Making best use of our existing housing and solving problems of loneliness and unemployment
By Bill Palmer
The problem of staying in your own home
My aunt made me promise not to put her in a care home if she found it impossible to live independently. I understood what she meant because the challenges she faced in day-to-day living kept her brain alive and her muscles active. However, she lived in Guernsey and residents of that island can’t choose for themselves if their doctor feels that they don’t have enough support to live alone. So in the end, her doctor committed her to a care home and very soon, she lost the use of her legs because the staff encouraged her to use her wheelchair and the lift instead of struggling with the stairs. She lost her self-esteem and ended up staying in bed and not interacting with other people.
There are many older people who are struggling to stay living independently and their mental and physical health would be better if they could. Often the transition to living in a care home is the start of a downward spiral in an old person’s life. Like my aunt, many people in that environment give up effort and challenge and take the easiest path. But that often means that they give up on living.
There might come a time in a person’s life when they want to turn off the engine and slowly coast towards death. It’s a natural stage and must be respected. But I think that there are many people who don’t want to do that yet, and would not give up if they could stay living independently.
Apart from the human aspect, if it were possible for a person to stay in their own home, it would relieve pressure on the welfare system and save considerable sums of money. Care homes are expensive places to live!
The problem of unaffordable rents
Property has become an investment and renting property has become a financial marketplace rather than a right. This means that younger people often spend a major percentage of their income on rent and cannot save for the future. For those that are unemployed, even the question of renting their own space becomes difficult – universal credit only deals with part of the realistic rent and it’s tempting to spend that on food rather than pay the landlord. So evictions and homelessness have been increasing year on year.
This applies to more than younger people: with the divorce rate increasing, a growing number of middle -aged people are faced with homelessness because the split of property makes it impossible for both partners to retain a home.
The common solution is couch surfing, a form of hidden homelessness where the person stays with friends. It’s not a sustainable way of life and, again mental and physical health are often badly affected.
Homeshare is a solution to both these problems and we are launching a Homeshare scheme in Mendip with an injection of funding from Fair Housing for Frome to get it started.
In the Homeshare model, a householder who is struggling to stay living independently is carefully matched with a suitable sharer who commits to keeping them company, helping with household chores, shopping and other day-to-day tasks. The Homeshare mediator vets the sharer, interviews the householder and introduces both parties. The mediator also helps them to make a clear and fair agreement as to what is expected. In this relationship the sharer does not take on the role of a personal carer, but is more like a friend who helps out.
The financial arrangement is flexible but, typically, little or no rent is paid to the householder because they are receiving a service from the sharer. Instead, both householder and sharer pay affordable sums to the Homeshare organisation. The sharer normally pays a lot less to Homeshare than they would normally pay as a lodger and the householder pays a small monthly sum to the Homeshare scheme in return for continuous oversight of the owner / sharer relationship and active support and mediation in case of problems.
Homeshare Mendip is part of the national Homeshare UK organisation and has access to their enhanced safeguarding protocols and training. Although these safety issues are important, a large percentage of Homesharings are a real benefit to both people and safeguarding issues are rare. Somehow, intergenerational contact is part of our DNA and modern society has pulled generations apart. Most sharers report that they get as much out of the relationship as the older person.
Home From Hospital
So far we have been talking about longer term arrangements but it is also possible to think of Homesharing as a temporary solution in times of crisis. This is a slightly different model where the sharer is paid and vetted by social services but it allows for older people to come back to their own home to convalesce rather than being stuck in hospital. The involvement of Social Services allows hospitals to discharge patients into home-convalescence which they would not be able to do otherwise.
There is clear evidence that people get better at home faster than in hospital once the acute condition needing hospital admission has been dealt with. In addition, hospital beds are in short supply and are very expensive when used for people who don’t need treatment. But often, the social services cannot give the level of support needed for the person to be discharged, so they are frequently held in hospital, blocking needed beds for weeks or months.
A temporary Homesharer can be the answer. They provide the day-to-day support and presence needed to ensure the older person is safe and comfortable. The social services and
NHS provide a care package which covers their need for personal care like getting them in and out of bed, cleaning and administration of any ongoing treatments. It’s a win-win solution because it costs the NHS a lot less and it’s enormously more beneficial to the older person’s wellbeing.
Lodging is another win-win solution
Lodging has gone out of fashion. It used to be common until about the 1980’s. However, it provides a solution to loneliness for people whose children have left home or who’s partner is no longer there. It could provide much needed income and there are specific tax advantages to people who open their homes to lodgers.
From the other side, it can provide affordable accommodation to younger people who would normally not be able to rent a place of their own and, for younger people who are leaving home for the first time, can provide a stepping stone to independence.
Particularly now, during the crisis caused by the COVID pandemic, I think people are realising how important human contact is. However, opening your home to lodgers is also a scary adventure.
We are also planning a Lodging Agency, separate from the Homeshare Scheme – but drawing on the same vetting and matching systems – for those people who want to let out rooms on a commercial basis and want help in finding suitable lodgers. The Lodging Agency will also help develop a clear lodger’s agreement and help both parties to feel safe in their bubble, even in times of pandemic lockdown.
Sharing Joins up Society
Sharing is a big thing. It helps join people together. It joins up society and provides a two-way flow between generations that has been part of humanity’s way of living for thousands of years. For most sharing households, the benefits to both people go far beyond the financial. As well as solving problems of loneliness it also broadens both persons’ perspectives and helps show how people can support each other at a local level rather than depending on central organisations. We believe that shared living is not only good for the wellbeing of both parties but is also good for the society we live in.
Homeshare Mendip has been piloted in Frome during 2021 and will be launched throughout Mendip in March 2022