Older people need accurate and relevant information to make good decisions. Good quality of life and access to good housing are not only dependent on economic security, but also rely on people’s knowledge about the range of options available to them as they get older. Targeted and tailored communication that takes into account the diversity of older Londoners can lead to increased engagement of those actively planning for future housing.
“We started looking into the future when my partner was diagnosed with cancer and began to envision what life would look like if we didn’t have one another. We wanted to make sure that if one of us died, the other would have safety, their needs in place and a community.”
The information and planning gap
Homes that accommodate the needs of older Londoners can only benefit people if they know about them. To make the right long-term decisions about where to live, before periods of crisis occur, people need accurate, impartial information – and they need to know how to find it. However, some of the people we spoke to said that they struggled to find helpful information. In fact, a number of distinct yet intersecting factors act as barriers to planning ahead.
- Income: 24 per cent of pensioners in London are living in poverty and, as a group, pensioners experienced the largest increase in the rate of poverty from 2014 to 2018. Vulnerability to poverty is higher for single pensioners, and those from Black and ethnic minority communities. 15 While 65 per cent of older Londoners are homeowners and are therefore potentially asset rich, they may nevertheless be income poor. Access to timely and reliable advice about sources of funding (and other services) is vital to ensure that financial barriers to good housing can be addressed in advance.
- The age of over-information: While the lack of information is a problem, too much information risks alienating people. It can make them feel overwhelmed and unsure where to start. Information on housing will only be effective if it is comprehensible and relevant. Signposts and referrals can ensure older people receive targeted assistance that reflects the diversity of their needs.
- Digital exclusion: The coronavirus pandemic – and the associated movement of information, resources and services online – has increased the presence of digital technology in the lives of all Londoners. Critically, it has deepened the gap between those who are digitally engaged and those without the skills, confidence and resources to get online. While Internet use among Londoners aged 65-74 increased from 52 per cent in 2011 to 83 per cent in 2018, there remains a generational gap which is widened by household income and educational levels. Many older Londoners told us that they have friends and contacts who are not online at all, and highlighted that local libraries remain key sources of information for these individuals.
- Networks: The World Health Organization’s Global Age-friendly Cities guide maintains that word of mouth remains the principal and preferred form of communication for older people, irrespective of how developed a city is. Indeed, the profusion of housing information, paired with the diverse needs and profiles of older Londoners, may lead to a preference for advice from personal networks that may seem more reliable. One of the Londoners we spoke to informed us that their decision to move to their current location was based on information from a LGBT+ conference for older people. Ethnic minority communities are less likely to use independent and formal advice services and may thus rely on local and community networks. 16
Learning from pensions and benefits
Recent changes in the pension regulations and benefits regime provide important lessons in how to communicate with older Londoners.
From its experience with the Pension Wise guidance service, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) learned that few people go out in search of guidance even as they are approaching retirement age. 17 The Pensions Regulator guide recommends that trustee boards of occupational pension schemes should run workshops or events where members can talk about schemes and retirement plans. 18 It may be possible for larger employers and community groups to provide similar information to “rising” older Londoners about their housing options.
Messages to older Londoners also need to be tailored. Not all those affected by the rising state pension age for women found out about it in time. A study by the University of Sheffield and TU Dortmund University showed that socioeconomically disadvantaged women were less aware of the changes and were therefore unable to adapt their employment and financial behaviour. 19 The experience of these women demonstrates that targeted awareness campaigns are needed to reach certain demographics: a “one size fits all” approach is not enough.
There are similar issues with the uptake of benefits. Four in ten older Londoners don’t claim Pension Credit even though they are eligible. 20 For older informal carers, the failure to claim Pension Credit risks a loss of up to £2,000 a year. Many people, and perhaps older people in particular, believe that benefits and similar support schemes are not for them – that others are worse off and need help more. Communications materials therefore need to make clear who is eligible for support, and and remove the stigma that is associated with making a claim.