The statistics are mind blowing. Scots aged 65 and over are estimated to increase by 59% over the next two decades and the number living beyond 75 will increase by even more – 82%.
And the strain on NHS and care services is showing; inevitably that strain will continue to grow. Creative strategies will have to be found to bridge the widening funding gap. Already there is a difference between what local councils can pay and the cost of caring for an elderly person. In England some private providers are already pulling out of the care sector while, in Scotland, care homes are concerned about the current national agreement which they claim amounts to a 1% increase at a time of an 8% rise in costs. Some may walk away and it is difficult to see new entrants entering the market.
Tax increases would no doubt help and those Scottish councils, allowed to increase their council tax this year – after a 10 year freeze – will be allocating some of their revenue to care budgets.
But raising tax in itself will never be enough. So what else can we do?
Part of the answer is to keep older Scots in their own homes for as long as is possible as hospital stays can cost as much as £3.8k per week. Currently some 40% of our hospital beds are occupied by people in the last years of their lives.
Resourcing community based services can be a cheaper and more effective means of improving quality of life. Adapting a person’s existing home to make it safer and secure for the needs of an elderly person brings obvious benefits such as fewer falls and subsequent reduction in hospital admissions.
And there is an urgent need for more retirement and sheltered housing across tenures. There are currently 630,000 Scots aged 65 or over and projections estimate that by 2035 that figure will increase to 1.47m – one in four of all Scots. Those living to 75 or over will almost double to 800,000 by 2039. Despite the obvious need, there are only 37,000 sheltered or very sheltered houses in Scotland.
The forthcoming Planning Bill can do much to develop housing for the elderly. Local councils, in their local development plans for example, should be asked to identify and, where possible, preserve brownfield sites suitable for elderly housing. And the Scottish Government should set a clear national target for new build housing exclusively for older people across a range of tenures over the next 10 years, including Assisted Living, sheltered and retirement housing.
The UK Government is to introduce a new statutory duty through the Neighbourhood Planning Bill requiring the Secretary of State to produce guidance for local planning authorities on how their local development plans should meet the needs of older people; a good template which the Scottish Government could adapt and develop.
When the Planning Bill is introduced, the opportunity must be taken for planning – and housing – to contribute to the development of a coherent policy for Scotland’s elderly. They deserve nothing less.