Research by NPI find the reality is much more complex.
Downsizing, empty-nesters, hoarding housing – terms like these have sparked angry debate, blaming older people, pitting generations against each other.
We wanted to explore the facts around older people and under-occupation in England.
Fact 1: More older people than younger people 'under-occupy' and many older people live in accommodation that is too big, hard to maintain or difficult to live in.
Fact 2: Under-occupation is not specific to older people. Of the 8 million households (37%) who under-occupy in England, almost half are households with at least one person under 55. (An older household consists of only over-55s, and a household can be one or more people.) This rather complicates the issue of who 'hoards' housing.
Research on older people's housing choices reminds us that choices are constrained. There can be good reasons to move:
There can also be very good reasons to stay put, including emotional ties and practical sources of support – things that keep us connected to our communities. But often the sheer weight of practical, financial and emotional pressures prevents people from moving in old age until they reach crisis-point. Choices are further constrained by availability.
Excluding care homes for the moment, the choices are, broadly, mainstream housing or specialist accommodation for older people. Only there is not enough of either: only 7% of older households live in specialist accommodation, and 77% of this stock is for social rent. Hardly a compelling case for a move.
So what can be done? There are strategic issues, not all to do with more investment, although that is certainly a big one. Greater housing market stability and responsive planning (both for mixed-age and specialist housing) at the national and local level are also essential. So is willingness to support imaginative solutions – both in terms of good design, and partnerships between a range of developers, providers and local authorities. Much evidence is already available on what older people say they value from housing.
For us at JRF and JRHT, this isn't about pitting one generation against another. Next month we publish major research from our Young People and Housing programme. And later this year we publish a series of reports on extra-care housing for older people. We'll be asking: how can we meet the housing needs of people of all ages and at all stages of life?