The recent warm weather isn’t the only thing making people hot under the collar. The changing climate of care provision is also creating cause for concern.
In Wakefield, we face a significant challenge. Our independent living (sheltered housing) accommodation which was once in such great demand is in some cases no longer able to meet the demands of a changing and ageing population.
We have invested £18 million in refurbishing and modernising eight schemes, developing first class accommodation which provides peace of mind and flexible support for hundreds of people to be able to live independently. Hatfeild Court, just yards from Wakefield city centre, is our latest redevelopment. Feedback from tenants and partners has been excellent.
But it isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, and some of our independent living schemes do not enjoy the same demand. The main reason for this is that many people are being supported and, in some cases, want to live longer in their own home. This is entirely understandable, but for housing providers it can mean the well-established path of moving from your own home to sheltered housing to residential care has been eroded. Nationally, there are less sheltered housing units available than there was over 10 years ago, yet politically there is a need to increase supply. Surely if we reverse trends and make sheltered accommodation desirable to agencies like health and social services, it would release more accommodation to meet a growing housing demand.
Where independent living schemes are no longer as popular as they once were, as a landlord we face one of our biggest dilemmas – how do we make best use of our housing stock while putting our tenants first? Service charge costs and high vacancy factors mean this cost is a financial burden on the few, yet the allocation of Housing Support Subsidy (formerly Supporting People) grants may need a rethink.
Some of the decisions we have made so far have been emotive because they have been unpopular, and although we have reached a temporary solution in one case this will not be the norm.
Our Care Link telecare service is the region’s market leader, supporting 15,000 people to live independently with the help of sensors and alarms. Add to that our home visiting service, and we are providing wrap-around support. However, this doesn’t answer the question of what to do with vacant independent living accommodation which doesn’t fulfil the needs of a growing dementia population.
There is more and more evidence to show housing and health are clearly linked. Wellbeing Case Workers are a prime example of this, with their work to support thousands of tenants - particularly around mental health and wellbeing – proving crucial to our double success at the 2013 UK Housing Awards. The growing trend of mental health-related issues in the community is, again, a worrying trend.
Housing providers have the accommodation, and health and care professionals have the skills – put these together successfully, and I am sure greater efficiency gains will be made to mitigate the expected £20,000 care costs people are likely to be facing in their old age. By working in partnership I’m sure that we can help more people to live independently in a property that is suitable to their needs and their family circumstances, by receiving the right level of care and support. It has to be a win, win.
My question to the health and care professionals is: how can we help you and do you want to be helped? Housing’s door is always open - knock, knock, who’s there?