In the UK there are currently over five million older people over the age of 75[i]. Whilst increased longevity should be celebrated, it is important that later life can be enjoyed and that people continue to lively safely and well, in their communities as well as their home. Unfortunately, social isolation is all too common for many.
Of the five million people over 75, over two million live alone and more than a million say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member[ii]. For two fifths of all older people, the television is considered to be the main form of company.
With over four million older households (classified as having nobody under the age of 55 living there) considered to be under-occupying[iii], it is clear that a person’s housing arrangements can become a key reason for this isolation. Many people, when they feel they can no longer continue to maintain a property that is too large for their needs, wish to downsize into something more suitable. Yet, research has shown that whilst over 30% of older homeowners have considered downsizing, only 7% actually have gone on to do so within five years[iv].
So, for the majority of older households that are considered to be under-occupying properties but do not wish to move, what support is available? Whilst practical services, such as meal delivery and cleaners/gardeners may help a person to maintain their home, they are unlikely to significantly reduce the levels of isolation and loneliness that a person can encounter.
What is homesharing?
Homeshare is a service that matches older people (known as the householder) with, typically younger, people (known as the homesharer) who are looking for accommodation in the area. The younger person lives in the householder’s spare bedroom rent-free but provides help around the home, as well as companionship. In the majority of arrangements there is an agreement for the younger person to spend 10 hours a week helping the older householder. Both parties pay a regular fee to the homeshare agency, who oversee the match and are on-hand and resolve any issues that may arise.
Whilst homeshare is still not overly common in the UK, it is growing. The Lloyds Foundation and Big Lottery Fund recently invested grant funding into eight charity and not-for-profit schemes across the UK. The funded service in London, Novus Homeshare, recently had one of their matches covered by the BBC.
The potential benefits of homesharing for health, housing and social care are considerable; particularly in large cities such as London, where eye-watering rent levels mean that many younger people are not able to afford accommodation close to where they work or study. Also, with over-stretched social care departments having to focus their resources on caring for those in the greatest need, homeshare offers a way to help prevent and delay a reliance on health and social care services by providing simple services around the home.
Of course, as well as these practical health and housing-related aspects, there is the issue of loneliness and isolation. A lack of social interaction is considered to be as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day[v]. This is supported by research in 2013 that showed 59% of adults aged over 52 who report poor health say they feel lonely some of the time or often, compared to 21% who say they are in excellent health[vi].
The negative impact of social isolation in later life cannot be over exaggerated, it can affect a person’s physical and mental health and have a devastating result on their sense of wellbeing. Homeshare can provide an inter-generational answer to the loneliness that many older people, living in larger homes, feel. It is for these reasons that Elderly Accommodation Counsel (EAC) continue to support the Homeshare model and hope to increase awareness of these services.
If you are interested in finding our more about homeshare, you can read our factsheet here.
[i] Office of National Statistics, Overview of the UK Population, February 2016: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/populationandmigration/populationestimates/articles/overviewoftheukpopulation/february2016?lang=welsh
[ii] Age UK, Evidence Review: Loneliness in later life, July 2015: https://www.ageuk.org.uk/globalassets/age-uk/documents/reports-and-publications/reports-and-briefings/health–wellbeing/rb_june15_lonelines_in_later_life_evidence_review.pdf
[iii] JRF, Older peoples housing: choice, quality of life and under-occupation, May 2012: https://www.jrf.org.uk/report/older-peoples-housing-choice-quality-life-and-under-occupation
[iv] Legal & General, Last time buyers, June 2015: https://www.legalandgeneralgroup.com/assets/portal/files/pdf_175.pdf
[v] End Loneliness: https://www.campaigntoendloneliness.org/loneliness-research/
[vi] ONS, Measuring National Wellbeing – Older people and loneliness, April 2013: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20160108052015/http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171766_304939.pdf