Time to take Pride in housing for older people
This is a version of an article featured in Inside Housing on 29th January 2016.
As we approach the film awards season, I’m reminded of a film that really touched me in the last year. BAFTA award winning Pride tells the true story of a group of LGBT activists who allied themselves with striking miners during the strikes of the early 1980s. It is a hilarious, deeply moving and uplifting tale of mutual respect and collective endeavour, whatever your view on Arthur Scargill and Margaret Thatcher. One of the things that struck me as the credits rolled was the age of many of the protagonists today. One of the key characters of the film, the inspirational Jonathan Blake recently turned 65.
The challenge of how we as a society meet the needs of an increasing number of elderly people in general is one of the challenges of our times. From 2012 to 2032 the populations of 65-84 year olds and the over 85s are set to increase by 39 and 106 per cent respectively whereas 0-14 and 15-64 year olds are set to increase by 11 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. The health service too has been feeling the effect of ‘bed blocking’; the lack of sufficient high quality care arrangements at home meaning hospitals can’t release elderly patients.
There is an uncomfortable irony that many of the people, who fought and secured rights for the LGBT community, now find injustice and systematic discrimination in their later years.
As Britain slowly comes round to the notion that many baby boomers now have bus passes, the needs of older members of the LGBT community should not be forgotten. Particular circumstances can mean a difficult relationship with family or a lack of children, so the support net that many older people come to rely on can be absent. Perhaps as importantly, there can be greater barriers to key components of a happy and fulfilling later life such as companionship and protection from loneliness.
There is an increasing body of empirical evidence to suggest that older LGBT people in the UK face starker challenges than their heterosexual peers. A report by LGBT charity Stonewall showed that older gay and bisexual people in the UK are much more likely to live alone and to lack family support. The charity found that older gay men are three times more likely to be single than straight men, and that 41% of elderly LGBT people live alone. There is also the potential for homophobic abuse. Meanwhile an investigation by the Scottish government found isolation and loneliness to be the key issue in interviews with older LGBT people in 2005.
In response to such issues programmes such as Age UK’s Opening Doors London project offer social opportunities, befriending services and support to older LGBT people who would otherwise be isolated and cut off. But housing need in later life remains a big issue, which has not been sufficiently addressed in the UK to date.
This is not the case in other parts of the world, the United States, Australia, Sweden and Germany already have various dedicated provision for this client group and a new scheme is due to open in the South of France later this year.
Commonweal Housing is delighted to be funding (alongside Big Lottery) a pioneering feasibility study for Stonewall Housing to look at the demand for dedicated LGBT housing in the UK. This will be the first detailed investigation into the housing need of the older LGBT community in the UK. Supporting the exploration of such issues and helping experts to identify possible solutions is at the heart of Commonweal’s charitable mission helping to identify, develop and test ‘housing solutions to social injustice.’
The Scottish Government carried out an assessment of need 10 years ago which made several important findings which it would be useful to explore in research across the UK. For example, forty-five per cent of all participants in the Scottish Government’s research felt they might experience barriers in the future in accessing quality services – particularly residential care – due to age, financial constraints, gender identity or sexual orientation. It uncovered a deep unease among some LGBT older people about perceived requirement to conform to ‘institutional norms’ in some care / sheltered housing settings.
Directly related to the provision of dedicated services, the research also discovered a significant minority of respondents expressing a preference for shared accommodation with people with the same sexual orientation and to have services provided which were tailored to their specific needs. The report went on to recommend that Communities Scotland work with a small group of older LGBT people interested in developing mutual support housing with a view to establishing the need and practical options for the provision of this housing model. There is no update on whether this work has been undertaken or where it might have got to and there are currently no dedicated older LGBT housing schemes in the UK despite the examples from elsewhere.
I’m sure these will be just some of the issues the feasibility study looks into and I’m looking forward to it reporting back later this year and hopefully noting a growing willingness from the social housing sector to participate.
Good quality housing and support that not only meets the needs of all older people, but also recognises the particular circumstances of many older LGBT people ; now there’s something we could show some pride in.
Ashley Horsey is Chief Executive of Commonweal Housing an independent housing and action learning charity pleased to be supporting Stonewall Housing.