Independent living: Why housing associations can solve our social care crisis

Image credit: Ben Vulkers/Shutterstock

Independent living schemes have a vital role to play in ameliorating the social care crisis, says Dasos Christou, Executive Director of Customer Relations at Silva Homes. But as things currently stand, government support is woefully lacking…

The social care crisis was arguably the greatest challenge facing the UK before COVID-19 gripped the nation – and it seems to be getting worse.

It has been estimated that one in 20 care home residents in the UK have lost their lives to Coronavirus, and the clamour for a solution to the deepening crisis is growing louder.

Despite the heroism and incredible professionalism of care home staff, the acute issues facing our social care sector, which have been building for decades, appear to be pushing it toward breaking point.

It is a startling that, by 2040, the number of people over 65 who need some form of social care will have risen to 5.9m – compared to 3.5m in 2015.

Successive governments have pledged to reform social care so that, for example, people are not forced to sell their homes to fund places in care homes. 

But plans to change the system are proving to be prohibitively expensive, with reform costing many billions of pounds.

We hope that the government will consider investing in independent living schemes, managed by housing associations like Silva Homes, as part of the solution.

“One in 20 care home residents in the UK have lost their lives to Coronavirus, and the clamour for a solution to the deepening crisis is growing louder”

Dasos Christou

In simple terms, independent living (previously known as sheltered housing) is designed for people over the age of 55, who want to be as independent as possible, but need assistance with some aspects of daily living.

Ageing is, of course, a gradual process, and most people don’t need to go straight from living in a two-bedroom house (with garden) to a care home.

There’s a mid-way period, where you can still organise your time and manage your own affairs, but maybe you want to live somewhere a bit less stressful, near like-minded neighbours, and with the option to take part in communal activities, or get some extra support or property adaptations, if you need it.

Independent living schemes, such as ours at Silva Homes, can make a world of difference to wellbeing. All our homes are unfurnished, allowing residents to personalise them and stay independent for much longer.

In fact, many people in independent living homes never go into care at all.

Winnie’s story

Winnie moved into Broadway House, one of our independent living homes, aged 96 because her previous home and garden were too large to manage. Even now, aged 100, she loves living independently and doesn’t need any extra care.

In the middle of lockdown, we held a birthday party for Winnie, which I believe epitomises the spirit of independent living and the personalised customer service that it enables.

Our independent living team at Broadway House pulled out all the stops to make sure Winnie could celebrate her birthday in style, despite all the restrictions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.

We staged a surprise celebration, with social distancing measures in place. Winnie’s family gathered in the communal garden, alongside her neighbours and my Silva Homes colleagues, and we treated her to a socially distanced rendition of happy birthday.

We even made a colourful banner that read: ‘Happy 100th birthday lovely Winnie! From all of us at Broadway House.’

As Winnie waved to loved ones and danced in her flat window, we knew this would be a highlight of what was an extremely tough summer for everyone, especially those in the care sector.

For me, it also summed up everything good about our independent living homes, especially places like Broadway House.

Broadway House has colleagues on duty and provides a freshly cooked meal every day. We are attentive and carry out regular care assessments, as we also organise activities.

But we do try to enable and encourage independence as much as possible.

We know that independent living schemes are an increasingly important part our social care sector, but housing associations like Silva Homes need the government to maximise their potential, with realistic levels of investment.

Bracknell-based Silva Homes is a not-for-profit charitable housing association that owns and manages the homes of 14,000 customers across the south east.

Main image: Ben Vulkers/Shutterstock

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