Housing is a key determinant of quality of life for older people living in London. If housing conditions deteriorate, so too does health. By 2030 there are projected to be over 1.4 million people aged over 65 living in London, 400,000 aged over 80, and 80,000 aged over 90. 2 Together, these age groups will make up 14 per cent of London’s total population. Most older people currently live in outer London, but the population increase is projected to be the highest in inner London – where provision of specialist housing is currently the lowest.
Against this backdrop, there are three key trends shaping the housing trajectory of older people living in London.
1. Increased life expectancy and care needs
While the coronavirus pandemic will have implications for mortality trends in the capital, up until last year Londoners aged over 65 experienced a long-term rise in life expectancy. 3 However, healthy life expectancy did not keep pace with the increase in overall life expectancy, so more years are being spent in poor health. Londoners living in affluent areas live significantly longer than people living in deprived areas. The boroughs with the shortest healthy life expectancy for women and men respectively are Tower Hamlets (57 years for women) and Newham (58 years for men), whereas the longest healthy life expectancy for both sexes is found in Richmond upon Thames (70 years for women and 72 years for men). Poverty is a major driver of poor health in older age, and reducing poverty among working-age and older adults would reduce these geographic inequalities.
An increase in the number of years that older Londoners spend in poor health has resulted in increased demand for social care provision across the capital. While adult social care budgets have been better protected than other local authority functions, they have not escaped cuts: total expenditure on adult social care was reduced by almost 15 per cent in the decade to 2018/19.
2. Renting into retirement
Renting is likely to become more widespread for older Londoners in coming years than it was for previous generations. People in their mid-30s to mid40s are three times more likely to rent than 20 years ago, and this trend looks likely to persist. 4 Across the capital, 35 per cent of people aged over 65 do not own their own home compared to an average of 27 per cent across the country.
Yet renting in London is costly. London has the highest rents of all UK regions, with the average cost of a 2-bed property in inner London £1,600 per month, and in outer London £1,200-£1,300. 5 However, the change in demand driven by the coronavirus crisis has caused some short-term changes to the market, pushing prices down in inner London and up in outer London. Rents in Zone 1 fell 25 per cent in the third quarter of 2020 compared to the previous year, whereas Zones 5-6 saw a 7.4 per cent increase over the same period. 6 It is uncertain whether these changes will last.
While some enjoy the flexibility that living in private rented accommodation offers, renting can mean insecurity and limited choice. This is particularly the case for older Londoners who are claiming Universal Credit. According to the National Landlords Association (NLA), only 18 per cent of landlords nationally accept tenants in receipt of government support, and this falls to 11 per cent in London. 7
Many also live in rental properties that are in poor condition. The proportion of homes meeting the Decent Homes standard in London is lowest for privately rented properties. Twenty per cent of private rented homes were below standard in 2017, compared to 12 per cent of social rented homes and 17 per cent of owner-occupied homes. 8 Energy efficiency is a particular issue as many older people are concerned about heating costs. Renting into retirement also raises the risk of eviction when a landlord ends a tenancy – some London boroughs are seeing an increase in older people presenting as homeless for this reason.
3. Housing wealth and pensioner poverty
Some older Londoners have accumulated significant housing wealth as house prices in London have increased. In Brent, an average semi-detached house bought in 1995 for £95,000 would now be worth £750,000. Some older Londoners have been able to use this housing wealth to support younger relatives in buying their own properties, or to move to much larger properties outside London.
However, this increase in aggregate property wealth does not always translate into an improved standard of living in older age. Even those who are lucky enough to own valuable property may not have much money to either maintain their homes or otherwise live on – while a large and growing minority of older Londoners don’t own their homes at all.
Despite high aggregate levels of housing wealth between 2014/15 and 2018/19, Londoners aged over 65 experienced the largest increase in poverty rates of any demographic group. The poverty rate for couples aged over 65 rose by six percentage points (from 15 per cent to 21 per cent), and it also rose by six percentage points for single people aged over 65 (from 22 per cent to 28 per cent). 9