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The UK’s ageing population

The UK’s population is ageing. This is primarily driven by improvements in life expectancy and declining fertility.

Around one-fifth of the UK population (19%) was aged 65 or over in 2019, or around 12.3 million people. The number of people in this age group increased by 23% between 2009 and 2019, at a time when the whole UK population only increased by 7%.

The older population in the UK is projected to grow, with people aged 65 and over making up 24% of the population by 2043 (17.4 million people). The proportion of the population aged 75 and over is projected to rise from 8% in 2018 to 13% in 2043, while the proportion aged 85 and over is projected to rise from 2% to 4%.

Older people’s housing circumstances

The English Housing Survey looked at the housing circumstances of older people living in England in 2018-19. Some of its main findings include:

  • Over a quarter (29%) of all households were led by someone aged 65 or over – 6.9 million households in total.
  • Older people are more likely to live alone. 45% of households led by someone aged 65 or over were single-person households, more than twice the rate in younger age groups. Over 3.1 million adults aged 65 and over lived alone in 2018-19. The majority of these single adults were women (2.1 million, compared with 1.0 million men living alone).
  • The majority of older households are owner-occupiers. 5.42 million households (79%) led by someone aged 65 or over were owner-occupiers in 2018-19. 1.09 million were social renters (16%), and around 380,000 were private renters (6%).
  • Households led by an older person are much more likely to be under-occupying than other age groups. In the English Housing Survey, overcrowding and under-occupying are measured using the ‘bedroom standard’, which determines how many bedrooms a household ‘needs’ based on the ages and relationships of household members. 55% of households led by a 65+ year old had at least two spare bedrooms by this measure, compared with 18% of 16-34 year old households and 34% of 35-64 year old households.

The challenges of housing an ageing population

People’s housing needs often change as they grow older. The right housing can keep older people safe and healthy, support them to live independently, and reduce costs for health and social care services. Enabling older people to move to more suitable housing, when they want to, can also help to free up larger homes for use by families.

The issue of how to house an ageing population now, and in the future, is a critical one. Literature on this topic identifies a range of challenges, including:

  • Older people frequently need support with home maintenance, adaptations and repairs to enable them to stay in their homes for longer. They may also require other support services, such as social care, to maintain their independence and well-being. A supportive local community and social networks are also recognised as important in supporting older people, for example by reducing loneliness.
  • There is a shortage of accessible and specialist housing for older people (for example, retirement housing, sheltered housing and housing with care) in both the private and social sectors.
  • Older people need access to information and advice on housing options and support services, to enable them to make informed and timely choices about how and where they live.
  • Older people are more likely to be under-occupying their accommodation. Barriers to ‘downsizing’ or ‘rightsizing’ can include: emotional bonds; fear of change; reluctance to lose a principal financial asset; and a lack of choice in appropriate accommodation to move on to.
  • The increase in older people living in private rented accommodation has raised concerns about their living conditions, difficulties in securing necessary adaptations, and ability to live a secure life in retirement.
  • In England, there is a lack of a national strategy on housing for older people to provide a strategic vision and ensure housing, health and social care policies are joined up.

Housing policy is devolved, different policies apply in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

This paper presents a selection of publications on the topic of housing an ageing population, it is not intended to be an exhaustive list.

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