Number of homeless elderly people surges by 100 per cent in seven years

Government data shows that the number of homeless elderly people has surged more than two times more than homelessness overall: Reuters
Government data shows that the number of homeless elderly people has surged more than two times more than homelessness overall: Reuters

The number of elderly people becoming homeless in England has surged by 100 per cent in seven years, figures show.

People over the age of 60 are now twice as likely to register with local councils as homeless than they were seven years ago, with the figure having risen from 1,210 in 2009 to 2,420 last year.

While overall homelessness has increased in the same period, rising by 42 per cent from 41,790 to 59,260, government data shows the figure for elderly people has surged by more than double as much.

The data shows that among the homeless elderly population in 2016, more than half (61 per cent) were over the age of 65, and 21 per cent were over the age of 75.

The Local Government Association (LGA), which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, warned that based on existing trends, the scale of elderly homelessness is set to double by 2025.

While the numbers among over-60s were relatively low, campaigners said the rise in homelessness among the elderly presents a “ticking time bomb” for local authorities, placing a strain on not only housing but also already stretched health and social care services.

Older homeless people are presenting to councils with a range of complex health conditions, often having suffered physical and mental health problems, alcohol abuse and gambling problems, according to the LGA.

Charities and campaigners warned that there is a lack of a “proper safety net” to help elderly people when they fall into housing difficulties, with “drastic” cuts to welfare and a lack of affordable homes leaving hundreds of thousands of people without a secure home of their own.

In light of the figures, Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, told The Independent: “The fact that the number of older people who are homeless has risen by so much is very worrying. To avoid these figures going even further in the wrong direction, we need a proper safety net for when people are unfortunate enough to fall on hard times.

“We all know there’s a housing crisis in this country and unfortunately it is hitting older people hard too. There is a lack of specialist resettlement services and long term support and advice and information services are being cut.

“We need a much better choice of good housing options for older people but the supply of affordable council and housing association homes has continued to shrink alongside reductions in home building subsidies. It is outrageous to think that any older person should be homeless – these people are the most vulnerable often with physical and mental health issues.”

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the charity had seen a rise in the number of homeless elderly people using their services, and urged that in order for the “nightmare” to end, ministers must freeze housing benefit and commit to building more affordable homes.

“It’s astonishing that our housing crisis has got so bad that a record number of elderly people are turning up at their councils needing help finding somewhere to live. Sadly, we’re seeing this in our own services too, with older people regularly needing our advice and support when they become homeless,” she said.

“Drastic cuts to welfare and a lack of affordable homes have left hundreds of thousands of people, of all ages, without a secure and stable home of their own. These shocking statistics will shame us as a nation, it’s not only our young paying the price of a broken housing system but now the elderly, too.

“For this nightmare to end, the Government should use the upcoming Autumn Budget to end the freeze on housing benefit so that elderly people can afford to pay their rent and retain their homes. In the longer term, the Government must commit to building many more genuinely affordable homes.”

Council leaders are now calling on ministers to address the shortfall in specialist housing for older people and to adapt to the implementation of welfare reforms to reduce the risk, urging that they need to be able to borrow to invest in new council housing to increase supply, boost home ownership and reduce homelessness.

Izzi Seccombe, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, warned that society faced a “ticking time bomb” with the “alarming” increase in homelessness among elderly people posing wider implications for already stretched social care and health services.

“Traditionally homelessness is associated with young people and it is a tragic fact that a person suffering homelessness lives to an average age of only 47,” she said.

“But we are facing a ticking time bomb in older homelessness, with an alarming rise in the number of older people becoming homeless. While the actual numbers are relatively low, at the current rate, this will spiral in just a few years.

“Homelessness is not just a housing issue. Homelessness and ill-health are intrinsically linked, and this is especially evident in elderly people. For example, older people experiencing homelessness are more likely to suffer from depression or dementia, which has wider implications for social care and health services.

“Councils want to end homelessness by preventing it happening in the first place, we need Government to allow councils to build affordable homes and to adapt welfare reforms to ensure housing remains affordable for low-income families.”

A Government spokesperson said: “Homelessness amongst older people has its particular challenges, and we know how important it is that everybody has a secure home to call their own, as well as access to expert help and advice at times of need.

“That’s why we’re spending £550m until 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping, as well as supporting the Homelessness Reduction Act. This will mean more people get the help they need and prevent them being homeless in the first place.”

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