this strategy uses age 50 as a threshold to align itself with the Partnership.

Most people in their 50s won’t think of themselves as being old, indeed we’re constantly
hearing phrases such as “50 is the new 40” in the media. But it’s a time of life when many will start to see their children leave home, and some will be lucky enough to start thinking about easing off, taking a bit of time to enjoy life a little more or take part in volunteering activities.

Using age 50 allows the strategy to be more than sheltered housing and care homes. Fit, healthy and active people in their 50s and 60s are in an excellent position to start thinking about where they would like to live in the future. Cohousing, co-operatives and Local Housing Trusts all present additional opportunities for those that plan ahead.

Now, I’m a little sensitive about this having just reached that half century mark but I really can’t see anything about the housing needs of people aged 50-65 that differ from the housing needs of those aged 35-50. And, more to point, most fifty year olds are getting up every morning and travelling to a job. They are paying off the mortgage on their family home, tending the garden, having a holiday if they’ve got the spare cash and carrying on in the same manner as they did prior to reaching that great landmark age.

The really worrying thing about this strategy is it’s inference that people aged over 50 are likely to be inappropriately housed – in the state’s opinion at least:

“Enable older people to have their families living close to them by freeing up much needed family accommodation. Ensuring our existing housing stock is used as effectively as possible and reduce pressures on land.”

So there you go – government thinks we’re greedily taking up important “family housing” by staying in our four-bed detached with garage and garden. Yet again we see the triumph of patronising state planning directed at a section of the community who really aren’t asking for any special treatment and for whom – in the main – the private sector will provide more that adequately. Indeed, when we want to move house that’s precisely what we will do and nothing that this strategy says or does will change this truth.

There is a good case for supporting the very old – people who really do need support of some kind or another. But very few of these people are aged 50-65 – indeed you’ll struggle to find many under the age of 80 living in sheltered and extra-care housing. The housing needs of this group can be met through the existing housing strategies – we do not need a strategy for “Over-50s housing” especially one with the title:

“Great Places to Grow Old”

Patronising or what?

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