Here are some questions for senior citizens living alone in houses that might be too large for their needs now. Perhaps there are bedrooms unused since children left home decades ago?
Is there a dining room in which nobody dines, since there are fewer friends left for dinner parties?
Is there a study or a den that’s now merely a storeroom for trophies and family photograph albums you’ve forgotten, or a games room that was last used in 1989?
Is there a garden that needs the loving care you’re not able to give? Is it, possibly, a Victorian-era house, or even Georgian, with flights of stairs that are just a little too testing? If so, would you be interested in helping the Government to solve the country’s housing crisis?
After talking aloud about co-living — very large blocks of very small apartments — and changes in planning rules to permit taller buildings, the housing ministry is working with the finance department to encourage elderly homeowners to move into smaller homes, or to team up with other single oldies to share a large house.
The aim is to see if accommodation can be liberated, albeit by financial mechanisms as yet unknown. Would the Government buy these large properties at market rates and put the accommodation on the market at rents homeless families could afford?
Would that be less of a cost to taxpayers than providing new social housing?
Would elderly homeowners who agree to be — to use the bloodless language of our times — right-sized have their legal and rehousing costs paid by the Government?
If a homeowner agreed to move, but only within the same area, would there be a sufficient choice of suitable apartments or smaller houses to make that possible?
To measure potential interest, a random sample of 1,050 older people living alone are being asked questions, the answers to which might give the Government clues as to the incentives this ageing demographic might need to agree to up sticks, and how, if at all, the information the survey produces could help to shape the Government’s 2020 budget.
The list of questions is interesting. How many of their bedrooms are in constant use? Do family members or friends stay regularly or rarely? Would a garden in the new house be a must-have? Had they thought about moving into secure, older community accommodation, or down-sizing?
Yet, the list is also interesting for the questions that are not asked; questions such as: For how many years have you lived in this house? Are you happy living in it? What are the memories it holds for you?
Would you miss your neighbours, and your neighbourhood? Would you consider leaving this house before the hard facts of life leave you with no alternative?
Judgement on this exercise should be reserved until its outcome is known, but the criticism so far suggests that it could be perceived as unfair pressure on people — portrayed as selfish house-blockers — whose responsibility for the housing crisis is nil, with the pressure being applied bya ministry at a loss for solutions and reduced to scraping the barrel.