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Integrated communities – the universal senior living solution?

The growing demand for integrated retirement communities, which provide an option for seniors between care at home and care in a home, is not just confined to western Europe but is ubiquitous according to Michael Voges, executive director of ARCO.

ARCO is the representative body or trade body for operators of integrated retirement communities in the UK.

Currently ARCO’s members, both private and not-for-profit, look after about 30,000 older people in the UK Voges said this will grow to about 250,000 in the next 10 to 15 years.

He said that if you look anywhere in the world including Asian countries, Australia and New Zealand, there is a huge trend toward developing options that sit between care at home and care in a care home.

“I think that was already happening before the pandemic but the pandemic also showed that care homes found it quite difficult to manage a very frail population of older people.”

He added that they did a good job of keeping that population safe and secure during the pandemic, but he said there is a level below care homes where people might need some support or care services.

“They are living longer but not necessarily healthier for longer, so getting housing options that provide some care and support options that can flex up or down we’re seeing the world over.

“We would expect that to be a really significant part of the health and social care landscape pretty much anywhere you go.”

UK is two decades behind some other countries

He added that the UK is about two decades behind the US, Australia or New Zealand.

“There’s a very low number of older people living in these schemes and I think the report highlighted that a lot of the provision is for affordable rent, so you’d need to qualify for that.

“What we’re really seeing is big institutional investment coming in from all sorts of countries with the interest of hitting that baby boomer generation who will live longer.”

Voges said that whiole the average life expectancy 30 years ago was mid 70s it is now 82-83.

“You have a huge generation of older people coming through the system and the first baby boomer turned 75 this year, so they’re only just entering that target market.”

He added that this is a huge opportunity in the UK because of its massive under provision. Sector-specific regulation and policy has emerged in most countries with a mature market of this kind. “We don’t have that in the UK, but if you look at The Retirement Villages Act 2003 in New Zealand everyone agrees that was the catalyst for this market moving forward and developing and becoming an institutionalised asset class.”

The same happened in Australia, he added. “That’s something that we’re very much working towards. The vast majority of investment in this sector is already going into those operational models of real estate where you’re running care services, support services, leisure services, well-being services, all on the same site.”

Voges said that the “house-builder model” has gone out of the window. “It’s very much in that operational real estate vein what we’re trying to put in that policy framework because that will reduce the lack of clarity and provide more certainty for consumers. That’s what is needed to make this sector take off.”

“We need to find other ways of providing preventative services and effective levels of care and support below that hospital and care home level, so I think the future is very bright over here.”

Click on the video to watch the full interview or listen to the podcast below.