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Social Housing: Older People

Volume 797: debated on Thursday 9 May 2019


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to address the provision of suitable social housing for older people.

My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley, and with her permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in her name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a vice-president of the Local Government Association and as a trustee of the United St Saviour’s Charity in Southwark, which provides social housing for older people.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on so ably stepping into the breach. The Government have made £9 billion available through the affordable homes programme to March 2022 to deliver new affordable homes of a range of tenures, including social rent and supported housing. Supported housing, including sheltered housing, plays a vital role in the lives of the most vulnerable, including older people. Since 2011, we have delivered 34,000 units of specialist and other supported housing for disabled, vulnerable and older people.

My Lords, what plans do the Government have to support calls for the lifetime homes standard to be mandatory for at least some, if not all, social housing built in future? That would enable people to stay in their homes longer, help them to remain independent and save money on future aids and adaptions.

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to concentrate on that standard. He will know that Part M of the building regulations is about to be reviewed; we have touched on it previously. We very much hope that will be tightened for its requirements for disabled and older people. That will help to inform the sort of progress that we are all keen to make.

My Lords, in February last year—15 months ago—the Communities and Local Government Select Committee reported on its inquiry into housing for older people. It had 41 recommendations. Eight months ago, in September 2018, the Government’s response was published. It left many questions unanswered, but it did say this:

“We have been clear that we will consider housing as we develop proposals for the future of the social care system in the green paper to be published in the autumn”.

The two areas of social care and housing are clearly linked. The Green Paper was not published and there is no sign of it. Does the Minister accept the need to respond properly to the committee’s recommendations, and that the failure to publish the Green Paper is turning into a major failure of public policy?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right about the importance of the Select Committee’s recommendations, many of which we are taking forward. He will know that we have ensured that approximately 22,000 specific homes since 2011 have been geared towards older people. We have committed £400 million in the spending review to delivering specialist affordable homes for the vulnerable, elderly and those with disability. We are bringing the Green Paper forward, but he is absolutely right that it is important.

My Lords, I recently served on the ad hoc Select Committee on intergenerational fairness. It published its report two weeks ago. Although I know that the Government have not yet responded formally to the committee’s recommendations, the Minister will be aware of those we made on housing, many of which might help to increase the housing supply, especially of social housing. For instance, there is the presumption that local authorities be given priority to develop for housing any publicly owned land in their area, and the specific recommendation that retirement communities that provide extra care be designated as class C2—the same as care homes—to encourage their development. That issue is very close to the heart of the Associated Retirement Community Operators, ARCO, with which I work and for which I am proud to be patron. Will these recommendations be acted on, and quickly? They are very important.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for what she does on behalf of older people, specifically on intergenerational fairness. I remember the work we did together on the Neighbourhood Planning Act to ensure that, for the first time ever, older people are recognised in the National Planning Policy Framework. She is absolutely right about the importance of this. In fact, pensioners as a class have never been better off than they are the moment, but there are specific needs relating to housing. I mentioned Part M and the importance of delivering more specific homes. We are carrying that forward.

Is the Minister aware of the All-Party Group on Housing and Care for Older People, very ably chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Best, who cannot be in his place this morning? Is he also aware that in the next 20 years, by 2041, about 30% of older people will be in the private rented sector? This will be Generation Rent, who will not be able to afford to pay rent when they retire. What plans do his Government—and his department in particular—have to deal with that? We need to plan for that crisis now.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right: the private rented sector has grown massively across all age groups. There is nothing inherently wrong in that; it was slightly implicit in the question that it was undesirable. Oh, she shakes her head—I misunderstood. There are particular concerns. As she will know, we have moved on a number of factors in relation to the private rented sector across the board to ensure fairness on rents, evictions, secure tenancies, tenant fees and so on. She is right to highlight this. I assure her that we will carry things forward.

My Lords, while everyone would welcome a housebuilding programme, can the Minister assure the House that all these new houses will be built to be as carbon neutral as possible, given the current state of the climate emergency?

My Lords, the climate change dimension is of interest to me, and the noble Baroness is right to highlight it. Modern methods of construction in particular will help us to deliver on that. Many companies are developing modern methods of construction and housing which are carbon neutral, and receive funding through BEIS to help with that programme.

Is my noble friend aware that 7,000 high-quality new homes are being built per day in the Republic of India—which, admittedly, is larger than us and probably quite soon will be richer than us as well? Would he concede that new construction technology has a major part to play in adequate and swift provision of social housing for all ages?

My Lords, I was unaware of that statistic, but certainly India is developing incredibly quickly on a number of technological fronts, so I am not totally surprised. My noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of ensuring that housing delivery is carbon neutral and that modern methods of construction enable us to move very quickly. We are doing so across a range of areas. Last week, I saw modern of methods of construction providing help for the homeless. It is pleasing to see that beginning to happen across all sectors; it cannot happen too quickly.