Most of us will want to stay in our homes as long as possible when we get older. We will want to keep our independence and be surrounded by our belongings and fond memories as long as we can. But what if our own homes put us in serious danger the longer we live in them?
Electrical Safety First launched a report at the House of Lords that explores exactly this problem: how to age at home, safely. We carried out in-depth research with the International Longevity Centre to produce a report, A Shock to the System: Electrical Safety in an Ageing Society. We wanted to understand the current housing stock, what this means for older people, and what will happen in the future if our concerns aren't addressed.
The findings were, indeed, a shock. One million adults aged over 75 live in 'non-decent' housing. These people are some of society's most vulnerable, and yet they are living in homes that are not warm enough, do not contain modern facilities or are in a general state of disrepair. The chances of getting ill or having an accident are huge.
What worries us most is that, more often than not, these homes have serious electrical problems. Nearly two thirds of households with a couple over 60 do not meet basic electrical safety standards, which means that they don't have a modern fusebox, an RCD, circuit breakers or PVC wiring. When you consider that 70 people die and more than 350,000 people are seriously injured by electricity every year, electrical safety is something we can't ignore. Unfortunately older people are more likely to be affected, with a person over 60 ten times more likely to die in a fire than someone aged 17-24.
So why are older people living in such poor quality houses? One of the main reasons is that older people are living in their properties for longer, meaning more time passes between comprehensive safety checks, and it's likely they're still using old electrical appliances. There is also an issue around trusting tradespeople and social isolation meaning problems can go unspotted for great lengths of time. Memory and mobility problems caused by conditions such as dementia can also put people at serious risk.
This is a serious problem, and something that will only get worse as the population continues to age. We have developed advice on what to look out for around the home, or what to do if you're concerned about the safety of an older relative or neighbour, and this can be downloaded here. But the reality is that these short-term fixes won't address the wider issue of an ageing housing stock.
We are calling on central and local Governments to take more responsibility for improving home safety for older people, and in particular we want them to:
1. Ensure all housing meets the Decent Homes Standard to prevent injuries and fatalities from electrical hazards
2. Make it mandatory for private landlords to ensure all electrical installations are checked every 5 years and ensure tenants are protected so they can report electrical hazards to landlords without fear of eviction
3. Target more 'at risk' homes with free electrical safety checks - for example the homes of older people who have lived in the same property for a long period of time
4. Work with the voluntary sector to ensure older people can claim the benefits they are entitled to which can be used to carry out electrical repair work
Please join us in sharing this message and in ensuring your loved ones are safe in their homes.
For more information, visit www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/agesafe