Monday, 8 February 2010

Rural communities will struggle
to support booming older population

The number of pensioners living in rural England will increase by nearly one million over the next decade – but communities will struggle to support the ageing population boom unless more affordable homes are built for families and younger people, a campaign group warned today.

The National Housing Federation predicts the number of over 65s living in rural England will hit 3.23m by 2020, a rise of 907,900 (39%) from 2008.

But young people and families on modest incomes could increasingly find themselves priced out of villages and market towns by wealthy people relocating to the countryside – prompting fears that many rural areas will struggle to attract the moderate income workers these areas will need to care and support for the ageing population.

More “pensioner friendly homes” will also need to built where there is a clear demand for them and support services will need to be made more widely available in rural communities, the Federation said.

Pensioners will make up one in four of the rural population (24%) by 2020, as the proportion of older people living in rural areas increases at a significantly faster rate than in urban areas.

The research also reveals that one in three older people (32%) in rural areas will live alone by 2020, compared to the current level of one in four.

Many of these people could find themselves increasingly isolated if key services and amenities continue to disappear from rural England.

The Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, said thousands of new homes needed to be built for younger families and workers to support community life and keep local schools, bus services, shops and pubs open.

Younger people would also be needed to help support the booming numbers of older people living in the countryside – in modestly paid jobs, such as health care workers.

But the huge inward migration of wealthy commuters, second home owners and retired people to the countryside has sent house prices soaring and are now £40,000 more expensive in rural areas on average than those in towns and cities – even though wages are far lower.

Many younger people and families have been priced out of their communities by a lack of affordable housing, fuelling the mass closures of shops, pubs and schools in rural areas.

The number of people on waiting lists for an affordable home in rural England has rocketed to 750,000, but a chronic shortage of new homes means many low income families are trapped in poor quality housing – unable to afford to move to more suitable accommodation nearby.

The Federation, which represents England’s housing associations, estimates around 100,000 new affordable homes need to be built in England alone to meet demand in rural areas over the next 10 years.

Councils should also assess the changing needs of their local community and support the building of homes which meet the needs of older people where there was a clear demand for these properties, the Federation said. Support services will also need to be extended more widely in rural communities.

The Federation is calling on all local authorities to draw up action plans to assess their local housing needs and how they plan to meet that need.

Federation chief executive David Orr said: “The proportion of older people living in the countryside will rise dramatically over the next decade – bringing many benefits to rural communities but also a series of big challenges.

“As the older rural population booms, we must ensure that enough affordable homes are built for younger people on modest wages, so that they can continue to work in and support key services like shops, public transport, and care and support services.”

He added: “If families and younger people are priced out of the countryside and local services and amenities continue to disappear, older people will find themselves increasingly isolated.

“That’s why rural local authorities must carry out assessments of housing need every three years and draw up action plans to deliver the homes required. They also need to assess what housing and support services will be needed to serve the growing older population.”
__________________posted February 10th 2010 ________________
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