In the UK, the vast majority of our over 65s currently live in mainstream housing; often in large family homes that have outgrown their original purpose. One of the main reasons why more retirees have not downsized to a more manageable home is the lack of retirement housing options available to them. A mere 0.6% of seniors live in dedicated retirement housing, which is ten times less than in more mature markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5% of over 65s live in retirement developments.
But even in these more advanced countries, there are huge challenges in coping with their rapidly growing ageing populations. So, while the UK is still struggling to accept that far more retirement homes need to be built its perhaps worth looking at how Australia plans to provide even more retirement housing to meet future demand.
Down under, retirement villages make up the most of the country’s housing stock dedicated to senior life. Demand to live here is huge and currently there is a 92 per cent occupancy rate, according to a Price Waterhouse Coopers and Property Council 2016 survey of more than 53,000 retirement and independent living units found in Australia.
Although these developments claim that residents are in the 55+ age bracket, the reality is that only four per cent are younger than 65 and the average age of new residents moving to retirement living was actually 75.
Australia’s population, like the rest of the world, is ageing rapidly. Those aged 65 and over now account for 16% of the total population, compared to 14% in 2011. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, by 2064, more than 23 percent of the population will be 65 or over. Australian retirees will face a housing crisis within 15 years unless urgent action is taken, according to the country’s Council on the Ageing.
However, action is already being taken. New retirement village units are being built at a rate of more than 40 a week. Politicians, policy makers and planners all understand that every new retirement village unit built releases a family home onto the market. Planning consent is far less onerous than is the case in the UK, where currently almost every development is fervently scrutinised and under threat of opposition.
Australia also has a more holistic approach to senior living. Retirement developments typically cater for a wide range of care needs; from independent living, through to assisted care and also specialist, full time care. This means residents do not need to worry about their long-term care needs or where they may end up. Continuity of care also enables the developments to create much closer bond with their residents over time. Such developments are starting to appear in the UK, although these are currently in just single numbers.
Australia, as well as the USA and New Zealand, have embraced the need for specialist retirement housing and, although they face greater challenges over the next 50 years, are well placed to cope with the surge in demand – a lesson that the UK must surely learn from.