Imagine spending your seventies in a grim hostel room, sharing a bathroom and kitchen with strangers, not knowing if and when you’ll have to move somewhere new.
Today is World Homeless Day, and a chance for us to reflect on homelessness in all its forms. While most of us are deeply concerned by the growing number of people sleeping rough on our streets, this is just tip of the iceberg of our growing emergency whose impact we are striving to understand, and whose impact on older people is particularly well hidden and rarely considered.
Homelessness does not only happen to people who are already the most marginalised. It can happen to people of all backgrounds and ages. From young people struggling to pay for a deposit when they need to move, to older people scared that they will be unable to pay the rent when they retire. The housing emergency is spreading all the time.
Rocketing house prices have left hundreds of thousands of older people stuck in expensive private renting. New research by Shelter reveals almost half of 55-64-year-old private renters said the high cost of renting means that they won’t be able to afford to retire. People who should be looking forward to their retirement instead feel they will never be able to retire. This should be unthinkable.
The same research found over a quarter of private renters over 65 worry about losing their home. This fear is not unfounded, with more than 8,000 people aged 65 or over becoming homeless, or being threatened with homelessness, in the last year.
It almost goes without saying how hard homelessness is on older people. Every day, our services advise and support older people who have been evicted and have nowhere safe to call home. Recently, we heard from a man in his 70s with arthritis who was living in a hostel and had to climb six flights of stairs every day for months. He was scared to make a fuss in case he was kicked out.
This cannot be how we, as a society, want to treat our older citizens. This is not what any of us would want for ourselves or our families.
Fortunately, this man has now been given a place in sheltered accommodation, but there are thousands of older people with stories like his. And the situation will get worse if we don’t act urgently and decisively.
We’re facing a ticking time bomb of older renters who won’t be able to afford their rent when they retire. The same research found that 67% of private renters in this age group say they won’t be able to pay rent on a suitable home when they retire without needing housing benefit.
At best we will see many thousands more people having to rely on housing benefit to keep their home. At worst we will see more older people facing the misery of homelessness.
There is only one solution. An ambitious programme over the next 20 years, to build a total of three million new social homes, is affordable and would ensure people don’t have to face homelessness in retirement. It would provide stability and security for millions of families trapped in unaffordable private renting and provide a safe home for those most in need.
It is not right for anyone to have nowhere to call home – let alone someone in their seventies or eighties. I hope that for this World Homeless Day all political parties recognise that they must offer real solutions.
This article originally appeared in the Daily Mirror and can be found here.
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