Housing schemes for older people helping to alleviate loneliness

This post by Paul Willis, Brian Beach and The DICE team, is part of the wider CaCHE equality, diversity and inclusion initiative. It has been cross-posted from Housing LIN blog.

Loneliness is a prevailing problem for adults across the life course with indications that adults who are single or widowed and renters are at higher risk of experiencing loneliness. New research into housing schemes for older people suggests that housing with care and support plays an important role in alleviating loneliness in later life. This is a key finding from The DICE study – a study into the social inclusion of older residents (60+ years of age) in housing with care and support schemes. This is a timely finding. The White Paper on social care released by the UK Government at the end of 2021 emphasises the importance of expanding options for supported housing and injecting more funding into new housing developments that give people with care and support needs, including many older people, more choices in their local area.

As highlighted by the Housing LIN, across the UK there is a growing demand for high-quality, age-friendly housing options that provide care and support for older adults within their local communities. Housing with care and support schemes are one answer to this. Such schemes are designed to prevent social isolation, promote interaction among residents and support people to live independent lives as they get older in the local areas that matter to them and their significant others. Housing with care models include extra care housing and independent living schemes as well as schemes formerly referred to as sheltered housing. Up to now we do not have much evidence as to how effective these kinds of housing schemes are in alleviating loneliness and reducing social isolation.

The DICE study was a three-year study into the ways in which housing with care and support schemes support the inclusion of older residents from different social groups and backgrounds. The study was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. One part of the study included a questionnaire distributed to over 104 schemes in England and Wales for residents to complete and return via the post. Seven hundred and forty one (741) residents returned the questionnaire to us, representing experiences from 95 schemes. The questionnaire was designed so we could compare our findings with the data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

The majority of respondents lived alone and were female which is broadly similar to other surveys looking at populations living in retirement-type housing. We used a short three-item measure of loneliness where higher values reflect greater loneliness. Using a statistical technique to match our respondents to similar people living in the community, we found that respondents in the DICE study had a significantly lower average score for loneliness than would be expected if they were living in the community instead of in housing with care and support. In addition the majority of DICE respondents agreed that their housing setting offered many positive opportunities to socialise with other residents. But there were more divergent views when it came to whether schemes offered social activities appropriate to their needs.

These findings highlight the benefits of housing with care schemes – alleviating loneliness and promoting positive opportunities to build social connections with other residents. The findings also help dispel arguments that housing schemes for older people represent social ghettos for residents and increase social divides between housing residents and people living in the wider community.

But the findings also suggest the type of social activities appropriate to all residents is more complicated. We know from our interviews with residents in the same study that social factors like gender, sexual identity, ethnicity and disability, alongside political orientations and personal interests, shape what social activities matter to different groups of residents in schemes.

In short, it’s good news for housing providers and residents – these schemes are working well in providing socially engaging environments for older people and helping to reduce loneliness in later life. But more needs to be done in meeting the diverse needs and interests of residents living in these schemes to make sure social activities hold appeal for all.

Paul Willis, Associate Professor, the School for Policy Studies at the University of Bristol and Brian Beach, Research Fellow at University College London and formerly at ILC-UK, are the primary authors of this guest blog.  

For more about The Dice Project, visit the project’s microsite hosted on the Housing LIN’s website here. You can also sign up to the HAPPI Hour session featuring The DICE Project taking place on Tuesday, 3 May 2022 at 4pm

And, if you found this blog of interest, do also have a look at the dedicated pages on combatting loneliness and reducing social isolation curated by the Housing LIN.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can provide you with bespoke support, please email us at: info@housinglin.org.uk or look at our consultancy page.

Views expressed by authors may not represent the views of CaCHE.

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