Nick Sanderson, CEO of Audley Retirement Villages and Chairman of the Association of Retirement Villages
2012 will be far from a quiet year for the long term care sector. The amount of column inches dedicated to debating important topics from retirement and pension changes to funding long term care to the central issue of respect for the elderly is vast. At last, the volume of coverage and the breadth of discussions on issues relating to those in later life is beginning to reflect the significant dilemmas facing the UK's burgeoning over 60s population.
The need for the Government to step up and tackle these challenges is greater than ever. We are witnessing a turning point, with the realisation by many that public sector and institutional care is not fit for purpose based on our changing population demographics and the evolution of the later life community. No one, at any age, wants institutional care because it as an option that disempowers people from having control of their future .
The rumblings on the social care model began in 2011. The impact of the collapse of the care operator Southern Cross, with its failed sale and leaseback model, as well as the Care Quality Commission's report into 'Dignity and Nutrition' were deeply felt. Coupled with the publication of the Dilnot Commission's report into funding long term care it was impossible not to feel a change in the air and a warranted increase in attention.
The current debate on care will fail to find any sustainable solutions because it addresses funding a system of institutionalisation, a broken and redundant model in every way. Until we achieve a fundamental change from marginalising older people, to listening to what those in later life actually want for their future, industry and government will fail to develop the options and provide the information and support needed when planning retirement. 2012 must be the year when we ring the changes and devote necessary resource, time and money to innovating, encouraging and communicating new solutions. The needs and ambitions of older people should be put first, at the heart of any new approach to later life housing and care.
As a starting point, there has to be a greater recognition and understanding of the aspirations of many people in retirement, who are living longer and are healthier and wealthier than ever before.
Providing choice is key. In place of trying to improve a failed model, we must articulate the alternative housing options available, including those that provide fully flexible care in the home. Extra care housing provides that choice and allows people to 'own' their front door, whilst having the additional support come to them as and when they need it. It promotes independence and keeps people in control, vital to this powerful demographic.
Extra care housing should by no means be considered only as a way of remaining in your own home. There are other important pluses, not least the positive impact on health and wellbeing. We know from research conducted with the International Longevity Centre that where housing includes access to extra care, over 80s with care needs are half as likely to move into an institutional care home in the future.
The research also found that residents who have been in extra care housing for five or more years are half as likely to go into institutional care as those in standard housing. Residents in extra care housing are also less likely to be admitted into a hospital for an overnight stay as someone of a matched demographic living in the community. In addition, it proved that those living in extra care housing are less likely to fall, a contributory factor to a significant number of unnecessary deaths among the elderly in the UK. Altogether, it could allow the NHS to focus resources on those most vulnerable.
Beyond the care and wellbeing benefits the financial and economic implications of extra care housing are significant. The report from the Dilnot Commission has highlighted that in the future older people will have to fund their own care, even if this funding is ultimately capped. Embracing the extra care model allows older people to take their future in hand and stay in control of where they live, how they live and the funds available to them. This positive form of downsizing should be celebrated and clearly communicated as it allows consumers to have any future care needs met, while still being able to pass on equity to their children, ending the trap of being asset rich but cash poor in later life.
Providing high quality extra care housing could also see valuable asset base of family housing converted, injecting finance into a stagnating sector while also freeing up housing stock. This model will also ease pressure on the current care system by giving people a flexible alternative, where care comes to the consumer. This approach will revolutionise the care sector and ensure that in the future the Government can concentrate on providing care to the very poorest and needy in society.
With a growing concern that the Dilnot Commission's proposal to cap the cost of long term care will be delayed or diluted by the Government, it is more important than ever that the over 60s take control now and free themselves of the prospect of institutional care and remain independent into the future.
We believe that retirement should be a time of optimism and enjoyment, not anxiety. Long-term care reform, which includes extra care housing and enhanced choice across the spectrum, could provide the solution, and see those in later life enjoy the retirement they deserve in 2012 and beyond.