Are the parties committed to older people's housing needs?

How do the main parties' Senedd election manifestos shape up compared to Care & Repair Cymru's priorities? Faye Patton investigates...

On May 6th Wales decides who will be leading the next programme of government. As we’ve heard the previous five Assembly – and now Senedd – elections… never has an election been more important.

But this time it probably rings true. The covid-19 pandemic has well and truly placed the spotlight on devolution and highlighted directly to voters that the decisions Welsh Government make really do affect them.

In the 22 years since the Welsh Assembly began, Labour have been in charge. Polling suggests that this election will be the closest yet: The Conservatives have gained more votes in every Welsh election so far, and this upward trend isn’t dipping any time soon. Plaid Cymru have also been taking the opportunity to build on a strong showcasing of Welsh powers during the pandemic to push their independence message. So – come May 7th when the votes are counted a coalition, or at the very least a minority government, looks likely.

In this post, we take a look at how the policies proposed in party Manifestos for the 2021 Senedd Election may shape the direction of travel for housing for older people in Wales over the next five years…

1. We said:  Older People should have a right to decent housing which is enshrined in law

Labour: Develop a set of Codes of Welsh law, making it easier for people to access and understand their legal rights. This would in time include codes for housing, social care, public health, and schools.  

Conservatives: Commit to achieving and maintaining the Welsh Housing Quality Standard

Plaid Cymru: Everybody will have a right to a home.

Liberal Democrats: Everyone has the right to feel safe, warm and able to stay in their home. Everyone has a right to a stable space to live. We will legislate to make sure that this right is enshrined in law so that it guides all our decision making.

Both Plaid Cymru and Welsh Lib Dems commit to a right to a home – although Lib Dems do go further by making some suggestions about the quality of housing they wish to provide. Nonetheless, Plaid’s is front and centre in the first pledges of their manifesto, showing the party will be treating the right to housing with the seriousness it deserves, along with a rights-based approach throughout the manifesto. Reading between the lines, it looks like a similar commitment from Welsh Labour although they talk in terms of ‘codes’ rather than ‘rights’.

Nothing in the manifesto about a right to a home from Welsh Conservatives, but in terms of housing standards they do commit to achieving and maintaining the Welsh Housing Quality Standard, albeit a standard that currently only applies to social rented housing.

Given the emphasis on warm, safe homes and coupled with the fact they plan on enshrining the UN Principles of the Rights of Older Persons into Welsh Law, it’s actually the Welsh Lib Dems who come out on top in this.

Winner: Welsh Lib Dems

Runner up: Plaid Cymru

Third: Labour

Fourth: Conservatives

2. We said: Older people should have easier access to the help they need to make their homes healthy

Labour: Invest in a new generation of integrated health and social care centres across Wales. We will introduce an all-Wales framework to roll out social prescribing to tackle isolation.

Invest £40m into the integrated care of older people with complex needs, especially dementia care, developing more than 50 local community hubs to co-locate frontline health and social care and other services. We will support innovative housing development to meet care needs, such as Extra Care housing. We will fund in every local authority a dedicated post to champion work to make Wales an age friendly nation.  

Conservatives: Expand the role of Occupational Therapists as part of wrap around care to maintain patient independence, and review access to Disabled Facilities Grants so that housing plays its fullest role in health and social care

Introduce a legal requirement for public sector bodies to consult with older people when making decisions which affect their lives

Establish a £15 million Care Innovation Fund to promote jointworking between the NHS and social service departments

Plaid Cymru: Make health equality our goal in Government, with an emphasis on preventative measures that improve mental health and encourage physical activity

Liberal Democrats: N/A

An overall lack of explicit policy measures around health and housing surprising given the constant challenge of getting what we know – that health and housing are intrinsically linked – into tangible, policy action. Still, it’s a shame given that over the last year the importance of health and housing have been made clearer to everyone – not just those from whom their house is an active detriment to their health.

However, it is the Welsh Conservatives who pledge to expand the role of Occupational Therapists to help maintain independence and look to review DFGs to bring housing better into health and social care.

Welsh Labour pledge to support innovative housing development in relation to care needs.

While there isn’t a specific mention of housing in relation to health in their manifesto, it is implied through Plaid Cymru’s promise to make health equality a goal. We know that housing plays a role in this.

Overall, this is an under developed policy area for the Lib Dems.

Winner: Conservatives

Runner up: Labour

3rd Place: Plaid

4th Place: Lib Dems

 

3. We said: Older people should have equal access to housing adaptations across Wales

Labour: N/A

Conservatives: Ensure housing standards are fit for purpose, future proofed with improved accessibility for all

Plaid Cymru: N/A

Liberal Democrats: 10% of all homes (cross-tenure) wheelchair accessible by the end of the first Senedd term; Private landlords are required to make their homes accessible by 2030.

Establish a single fund for housing adaptations, so that landlords can access support to pay for necessary changes to their properties.

Only one party mentions housing adaptations by name – the Lib Dems. The underlying aim of their policy of a single fund for housing adaptations must surely be to tackle a post code lottery of provision in this area. However, this seems to only be for landlords and therefore risks excluding our client group.

Conservatives make some mention of accessibility, which in practice could mean something by ways of adaptations.

Attention has been paid to housing adaptations by the current Welsh Government, which perhaps accounts for its omission in Labour’s 2021 Manifesto. Certainly, their 2016 manifesto listed it as a priority and a Wales Audit Office and subsequent changes in adaptation delivery have followed.

Winner: No real winner here

Runner up: Cons & Lib Dems

Joint 3rd and 4th: Labour & Plaid

4. We said: Older people should always be able to live in a warm home

Labour: We will continue to improve existing homes, helping us tackle fuel poverty, create much needed jobs, training opportunities, and supply chains.  

Conservatives: Support households to improve the energy efficiency of their homes with vouchers up to £5,000, with households on low incomes receiving up to £10,000

Plaid Cymru: Welsh Green Deal - Retrofit thousands of homes to the highest environmental standards.

Campaign to increase the numbers of those who are entitled to pension credit to sign up for it.

Liberal Democrats: ‘Pass a Green Homes Act to help cut average household energy bills by £500 per year and build smarter more, energy efficient homes.’

Invest record sums in retrofitting housing to be accessible, greener, and more energy efficient.

Fuel poverty was only mentioned by name by Labour, although all parties proposed policies which in theory fit into the fuel poverty agenda – in fact, Plaid’s proposal of a campaign to increase pension credit take-up was one of our Manifesto asks in relation to fuel poverty, as was a plan for retrofitting mentioned by all (Labour have begun this work while in government). Wales missed its previous fuel poverty targets – so whichever party comes into government should not be able to overlook fuel poverty for long.

Across the board, these manifestos show that decarbonisation will continue to creep up the political agenda.

There are tensions between the decarbonisation agenda and fuel poverty – in order to live in warm homes, some households will actually have to use more energy, and unless decarbonisation and retrofitting policies assist low-income households to make changes to alternative fuels, improving warmth for some of Wales’ most vulnerable people will be at odds with climate and energy policies.

Winner: The real winner here will be determined by whether proposed retrofitting policies extend beyond social housing and reach our older owner occupiers.

5. We said: Older people should be able to use technology to help them live independently.

Labour: N/A

Conservatives: N/A

Plaid Cymru: Super-fast broadband will be available to every property and business in Wales

Work with blind, partially sighted, and deaf people and those experiencing hearing loss, the organisations representing them, and professionals, to develop national strategies to ensure co-ordinated and equitable access to services.

Liberal Democrats: Ensure that in the next five years at least 90% of homes and businesses in Wales have access to full fibre broadband.

Invest in community-based training and support to make sure nobody is left out, with a specific requirement to prioritise disabled people and people with learning disabilities.

Digital inclusion will continue to be of great importance in the coming years, especially as we begin to see which bits of technological innovation resulting from the pandemic will be kept and which will be discarded.

From these manifestos, more can be done to highlight the way technology in the home can and should be used to assist independent living.

Winners: Plaid & Lib Dem

3rd & 4th: Labour & Conservatives.

 

Conclusion:

Regardless of who forms the next Welsh Government, it looks like there will be plenty of opportunity ensure that our message that older people should be able to live independently in a warm, safe and accessible home finds its place in government policy.