Comment: Waking up to housing needs of the elderly

WE ALL know that Scotland has an ageing population, but are we doing enough about it? New figures from the National Records Office of Scotland highlight the urgency of the situation.

By 2037 one third of all households will be headed by someone aged over 65 and the number of older people living alone is set to rise by 51 per cent. The rise is even more dramatic for the over 85s – some 161 per cent higher.

The Scottish Government’s updated Scottish Planning Policy makes tentative steps to raise the profile of the issue. Local councils are asked to “prepare policies to support the delivery of appropriate housing and consider allocating specific sites”. Fair enough, but not exactly a call to arms.

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There is a massive mismatch between the growing number of elderly Scots and retirement housing available. In Scotland there are only 36,000 sheltered or very sheltered housing units, with the majority in the public sector and just 10 per cent privately owned.

Figures produced by SESplan’s Housing Needs Demand Assessment show that between 2002 and 2012 in West Lothian those aged between 65 and 79 grew by 32 per cent and those over 80 rose by 31 per cent, yet the number of older person’s dwellings rose by a paltry 166 units.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Not every pensioner will be able to live in mainstream retirement housing. Those in need of extra support will want accommodation that lets them live independently but with a care package.

And there has to be a real recognition that the private sector can do more. Many elderly home-owners are currently trapped in oversized properties. Recent UK research shows that building more private retirement housing would free up 3.3 million houses, releasing them on to the housing market for families.

Scotland urgently needs detailed guidance on strategies expected of local authorities to pursue to help increase provision. Councils not only need to identify appropriate sites but must give responsibility to senior planners to drive forward solutions to a problem that has waited too long to be addressed.

• Steve Wiseman is Scottish managing director of McCarthy and Stone

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