Social Care for Elderly People: the ‘future proofing’ of communities with sustainable Lifetime and HAPPI Homes

I’ve written here previously on some city centre appartment blocks and how they could be more attractive for elderly and retired occupiers. This piece looks at the construction details of houses and flats to better meet the housing and care needs of older people, on the ‘invest capital to save revenue’ model.
In the last week the UK government has announced its plans for funding some social care costs for elderly people, following the Dilnot report, and will set a £75,000 lifetime limit on social care costs from 2017, excluding any board and lodging component costs.
By announcing the limit, the government hopes that people of working age will now save or invest in financial products, similar to pensions, to cover their bills in later life up to the announced limit.
However, there are also some smart decisions people could make when younger which will lower or eliminate some of these costs in retirement. One such smart choice is to help ensure that any social care support in the future is delivered at home (ie in the community) instead of having to sell up and move into a residential or ‘care home’ with the extra costs associated with that upheaval. The means choosing a home if at all possible that has been made ‘future proof’.
First in the 1990s some housing experts together with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Habinteg published a set of 16 design criteria, called Lifetime Homes. It was for new homes and provided a menu of low-cost and no-cost features which meant that the home could be readily adapted in future years to meet the changing needs of the occupants as they grew old, enabled to carry on living in their own home and keeping vital contact with neighbours and friends in their neighbourhood.
There were local examples of good practice prior to Lifetimes Homes, such as un the 1980s the Greater Manchester Housing and Disability Group where Irwell Valley Housing Association played a strong enabling role.
More recently, Age UK with the Town and Country Planning Association plus Habinteg have together taken forward the previous version and in November 2011 published an updated Lifetime Homes Design Guide on the 16 design criteria. This guide includes some basic recommendations such as, have the bathroom door swing outwards, put sockets at a height that people can reach without stretching, and don’t bury services within the wall that separates the bathroom from the nearest bedroom, so that a connecting doorway can be easily fitted later on.
These features follow the principle of Inclusive Design, which asks designers to think of everyone and not just a theoretical ‘average’ user, and to do so without compromising on quality.
Similarly, the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA) has since 2009 been promoting the HAPPI Homes – Housing our Ageing Population: Panel for Innovation – with material such as 24 case studies from across the UK and wider Europe, and in 2012 reporting to an All Party Parliamentary Group chaired by Lord Best.
The Lifetime Homes standard would save money for occupiers and for local and central government starting now and continuing for years to come.
It is a shame, therefore, that 20 years on from the original publication this approach to inclusive and future-proof homes, so few of its innovations have evidently been adopted and promoted by many mainstream housebuilders and providers. Links:
http://www.lifetimehomes.org.uk/pages/lifetime-homes.html
http://www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/ourwork/happi

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