Think tanks clash on best way to house ageing population

Monday, 22 April 2013

Think tanks clash on best way to house ageing population

Synopsis

More bungalows and custom built homes, not a tax on the elderly, the best way to bridge the housing divide

Two leading think tanks have today clashed on the best way to house Britain’s ageing population. The clash follows the publication of two papers marking the launch of The Hanover@50 Debate, part of the specialist housing provider’s 50th anniversary.

Policy Exchange and the Fabian Society agree that the concentration of home ownership amongst older people risks stoking inter-generational unfairness. However, while the Fabians believe that the introduction of a property tax will lead to lower house prices, Policy Exchange says reform of the planning system to encourage developers to build more homes, including bungalows and self build homes attractive to older people looking to downsize, is the fairer way of reducing the generational divide.

The Fabian Society paper found that high property prices are in the interests of neither young nor old, because pensioners do not unlock their housing wealth during their own lifetime. It says the gap in ‘middle’ incomes between retired people and those of working age has narrowed dramatically over recent decades, calling into question the protection from the pain of deficit reduction enjoyed by many older people. The paper argues that while many older people endure housing problems, ill health and isolation, their incomes are growing faster than those of people in working life. It therefore calls for a ‘presumption of equality’ across all age groups taking in eligibility for certain public services and a comprehensive review of taxation and social security spending.

Policy Exchange calls on policymakers to reform the planning system to encourage the construction of new good quality homes that will not antagonise local people. Current rules make it almost impossible for developers to build houses with extra floors which has led to a situation where only 2% of UK housing stock consists of bungalows. In 2009, only 300 bungalows were built. The paper says that building more bungalows will allow older people to downsize, freeing up family sized homes for younger families.

Andrew Harrop, General Secretary of the Fabian Society said: "Many of the measures put into place to reduce pensioner poverty and improve the incomes of pensioners have worked. In fact, they've worked so well that the earnings of pensioners ‘in the middle’ are fast approaching those of working people.

“At a time when almost every public spending decision is involving significant pain for a vulnerable group in society, the government must now consider whether they can really afford to keep protecting older people from the pain of deficit reduction.

“We need a new ‘grand bargain’ in British politics that will see comparatively well off older people contributing more and receiving less to help stymie burgeoning inter-generational inequalities”.

Alex Morton, head of housing and planning at Policy Exchange, said “What is needed is a grand bargain between the generations not a tax on the elderly. More homes, tailored to the needs of older homeowners, will help free up family sized properties for the younger generation. 

“It’s unsurprising that many of our talented men and women are making new lives for themselves outside the UK. We must reform the planning system to get Britain building more homes. This has to include more bungalows which will allow older people to downsize to a property that suits their specific needs.”

Hanover chief executive Bruce Moore added: “We want to promote a debate on the future of retirement housing and wider issues around care and support for older people in our ageing society. We need to look afresh at housing and support services for older people but, as these papers make clear, that discussion needs to take place in the context of the wider community and society.”