The challenges around our ageing demographic are growing, with additional incidents like COVID-19 putting a magnifying glass on the problems we already have and need to address. Action is required to ensure we can all Age Well without fear of loneliness, isolation, avoidable ill health and poor living conditions. In less than 20 years, it’s estimated that 25% of the population will be over the age of 65. Evidence dictates England needs to improve the quality of housing to be accessible, affordable, safe and comfortable to live in and the environment in which our housing sits is just as essential to support wellbeing. Zero carbon infrastructure and assistive technology will be vital to the effectiveness of housing, supporting people to live well and age well at home. Following the events of Covid-19 in 2020 it is more evident than ever that access to quality open space, to support health and wellbeing and the ability to meet and socialise in places that are attractive, comfortable and safe are essential components in the places we design and create. The accessibility of safe technology to provide virtual interaction, activity and social engagement will be vital to supporting people’s mental health and in preventing loneliness and isolation.
The Good Home Inquiry launched data earlier this year showing approximately 10 million people in England spent the coronavirus lockdown in a home that presents a serious threat to their health and safety. With about 1.8 million adults living in damp and/or cold housing and, of these, more than one in ten people are living with health conditions potentially caused or exacerbated by poor housing, causing them to be ‘at greater risk’ of contracting and dying from coronavirus.
According to data cited in the report, 4.3 million homes in England are what the government defines as ‘non-decent’ putting the health and wellbeing of their estimated 10 million inhabitants at risk. The report highlights that people who have been identified as most at risk of COVID-19, including older people, those with pre-existing health conditions and Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority groups, are more likely to be living in non-decent homes, along with those on low incomes.
The issues a winter lockdown could generate, with increased fuel bills and exacerbated fuel poverty and people spending more time in their homes struggling to keep poorly insulated homes warm for longer periods are causing real concern to health and social care as the health of those most vulnerable will be negatively impact.
The report calls on government to make sure at-risk groups have the support they need now to make their homes warmer, free from damp and mold, and safer. For some this means providing trusted information
and advice to signpost them towards those who can help. For others, this will require more direct intervention such as financial support from Government to ensure homes are safe.
In the longer term, much more needs to be done to fix the poor state of England’s housing with our existing housing stock amongst the worst in Europe.
It will require collaboration of the highest scale across the public and private sectors to address these challenges, as no one organisation or body will have the capacity to meet the demand. Listening and learning from past and recent living experiences of people is essential to creating places fit for the future and innovation is vital to achieving better outcomes. As Henry Ford said, ‘if you always do what you’ve have always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got’, so it’s time for change.
History demonstrates that challenging times promote creativity and some of the best new inventions came out of worldwide conflict and deprivation. For example, much of the technology we take for granted today was developed in the 2nd world war and has helped shape the world today and the invention of pressurised cabins to protect health has enabled safer flying, growth of worldwide economies and travel experiences for mankind.
We have the next worldwide conflict on the horizon the pandemic which there is no vaccine for ‘Climate Change’ and an opportunity to create a better place and to slow down considerably its impact on the world and its future. It is all our responsibility to act now to prevent the catastrophic impact climate change will have on our future generation’s lives. As well as to address the inequalities and devastating impact of poor housing on today’s society. So, let’s be bold and ambitious like we had to be in the 1st and 2nd world wars and invest in innovative solutions for infrastructure, products and services which hit zero-carbon transitional targets and decentralise services. Localised solutions maximise positive outcomes for community wellbeing. Creating opportunity for effective collaboration bringing together the best ideas, best skills and best production of zero carbon accessible and affordable lifelong solutions, is a challenge we can all embrace if we work together.
I am proud to work for ENGIE in a position where I can influence and be part of solutions for a better place and I am excited by the potential of what we can achieve with the support of our customers and partners. Sir Captain Tom Moore is spot on! ‘Tomorrow will be a better day’ if we want it to be and is an example of what good can come out of the simplest idea…
Paula Broadbent – Retirement Solutions Director Places & Communities ENGIE UK & Ireland