There was an Old Lady Who Lived In a Large Shoe (just not with her family)

Liz Emerson shows the appeal of “intergenerational living” as a solution to the housing crisis

We all know our society is ageing as we are living longer – great news. We also want to live as independently as possible – this too is great news. However, when it comes to wanting to stay in our family homes once our children have flown the nest – this is not such great news. Why? Because we have a housing crisis on our hands and a crisis due in no small part to our determination to live as independently as possible for as long as possible in the same homes where we brought up our children.

Our changing living arrangements and belief in independent living means that a great deal of the UK’s housing stock is under-occupied, with large 4-5 bedroom houses often housing just one or two people. The Intergenerational Foundation demonstrated this fact with its October 2011 “Hoarding of Housing” paper. Our point was simple: we need to use the existing housing stock we have, better, as well as build more appropriate retirement accommodation and ease planning constraints.

Downsizing

One recommendation put forward by IF was to encourage those people that wish to downsize to do so, in order to free up the 25 million unoccupied bedrooms that we have inEngland.

However, there is another way that could be a win-win situation for all generations and families across the land. With one simple action we can ease the housing crisis, improve intergenerational relationships, ease pressure on social services, reduce the number of emergency call-outs and relieve ourselves of the worry we have over older family members living alone, far away from where we live.

The answer is simple: “intergenerational living”.

Intergenerational living

Put simply, intergenerational living means sharing our homes with other members of society.

Whilst thoughts of living with our own children might give us nightmares, sharing our homes with other people’s children may well be more palatable. However, in order for this to happen, we as a society need to break down the barriers that exist between the generations.

Our society seems to be ageist both up and down the generations divide. Old-age lobby groups such as Age UK and Saga regularly report discrimination towards older generations. Likewise younger generations talk of being labelled “hoodies”, “feral” and “yobs” (see Poor Perceptions of Younger People in the UK) by what they see as an intolerant, overly-suspicious older generation. Intergenerational living could help to break down these barriers and promote an understanding of, and an interest in, other generations.

It is well documented that loneliness and isolation lead to depression and anxiety and cost society dear, putting pressure on social care services, GPs and the NHS. Sharing our homes could help to relieve these fears with fewer emergency-service call-outs to people just wanting some human contact. During my time volunteering with isolated older people living in their own homes, I soon realised that a cup of tea and a chat is worth its weight in gold in terms of reassuring the very old that they are still valued members of society.

Domestic chores and odd jobs, such as gardening and cleaning, could be off-set against rent; the “inheritance” that some families might want to protect could be preserved by avoiding some or all of the end-of-life carehome costs; whilst the worry other families feel when living a long way from older family members could be alleviated just by having another person in the house, “keeping an eye”.

Practicalities

So how can we make intergenerational living an acceptable proposition?

  • Let’s abolish all taxation on rent-a-room schemes  (currently a £4250 tax threshold) thereby helping less well-off older generations to gain a valuable extra income as well as have some company.
  • Let’s dispel the myth that older generations are likely to be victimised by sharing their homes and become less neurotic as a nation.
  • Let’s dispel the myth that younger generations should not be trusted and instead embrace their energy, enthusiasm, strength and joie de vivre.
  • Finally, let’s encourage trust between the generations. Intergenerational living must be the way forward.
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We are looking for IF supporters to share their experiences of intergenerational living, for media enquiries. You may perhaps be a student living with an older person, or an older person sharing your home. If interested, please email liz@if.org.uk