The following motion relates to housing for the elderly, but I prefer to call them "elderly people" because that is the more correct phrase in current parlance. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, and call Senator Reilly to move the motion.
Housing for the Elderly: Motion
That Seanad Éireann:
- the excellent progress to date under the Rebuilding Ireland Plan;
- that Ireland’s over-65 population increases by 20,000 every year and there are currently 638,000 people over the age of 65, and by 2040, we will have 1.3 million over the age of 65;
calls on the Government and the relevant Departments of Housing, Health and others to bring forward a comprehensive plan and policy guidelines:
- to offer options, including new capital funding models (private or public or both in collaboration), to encourage and facilitate the real effective delivery of bespoke housing options for the elderly (now defined as over 55);
- to establish a specific fund, possibly administered by the soon to be established bank, ‘Home Building Finance Ireland’, to provide funding to individual community co-op type companies, not-for-profit, cost-based elderly housing projects drawing from competitive sources such as the European Investment Bank which lends at 1%- 2% rates for community-based housing projects;
- to cover the full spectrum of needs from independent living, to low dependency and high dependency clients needing bespoke housing designed to their needs in appropriate locations close to local services if possible;
- to consider altering National Planning Regulations to bring in a specific designated zoning for reserved sites and flexible policy wording, in all county development plans for elderly housing (e.g. similar to specific zoning for reserved school sites);
- to collaborate formally with the service providers, Department of Health, HSE and others to provide the relevant services to the clients and, as appropriate, to keep over 55s and older, in their local communities and in independent living for as long as possible ;
- to review the tax regulations and alter them to encourage and enable persons living in large homes inappropriate for their current needs to downsize to bespoke housing for the elderly, by, for example, exempting bespoke housing for the elderly, both public and private from property tax charges, and examine the suite of current capital and other taxes to see if an incentive can be designed to encourage downsizing; the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland claim that in 2016 there were 900,000 homes that were not occupied as family homes;
- to ensure that private bespoke elderly housing would receive the same exemption from local authority construction planning levies, as long as the housing units, not-for-profit, are set aside in perpetuity as elderly housing;
- to consider the housing co-op model as a vehicle to deliver elderly housing for communities, particularly groups of persons who want to combine their resources to downsize from larger private homes;
and that these policy proposals would address the demand for all elderly housing, including social clients now provided for by county councils and approved housing bodies (for example Fold, Alone, Sue Ryder to name a few) along with the larger cohort of private demand for persons who, for example, may wish to sell their existing large home and buy or rent long -term at affordable rates a bespoke elderly housing unit, so that elderly persons can find safe, secure, independent housing options in their local communities in clusters or in individual estates and continue to be active in their communities, avoiding the scourge of loneliness associated with inappropriate housing, particularly in isolated locations.
I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit, an Teachta English. I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for being present for the debate on the motion.
This issue has been around for quite some time. In 2014 I remember discussing the matter with the then Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, to try to introduce some incentives for people who would like to move home as the houses in which they have spent their adult lives rearing children are far too large for their needs because their families have left. Many of them need some help because they are not wealthy. They are often asset rich - although many would argue that an asset is something that earns one an income and that, therefore, a home does not qualify - but they are cash poor. The issue has become more and more prevalent and the problem is that not only do the people concerned wish to downsize and find it difficult to afford to do so, but there is also a lack of availability.
The motion attempts to address many of the issues raised as a consequence of this situation in which many people find themselves. Some would like to be in a position to help their children to get on the property ladder or help their children who may be in negative equity and trouble with their mortgage. Many of the people to whom I have spoken find it difficult to maintain their large, old houses which are often cold and were built long before we had building energy ratings. One hears disturbing stories of older people living only in one room because they cannot afford to heat the rest of the house. We need to address the issue in an holistic fashion across Government and ensure smaller units are available for older people who would like to downsize. These matters are addressed by the motion.
The second recommendation made in the report produced by Deputy Bailey and the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government speaks to the need for mechanisms to be developed to incentivise and promote the construction of housing options and residential care facilities located in town centres or central locations within easy reach of local services. That is critical. Many older people want to stay in the communities in which they have been living and do not want to move far away. They become less mobile and may prefer to drive less and instead walk to most facilities such as shops or cafes. That is better for the environment and the person because it is a healthier lifestyle.
On the substance of the motion, the first suggestion is for a co-operative model for pensioners who can sell their homes and downsize to elderly housing. There are currently approved housing bodies which do not have to pay any building levy, but I would like the Government to examine affording the same right to a co-op that would take this approach. As I have said to the Minister of State, this has been a problem for some time. I have a document from a meeting held in Skerries last week relating to a group of 50 people who want to help themselves, together and independent. Given that the group was set up more than 30 years ago to address the issue, the problem clearly did not arise last year or ten years ago but rather quite some time ago. We need to give such people help to help themselves, as Fine Gael Governments have been in favour of doing over the years.
A critical part of the suggestion is the need to have available affordable housing to which people can downsize. We recommend the establishment of a central building fund offering interest rates of between 1% and 2% to build the houses that can be subsequently sold or rented to people by lease. The money would be automatically remitted to the fund and available for future projects. If we get rid of the housing levy for houses built under the co-operative model, as I propose, it would save €10,000 per home on average. Furthermore, there should not be any property tax on these homes and there should be an exemption for elderly housing co-op dwellings. A part of the deal would be that on the demise of the individual or if he or she wanted to move home, the home would have to be sold back to the co-op for future use. Therefore, the stock would not diminish but would continue to increase. The residents could share in any increase in the home's value, but they would ultimately have to sell it back to the co-op. It would be critical to reserve sites in the centre of towns. As the Minister of State will know, in most local area action plans, sites are reserved for schools. Why, then, could sites not be reserved for housing of this type for older people?
We would also like the Government to examine the issue of inheritance tax and gift tax, purely in the context of money given to a child to get on the housing ladder or those who might be in negative equity and danger of losing their house. Some 638,000 people are above the age of 65 years in the country and that figure is expected to grow by 20,000 per year. As a result, the issue will not go away but rather will become more acute. The benefit to older persons is that this would offer them an option and incentives without placing an onus on them, while the benefit to broader society is that there will be communal arrangements such as a common room where a public health nurse could hold a clinic once a week, providing for passive surveillance of older people. They will all know each other and feel safe within the enclave. They will know if Johnny or Mary has not been out for days and if that is unusual, they can alert someone.
An interesting statistic from the Central Statistics Office is that 900,000 homes which are designated as family homes do not have a family living in them. This is a real, widespread issue and the potential benefits of addressing it are considerable. I know that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Ministers of State, Deputies Damien English and Jim Daly, are doing much work and interested in a raft of potential measures. As the Government has welcomed suggestions, this is our way in the Seanad of making suggestions that have serious merit. From my experience as a doctor, I know that there is much research that shows that what predicts good mental health in older age is not so much being surrounded by family but rather having a strong social circle of friends.
I will give a real-life example. Michael Caine spoke publicly about how he had bought his mother a brand new house, rather than the little place in which she was living and she had to move to the other side of London. After a year and a half she moved back because she was miserable; she missed all her old friends and all the places she was used to going to. It is real. We need to make sure the option is there for older people by ensuring two-bedroom units are available. They could be up to 1,000 sq. ft. As we acknowledge that older people may still want their family and grandchildren to come to stay, the units need to be built to a standard. The report to which I alluded earlier talks about a uniform build where the specifications reflect the demographic living in it such as the age of the person; therefore, plug sockets are higher up, cooking ovens and hobs are at the right height and there are no door saddles, to mention just a few. The units would, of course, be built to the highest of standards of building energy ratings. The environment wins again, but so too does the person who is living in the house since his or her energy bills will be negligible and he or she will have more disposable income. I hope the Minister of State will take all of this on board and that he will have some positive things to say about it.
I will conclude by saying I have always believed an overriding principle when it comes to any policy, that we should make the right thing the easy thing to do. I do not believe that currently the right thing is the easy thing to do for many people who find themselves in these situations. To further emphasise the demand for this proposal, I was walking into my surgery this morning when I was met by two constituents who were interested in this type of measure. On explaining it to them they were very positively disposed towards it. This may not be for everybody. Many people are very happy to stay where they are in their homes and we encourage that. It will, however, suit a lot of people. It will also allow a substantial minority of people who might otherwise go from where they currently are straight to a nursing home to remain independent for a much longer period. This would be to their benefit and that of the State.
I thank Senator Reilly. I believe the Senator's seconder is Senator Colm Burke.
I second the motion as proposed by my colleague, Senator James Reilly. This is a huge issue that we now face. It was brought home to me a number of years ago when I was calling door to door in an area. In eight of ten houses - one after the other - there was a widow or a widower living on his or her own in quite good three and four-bedroom houses. They were all holding on and not selling because they felt there was the issue of the cost of moving and so on. They also wanted to stay in their own local community but there was no alternative there for them.
It is extremely important when we are planning that we put in place the appropriate amount of housing for new couples who want to move into an area and the appropriate planning within the overall plans for retired or older people who want to downsize. That is not happening. It is not unusual to come across 100 or 200 houses all the same type and size in a housing estate. We are not engaged in any forward planning.
I come across another issue more and more and I am sure the Minister of State has also encountered it, where local authorities have to step into the breach to install downstairs bathrooms or shower facilities because these facilities are not available downstairs for older people. It is a huge problem and we need to engage in more forward planning in that regard.
We need to make housing co-operatives available or have some other mechanism in place for people to downsize without facing penalties. In Ireland we have a thing about ownership of houses and that one must own the bricks and mortar. Consider the United States of America, where if a person buys in an apartment complex, he or she buys a share in the complex, not the apartment itself. If there are 50 units in the complex, there are 50 shares and each person owns a share. If the person dies or wants to transfer the share, a valuation is put on the premises to see how it will be transferred. In Ireland we have a process with a lot of conveyancing, but in that example a company owns the overall complex and a person can buy a share. Senator Reilly spoke about co-operatives. We in Ireland seem to have moved away from co-operatives, but it was a very effective way of managing. It has certainly done well for the entire dairy sector. It was used somewhat in housing, but we have moved away from it. There are major challenges and we need to start looking at new ways of dealing with it.
I have a good example of there being no need for everybody to move into a nursing home once they become in any way incapacitated. I know a lady who will be 97 years old in February. She has been in a wheelchair for more than 12 years. This lady lives on her own in her own house because she never wanted to move into a nursing home. She is getting the supports also, but if there are a number of people who have similar requirements, it is far easier to service those requirements if they live in close proximity to one another. Currently, one person may need a home help and the next person who needs the help is two miles down the road. People want to have all of the facilities.
In the area of Cork in which I live, Bishopstown, a huge number of people are looking to downsize, but there is nowhere for them to downsize to. We are looking at one project where a site has been identified with a pharmacy, a GP surgery, shops and many other services alongside it. That is the kind of facility we need where everything the person requires is in close proximity and he or she is not reliant on additional supports to live a normal life. We need to be innovative. We are doing a lot of building. There is good news this week that the number of new builds is up to 19,000, but let us not repeat what we did inthe past 20 years where we put everything into one compartment and one design and that was it. We have not looked at different age groups and the housing requirements of people with a disability. When one considers the numbers of people who are being supported with disability benefit by the State, it shows the demands and why we now need to adjust housing policy accordingly.
I thank Senator Reilly for bringing forward the motion. It is very comprehensive. The Department should look at it and encourage local authorities to work with private investors because we may need a joint approach in some of these developments. Private companies would be very slow to become involved, but we need to make sure we can come forward with new ideas to deal with the issue. Reference was made to the growing number of people who are over 65 years of age. The number of those who are over 85 years is increasing even faster, in real terms, and will grow substantially in the coming years because people are living longer.
I ask the Minister of State, Deputy English, to take the proposals on board and carefully consider them and that there be consultation with local authorities on how we can bring forward positive solutions in that regard.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English. We are very lucky that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as well as the Minister of State have come to the House today. It is a good day because we have had a robust debate on housing. At the end of the day, we are here for the good of the people, including those who need houses. We may all have different views and blaming each other will not solve the problem, but I know that we will work together, as we have done as members of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.
The Fianna Fáil Party broadly supports the motion which aims to provide specific accommodation for older people. While Rebuilding Ireland has missed several targets, it needs to be enhanced and resourced to tackle the distinct needs of several sections of society. We need to talk about what is being built and address the issue that we are building units that serve one type of family only. A core priority must be building units to allow older people to live independently and for as long as possible in their own homes. We need to plan for the future, not for today but for tomorrow. Tomorrow will be different from today. We need to lead, not react.
The demographic challenge in Ireland means that we need to put in place fit-for-purpose housing infrastructure to reflect people's changing needs. We need to create housing for all people, providing all types of accommodation, including the co-operative model that is so popular and successful in Scandinavian countries. The co-operatives must include any or all of those who wish to live in such housing. As Senator Reilly said, it would not be for everybody, but at least if we can give people a choice, they can make up their own minds. The co-operatives must include everyone. They are not glorified retirement homes, in which some people want to live, but others do not want to live in them. The motion draws on Fianna Fáil's policy of promoting town centre based accommodation for older people and measures to incentivise downsizing, where appropriate. Older people should never feel pressurised into leaving the family home that they worked long and hard to buy. Taxation incentives to move should be accompanied by targeted accommodation in suitable areas in the community.
It is appropriate, as Senator Reilly said, that people should have a choice in deciding where they want to go. It is vital that the issue be approached sensitively and that we respect the fact that the size of a house is not the sole criterion in deciding whether one wants to move. There are many older people who like to host charity functions in their home, on which many charities rely. They may rule out moving to a particular home because of its size. It ignores the person's contribution to society. Therefore, we have to be carful about how we do it. The role older people play in the community should not be undervalued. The person has spent a lifetime in the area, still has a lot to give and should never be forced into relocating in an area in which he or she will not be comfortable and with which he or she has no connection. His or her role in the community and family connections should always be fully appreciated in Government policy. We need to create communities, not segregate people based on age, family dynamic or economics.
It is important that adaptation grants be fully restored and delivered in a timely manner to help older people to upgrade their family home in order to continue to live in it, if that is their wish. People are living longer and when it comes to helping older people and those with disabilities, affording them the opportunity to grow old and remain in their home is a central plank of Fianna Fail policy. They face unreasonable waiting times for decisions that will impact on their lives. This essential grants scheme is mired in backlogs, with unreasonable waiting times for decisions on applications. The generations before us put us where we are today and we need to look after them as well as they looked after us.
The number of home care packages should be increased alongside the number of home help hours that are critical in enabling older people to continue to live at home. Long-term demand for care continues to grow and we now have a scandalous situation where 6,200 people are waiting for home care packages to be approved. From speaking to families all across County Carlow, I know that they are enduring great hardship in applying for and being granted home care packages.
The Part V requirement should be expanded to 20% of builds, with specific references to specialist accommodation, including town centre developments, placing such accommodation near crèches, etc., all of which are socially inclusive ways of engaging people through clever planning.
I recommend that there be formal collaboration with service providers, the Department of Health, the HSE and all other relevant bodies, particularly the councils. It is so important that all local authorities play a significant role in that regard. As I said, people are living longer; therefore, it is about quality of life. Rural areas do not have the infrastructure that is in place in Dublin. As those living in rural areas do not have access to the same transport services, one has to be very careful when a proposal such as this goes ahead. Overall, there are very good aspects to the proposals which have been made, but it must be remembered that some of us are based in rural areas. What I would see as a Member from a rural area is it being done properly. I would like to see a focus on the inclusion of small towns in the scheme. Older people in remote areas are living in fear because of robberies and break-ins. Therefore, we need to target those living alone in isolated areas who might not even have a family. It is up to the local authorities and the Government to make that connection and survey people living in rural areas and cities in order that we will be able to target them and not forget anybody.
This is an important motion. If implemented correctly, it could be very important for elderly people. We need to approach people and bring them to a meeting at which somebody will go through the options with them. Everybody needs to see if this proposal is suitable for him or her and if it is, it will be very valuable. If not, we will have to be respectful of his or her choice. I thank the Minister of State for coming to the House. I am in favour of the proposal. If it is approached in the correct manner, it will be very good for the older people of Ireland.
I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for his presence. I know that he has a great interest in this issue.
I thank Senator Reilly and the Fine Gael Party for bringing forward this proposal which is appropriate. I also acknowledge, as Senator Reilly did, the work of the Chairman of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Bailey, and Deputy O'Dowd who is a very active member of the committee and has shown a keen interest in this issue in his work on it. Senators Conway and Murnane O'Connor and I are also members of the committee.
To simplify the issue, it is about finance and planning. I want to deal with the issue of planning, to which there are a number of strands. The Part V provision has potential, be it at a figure of 3% or 4%, but it is important to consider where units are built. It is a great idea, but it has been done already by some of the religious congregations, co-operatives and approved housing bodies. There are some really nice examples of such developments. There are two or three in Sandymount that are particularly nice. I would not mind living in any of them. We should look at models of best practice. It is important that we do not have a load of private developers jumping on opportunities to throw up units to avail of tax breaks or exemptions from planning levies, on which local authorities rely. That is the reality when it comes to local government finance. Therefore, we must be very careful.
I am not in favour of building what are called special retirement complexes half way up a mountain or miles away in the countryside because elderly people want to engage in their communities. I live in an area where there is a very high rate of "empty nesters". I do not like that term, but there are a lot of single elderly people living in very valuable homes worth in excess of €1 million, €2 million and €3 million. However, they like where they live. They go to mass locally; their GP is up the road; and they go to the library. They have a sense of place and community and feeling secure is very important to them. It will become more important to us as we get older. People like familiarity and to be among their community and friends. They like to be near their GP, optician and local butcher. We like the sense of being recognised, valued and part of a community, which is innately human. As I said, what has been proposed is a great idea, but I would have some concerns about planning levies. Therefore, I suggest a reduced levy for co-operatives that are registered charities.
I want to guard against what happened in the case of student accommodation. It has become attractive to build student accommodation. Members know that developers are availing of tax breaks and throwing up student accommodation units. We know that three of these little student units can become apartments eventually. I am telling this House that within five years we will be told that some of the student units did not work and they will be converted to apartments and then sold. As the developers will have benefited from tax breaks, we need to have strict regulations and controls in selling on these developments. Senator Reilly raised this point which is really important.
It is an issue of planning. There are 31 local authorities, all of which have a county development plan. I can never understand the reluctance on the part of some councillors to exercise options that are open to them. It is open to councillors to vary them. Sadly, we did not get support from the other side of the House in varying the county development plan, but we did get some sort of a compromise that local councils could seek to have their chief executive bring a report within 30 days on the county development plan. Our regime and the Government support the idea that members cannot vary their county development plan if their chief executive does not agree to do so.
Yesterday we spoke to the Minister's other colleague about directly elected mayors. This and previous Administrations have empowered these powerful chief executives in the 31 local authorities to effectively block directly elected members from being able to vary the country development plan. I do not want to rehash that point because we came up with something with which I hope councillors are relatively happy.
It is their plan in the first place.
Absolutely, but they cannot vary it. Under the legislation, will the Minister of State clarify for me that elected county and city councillors can request their chief executive to write a report on a proposal to vary the development plan, but if the chief executive does not wish to proceed, it cannot happen. That is a joke in terms of local government. We will be electing councillors again next May, but we are tying their hands behind their backs. Senator Reilly has this proposal, but if I were a councillor living in the administrative area of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown and were I to go to my chief executive with a proposal to vary the county development plan to include at least one of these schemes and were the chief executive of the day to refuse, I would be goosed. That is not right. I fully support and will vote for this proposal.
The caveats are issues surrounding finance and empowering county councillors. When we leave here, let the local authorities proceed to vary their county development plans to make provision for this. This is an issue the Minister of State might address because it is an important point. I absolutely support it. Let the development be town based, whether in rural towns and villages, but I am not in favour of identifying old sites where, by ducking and dodging planning regulations, a developer can throw up chalets with minimal landscaping that we will be told that are wonderful for old people. We cannot and should not go there. I fully support the proposal otherwise.
I support the motion and thank Senator Reilly for asking the Government to bring forward plans and policies to cater for Ireland's ageing population. He gives the figure in his opening statement that about 638,000 are over 65 years and increasing by 20,000 people per annum. I happened to come across a number of figures from the Parliamentary Budget Office today. It states that between 1996 and 2016 the increase in the population in the working cohort, that is, those aged 16 to 64 years was 67.4%, whereas from 2016 to 2051, it is projected that the working cohort will increase by 13.9%, while the population aged over 65 years will increase by 145.1% in that period. That is another figure to confirm and which is a tribute to our improving health. The health system gets a lot of criticism, but perhaps it is not as bad as we are led to believe. The idea of giving people an option of downsizing makes everyone a winner in many ways. A person may relocate or downsize to an area where the services, as Senators Boyhan and Reilly said, are actually beside them, whether it is the church, shops or the post office. That reduces the isolation of elderly people living in other areas and would be effective not just in Dublin, Galway or the big cities but would also be equally effective in the villages and towns. I have seen it in operation. Senator Hopkins is aware of such a development in the area around Ballaghaderreen where both of us live. Elderly people who were living on their own have come from rural areas into town. They can walk to the shop, the church and the GP. It is a good model. I will not go into the mechanics of co-operatives or anything else. I want to support the thrust of it. When I say everybody is a winner, I presume that when people downsize, they sell their house; therefore, housing is becoming available for larger families. It is a win-win. This model should be supported and I am glad to hear that there is cross-party support for it around the House.
I ask Senator Warfield to move amendment No. 1.
I move amendment No. 1:
To delete the first paragraph under “noting:” and substitute the following:
- the failures to date under the Rebuilding Ireland Plan by its inability to deliver sufficient output in social and affordable housing;”.
I second the amendment.
I commend those who have brought the motion to the House. I know that it is coming from a good place and that it is well intentioned. The elderly are on the periphery of the conversations on the housing crisis. We often do not look at housing struggles through the lens of older people and there is an assumption that older people are mostly settled in their homes and that those homes were bought decades ago with mortgages that have largely been paid off. Focus Ireland highlighted last summer, however, that there had been a 40% increase in older persons' homelessness. ALONE also outlined to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government last year that:
At present, 90% of all the older people in our housing are coming from homeless services, which traditionally was not the situation. There are approximately 35 older people for each house and 35 people over 70 years all trying to get into one house is not a good queue to be facing. When they try to obtain private rented accommodation in their 70s, they turn up, usually on their own and perhaps try to pay the rent with housing assistance payment, HAP. They are just not attractive to the private sector.
We can continue to have conversations in this House about how successive Governments could have acted sooner and appropriately on housing in recent decades, but I think that point is well established. It is simply political play-acting if we do not learn lessons from it. Our policymakers have known for some time that we have an ageing population, that society's needs are adapting and that policy should adapt on that basis. This can only be achieved through immediate action in improving housing stock but also creating the policies that can adapt to cater for an ageing population.
One thing that is absent from this debate is the Government policy on architecture. The last Government policy on architecture brought us up to 2015. As it is a responsibility of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I wonder whether the Minister of State has any insight into the consultation on Government policy on architecture.
I understand there is a consultation due shortly.
Senator Boyhan mentioned student accommodation. Universities are attempting to attract more international students because the State subsidy for third level education has fallen and these students are cash cows for universities. We can see an example of student accommodation popping up on James's Street. I have spoken to architects, not on that job, who have highlighted the need to future-proof student accommodation developments to ensure they are sustainable in the long term. That probably contradicts Senator Boyhan's comment on such buildings being quickly used for apartments. What if we wanted to use the student accommodation on James's Street for older people? That is where the importance of the Government's strategy on architecture comes in.
We also need to ensure the State offers incentives to downsize. This issue has been mentioned. It is important that people can downsize in their neighbourhoods and that when older people move to smaller units the units be future-proofed, which means providing adequate space for walking aids and wheelchairs, widened doorways and so forth. Future-proofing must also enable residents to retain independence, be safe and have access to amenities and communities that are important to them. While it may be idealistic to seek to have those needs met during a housing crisis, we need to have a robust series of measures to do it. What meets the needs of a cohort of elderly people might not meet the needs of everybody. There are also those with physical mobility issues or chronic mental health conditions such as Alzheimer's disease or dementia. We have benchmark models for this, however, including purpose-built villages for dementia sufferers, one of which has been opened in Limerick. There should be a review of how they could be rolled out across the country.
While Sinn Féin supports calls on the Government to prioritise housing for older people, we seek to amend the Fine Gael motion before we can offer it support. The first paragraph of the motion, as initiated, proposes that Seanad Éireann note the "excellent progress to date under the Rebuilding Ireland plan". Amendment No. 1 reflects our belief the House does not share the view that Rebuilding Ireland is making excellent progress. Neither I nor my party holds that view and I do not wish to endorse it. Rebuilding Ireland has failed to meet some very meagre targets. The Rebuilding Ireland 2018 third quarter social housing building report showed that a total of 2,369 social housing units had been built across the State by the end of September. That is not even half the targeted figure, which most experts agree falls short of the demands created by the crisis.
The second amendment proposes inserting a reference to the Credit Union Development Agency, which highlights community bodies that want to start funding streams to back social and affordable housing but that have been blocked from doing so. The Department of Finance should work with such bodies in that regard, but it is not doing so. Simply put, we are not prioritising community funding where we could be.
Amendment No. 3 proposes to remove the reference to tax incentives. It would be a better use of the motion to call for a broadening of the housing adaption grant that would aid refurbishments in a downsized home. Tax breaks, as proposed in the motion, are broad. Our interpretation of this measure is that it would mandate the Department to bring in tax breaks that might eventually be turned into policies such as VAT cuts for developers. That would not ease the cost for the older person downsizing.
The fourth and final amendment references the report published in June 2018 by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local and Government entitled, Housing Options for Older People. The joint committee held two meetings on the topic of housing for older people and met officials from the Departments of Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government, representatives of the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland, Age Friendly Ireland, ALONE and Age Action. Its report was agreed on a cross-party basis, as were its recommendations which appear to be in direct conflict with some of the proposals set out in the motion. As I noted, the committee report recommended a broadening of the housing adaption grant as opposed to a review of tax breaks for refurbishment purposes. Sinn Féin's representatives on the housing committee worked hard to come to a consensual view on this issue and I prefer to support that view rather than the proposals made in the motion.
I welcome the Minister of State as we start a new year. I welcome and commend this initiative led by Senator Reilly and his colleagues. Senators Reilly and Colm Burke, in their own way, referred to three core issues, namely, home, place and relationships. If we cannot see these three elements coming out of plans, we might as well tear up the plans. The motion presents the idea of making trading up and down easier. Senator Reilly spoke about older people and the reduced ability or disability that come with old age. We cannot seriously talk about housing and community supports for older people without factoring in people's changing abilities, for example, people may become disabled or uncomfortable with being able to operate in certain ways. As people age, many will become disabled in one way or another. That has to be the bottom line and benchmark in design and planning.
Senator Reilly stated the right thing should be the easy thing to do. We have a real problem with making the right thing the easy thing to do. I will come back to that issue.
We are still in the eye of a major housing crisis. The Minister must avoid solving today's problem, critical and chronic as it is, by creating more problems in the future. It is easy to say that, but that has to be one of the guiding principles in dealing with today's chronic housing issue.
The motion notes the "excellent progress to date under the Rebuilding Ireland plan". In general terms, that is true, even though we are all frustrated that we have not yet seen light at the end of the tunnel. I have one comment, however, on the Rebuilding Ireland plan. On page 55 which refers to people with disabilities there are four paragraphs. I was highly critical of it at the time and want to rehearse that criticism now for a particular reason. We knew at the time that there were 3,319 people with disabilities on the social housing list. This figure was identified in the 2013 survey carried out by the Department. We did not have the 2016 figures, but they came out the following year. I do not have the exact figure for 2016, but it was around 4,600. As such, the figures were trending upwards. Rebuilding Ireland includes a great deal about processes, subgroups, meetings and stakeholders. A plan, the authors of which did not even have the good grace to state what we already knew, namely, that there were 3,919 people with disabilities on the social housing waiting list, was not facing reality or giving a sense that it would deal seriously with the issue of people with a disability.
The motion goes on to call on the Government and the relevant Departments of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Health and others to bring forward a comprehensive plan and policy guidelines. That is excellent because the matter is interdepartmental.
We are excellent with strategies and plans and all the rest. However, I seldom see a comprehensive implementation plan that deals with the critical areas that go across Departments. One exception was when we had the great unemployment crisis. Every Department was being whipped every day of the week about jobs, jobs and jobs. No matter the Department, it was under the whip to ensure we got jobs back and that we got people back to work. If we are to deal with the housing crisis, there has to be the same sense across a range of Departments.
I find it helpful to cover the full spectrum of need from independent living to low dependency and high dependency clients. That has to be welcomed.
The national positive ageing strategy is well regarded and we have had it for several years. It deals with a range of things. I am raising it now because the issue of implementation bedevils us all the time. I would love to see us passing fewer motions and giving less consideration to initiating legislation – this is almost heretical – but spending more time getting down and dirty about how plans are being implemented and legislation is working. It would be valuable for this House to spend a greater balance of our time doing so.
In 2002 the Madrid international plan of action on ageing was published. I am keen to name two objectives from it. One objective refers to the promotion of ageing in the community with due regard to individual preferences and affordable housing options for older persons. The second objective refers to improvement in housing and environmental design to promote independent living by taking into account the needs of older persons, in particular, those with disabilities. We have plenty of indications from Ireland and internationally on what we need to be doing. Article 19 of the UN convention relates to living independently and being included in the community. That is relevant. I will not say any more about it, but it is germane to and important for this motion. I tabled a successful motion in July 2016 on housing. Again, the issue of follow-up on these things arises. The motion was passed unanimously. Comprehensive plans and policy guidelines will not deliver without a whole-of-government approach that needs to be driven from the centre of government. Someone said culture ate strategy for breakfast. Our culture holds that if we write it down and have a plan, it will implement itself, but it does not.
The issue of people being able to live in a community and trade up and down is important. If we could crack this nut and have a better mix of housing and housing types in one community to enable people to trade up and down without penalty, it would be preferable. I live in a house that I moved into 19 years ago. It is a bungalow. The people who left it were in their mid-60s. They were able to move within 300 or 400 yards into a ground floor apartment. They are still hale and hearty. They go to the same church and have the same relationships and connections. That, as much as anything else, is keeping them right, hale and hearty.
Like other members, I thank Senator Reilly for putting forward the motion. It is certainly one I am happy to support. In my previous life before becoming a politician I was an occupational therapist; therefore, I am well aware of the challenges in housing and working with older people to facilitate living at home for the longest possible time. Like Senator Reilly in his general practice, I have encountered many people who have had to deal with discharge planning from hospitals. At such times, families and individuals may seek more appropriate options in terms of housing, sometimes at a time of crisis. It is not as available as we need it to be for individuals following a stroke or those with cognitive issues, those at risk of falling or those with mobility issues. We also have many people who are elderly. As Senator Reilly pointed out, the need for the development of bespoke housing options is important in supporting the older population. As previous speakers pointed out, this model not only provides options for older people, it also alleviates the current pressures of which we are all aware in the housing sector.
It is important to emphasise repeatedly the issues in rural areas. Rural isolation is a reality in many rural areas. Many children have had to move away from rural areas because of employment opportunities. They are not around to support their parents or extended family members.
Obviously, a different debate altogether arises on the issue of rural transport. I am pleased that, within the context of the motion, Senator Reilly mentioned location as being a key factor. As Senator O'Mahony pointed out, I have seen at first hand the successes in terms of how supported housing models are working in reality. We have many examples, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul houses in Ballaghaderreen, the Millrace retirement village in Ballinasloe and the wonderful Four Mile House at Kilbride Community Centre. We have seen that these projects can work in an excellent way to support older people to live with the greatest amount of independence possible. People there can access services and live with a good quality of life. That is what we should be aiming for in supporting older people.
Obviously, we need cross-departmental co-operation. Another part of the debate relates to the HSE. We have an intolerable situation where individuals in need of home help are being assessed as requiring home help, yet they remain on a waiting list. My point is that to deliver these housing models, we need cross-departmental co-operation. That is critical if we are serious about supporting people to live at home for the longest possible time.
They are the key points I wanted to make. The bigger point is that we know that there is no immediate fix to all of these issues, but, as Senator Dolan pointed out, we need a plan that is able to deliver. Certainly, the sentiments outlined in the motion could go a long way to ensure we support older people to live at home for the longest possible time.
I welcome the Minister of State. I thank my colleague and friend, Senator Reilly, for tabling this important motion. I also acknowledge the work of Councillor Tom O'Leary on the motion, for which I thank him.
Earlier today we had a very good debate on housing and now, in tandem, we are looking at another aspect of housing. While many Senators have spoken about rural Ireland, the demand for housing in urban centres also has changed considerably through a combination of demographic and lifestyle changes as we are living longer. When he was the Minister for Health, Senator Reilly always spoke about people being treated close to home. In this case, the same applies to keeping people at home. The Minister of State is very familiar with this and I commend him on the work he is doing, particularly with local authorities.
People are now looking for sustainable apartment living rather than the traditional low density three-bedroom semi-detached homes. This presents a problem because the cost base is an issue for the viability of such projects. The important motion before us focuses on the new need for independent living, sheltered housing and downsizing and is about ensuring we plan and put in place a model for delivery. A comprehensive plan is required in order that we can keep people in independent living.
Senator Dolan spoke about the jobs issue. The Action Plan for Jobs was successful because it focused minds at a time when unemployment was at 16%. It is now below 5%. The action plan for housing, Rebuilding Ireland, shows that the Government has allocated the highest amount of money for housing, at €2.4 billion, but we must deliver. Senator Warfield referred to student accommodation, about which Senator Ardagh also spoke on the Order of Business. It is being built because, as is the case with commercial premises, it is viable and, consequently, developers will build. We must address the cost base of construction because it is linked with the heart of the motion we are debating, which is offering housing options.
I welcome the decision of Cork County Council to create more sheltered housing as part of its development plan. The Ministers of State, Deputies English and Jim Daly, held a very successful housing conference at the end of last year on the needs of older people. At the time, the Minister of State used a good phrase. He referred to the need to enable older people to "rightsize" with regard to their accommodation.
I am heading towards being over 55 years old. When I canvass and knock on doors, I see the number of empty houses of people who are in nursing homes or hospital wards for the elderly. I also see the number of older people who answer the door but who live in one or two rooms of their house. I would love the Minister of State to visit Lapp's Court on Hartland's Avenue. I know that he was in Kilmaley with the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly. They are models of independent living that we can recreate throughout the country and we must consider them.
Traditionally, the options have been nursing homes and county homes - in the case of Cork, we have St. Finbarr's - or staying at home in a big ramshackle three-bedroom semi-detached house. In the earlier debate on housing I made the point that half of the people on the housing list in Cork city and county were single. We must address this need. I dare say, at the risk of incurring the wrath of some, that many members of the LGBT community are single or part of couples. We must build houses to meet this need also. We must look at the new plan to see how we can accommodate the needs of older maturing LGBTQ people, with the needs of married couples, widows and widowers who want to downsize.
I very much welcome the cross-departmental link between health and housing. The conference held last year was important. The cost of care for the elderly runs to almost €2 billion. Building on last year's conference and supported by the motion, we can be innovative and creative. As Senator Reilly said, we can look for ways to incentivise. This is an important motion. It is one that plans for the future and sends a positive message. Every week we all hear from people on housing lists and who own their own home who tell us that they want to downsize. They all want to live in their communities and go to mass, the shop, the chiropodist, the grocery store, the doctor and, perhaps, amble up to the pub, although we are not supposed to be pro-drink. That is the model we need to have.
Ambling up is okay.
Staggering back might be a problem.
Once people amble home also.
Last summer I visited a friend of mine in Philadelphia whose mother was living in an independent living apartment complex. It was fantastic. She had her own kitchen, dining room, bedroom, bathroom and sitting room in a complex supported by the suite of services required. To add to it, there was even a swimming pool. I am giving this as an example. We must be bold and imaginative. The motion does this and I commend Senator Reilly. I thank the Minister of State for being here and hope we can support the motion as tabled by Senator Reilly.
Most people I know try to make themselves younger than they are, but in his contribution the Leader was trying to make himself older than what he is. From my recollection and I know him for well over 30 years, his birthday falls on 18 March-----
The Acting Chairman knows me too well.
-----and this year he will still have three years to go to 55. The Leader should not be too hard on himself.
The Acting Chairman has aged well since we left college together. I have not.
I thank the Leader. My hair colour did not change.
I welcome the Minister and compliment my colleague, Senator Reilly, on bringing forward the motion. I have had the pleasure of visiting both a private and a public venture in Limerick with the Ministers of State, Deputies English and Jim Daly. The private and public facilities have definitely learned from each other about ways to improve the lives of older people, particularly those aged over 55 years, towards whom both developments are geared. It has been a very innovative way to give older people security and quality of life. I will begin with the private home where people of all ages live. There was social dancing, drama classes, arts and crafts. The day we were there a table quiz was held. There is so much going on. Everybody there has a key to his or her own front door and the success of the project is down to the fact that people can cook meals in their own home if they wish or arrange to go down to the communal area and avail of the food available there. There is also a pharmacy, a local shop and a doctor within 200 yd. of where the facility has been built.
The public facility built by the local authority won an award for the building and the thought put into it.
I compliment Limerick City and County Council on the amount of work it put into it. It built it in an area which had everything on site or very close by, which was very thoughtful. The facility encourages older people to downsize. They have a communal area in which they come together for classes or group activities and a tea or coffee area for visitors. There is security and a local nurse or doctor is available. A care assistant is on call for both facilities, which is very important because it has given great security and peace of mind to the older persons resident therein.
In the case of the local authority facility, there has been a land swap of sorts in that householders who may be widows or widowers living in a three or four-bedroom house have been encouraged to move to a one or two-bedroom unit in the facility. This has freed up some local authority houses for families. All local authority areas are experiencing the same difficulties, with lengthy housing waiting lists. The venture in Limerick is a concept that must be delivered in more areas of the country. Having health facilities, including a nurse, a doctor and so on, available in the facility is of great benefit, especially as people get older, as are activities involving well-being and mindfulness, as well as active retirement and other groups.
The men's shed initiative has been a great success in many developments and we are trying to encourage its further growth, with one of the housing association groups. It is positive to see its success replicated throughout the country.
I have been told by a person involved in building housing through a co-operative housing association that problems are often encountered in the planning system. Another person stated he or she had to jump through hoops in order to get a project in a rural area over the line. The project is a great success story, especially for the widows and widowers who were living on a farm and felt vulnerable and isolated and who have now moved into a development of 50 houses in a village. A significant amount of thought and work has gone into it. That is the way to go.
It is welcome that the Departments of Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government have come together on this matter because many issues which are the responsibility of these Departments are of concern to residents. It is important that we learn as we move forward and give people the quality of life they deserve. In addition, as I stated, these developments help to free up bigger houses for families.
I am not sure how much time the Acting Chairman is giving me, but as I have plenty to say, I ask him to warn me when I am close to exceeding my time.
I will limit the Minister of State to 15 minutes.
I will try to respond to all of the points made.
I thank Senator Reilly for tabling this timely and worthwhile motion. We are working on a policy document in conjunction with the Department of Health and hope to complete it soon. This is an important issue and I thank the Senator for his work on it. As he stated, the motion gives us an opportunity to discuss the matter and put forward ideas and ask questions. It also offers the Seanad a chance to make suggestions for inclusion in our policy document which is almost finished. We have noted the contributions made by Senators, but if they have further thoughts or ideas in the coming days or weeks, I ask them to bring them to my attention. The departmental officials accompanying me, Mr. Derek Rafferty and Mr. Alan Byrne, love to receive submissions. We are very keen to ensure our document will contain the best ideas. My Department, with the Department of Health and others, has put a significant amount of work into putting together a document on which all are agreed and which will facilitate what we want to do. The motion is timely and I thank Senator Reilly for tabling it and all Senators for their contributions. I will respond to the contributions made and outline what we are doing. I thank the groups which have engaged with us in the past 12 months or more in putting together the policy statement we are hoping to bring forward on 27 February which will set out our plan on housing options for an ageing population.
The policy document is about planning and actually making it happen. As Senator Dolan stated, it is not just about putting plans on paper. I have seen plenty of plans during the years. The Senator tried to identify the plans that had worked and those that had not. Putting together a plan that will not be used is a waste of people's time. I am glad that the Senator recognised the Action Plan for Jobs as a plan that had worked. It took a whole-of-government approach backed by all members of the Government and had the agreement of all members of the Opposition. Some Oireachtas Members wanted to add to it, but the general agreement was that the plan was feasible and that it should be implemented. Some did not believe the figures outlined in it were attainable, but the plan worked. I was involved in its formulation, with the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton. It was a joy to work with him in that Department. Other Departments became involved in the plan and action was taken. Everybody had a job to do and the Taoiseach got everyone together every couple of months to ensure the plan was progressing. The action plan for housing takes the same approach and uses the same logic. For two and a half years we carried out a detailed analysis of what needed to be done and ensured it was delivered. In fairness, Senator Dolan agreed that, overall, the plan was probably working. I will return to the high-end figure for the number of people who are still homeless. We are exactly where we thought we would be in the delivery of housing in line with the Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness using the same logic and approach used in the Action Plan for Jobs. It takes a whole-of government approach to tackling the issue.
Predictably, my Department takes the lead on the plan. Other key players are the local authorities, approved housing bodies, various funders and so on, as well as the private planning and construction sector. The Department of Health has an involvement and the plan is driven by the Department of the Taoiseach. The Department of Finance has advanced the required funding of more than €6 billion of taxpayers' money. The Department of Justice and Equality has a significant role, while other Departments help to feed into the plan and make it happen. Actions have been allocated to those involved and they meet every couple of months to go through the actions and ensure the plan is progressing. Senator Dolan was correct to say it is working. I can confirm that it is because it is delivering on its targets. The difficulty is that although it is delivering on the targets set, that is not sufficient to deal with the situation in which we find themselves. That is why families are still living in emergency accommodation. The numbers have remained stubbornly high, in spite of the increased supply. I will return to that issue momentarily.
The action plan for housing has the right logic and is working. We are trying to formulate a plan along similar lines in the provision of accommodation for older people which will get all Departments to row in behind it and make it happen, but that will only happen if the plan is driven. A housing delivery team in my Department ensures delivery and drives our action plan for housing. When our policy document on housing for an ageing population is completed, we will put in place a similar body to drive its implementation. Since the Government came to power, there has been a new approach, whereby policy documents have been backed up by action plans and people made responsible for their implementation according to agreed timelines. That is the only way to make it happen. That is why I must disagree with some of the suggestions made by Senator Warfield. We all know that there are outstanding housing issues, but a lot of progress is being made. We are on the right track and the trends are right. It is a five-year plan. At its outset, everybody stated they would be happy if we achieved a figure of providing 10,000 social houses annually. This year 10,00 social houses will be delivered. That could not happen in year one. We all might have liked that it would be possible, but it was not. However, the target will be reached this year. We are probably slightly ahead of target, rightly so, because we need more housing to be delivered. That is why the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, addressed the Seanad earlier today on the various parts of that delivery and probably highlighted the extra funding he had secured to exceed the targets because we recognise that more people need help and we are trying to provide it. We are trying to ensure we will deliver on our plans. It is important first to ensure the policy and plans are right, which is why we engaged in consultation.
Deputy Deering is in the Visitors' Gallery accompanying what is probably a team from Carlow. There was some criticism, probably led by Senator Murnane O'Connor, about rural Ireland being forgotten in the provision of housing and good projects. The motion relates to the whole of Ireland. The Government does not differentiate between cities or towns and rural areas when it comes to the provision of accommodation for older people. In fact, some of the best projects I have seen are in rural areas. One of the best I have seen is in County Carlow. I went with Deputy Deering to look at a very impressive project in a very small rural village. The community had come together as a parish and used funding from the Department to deliver housing for older people who were then able to move into the village. It is a perfect project and we are trying to facilitate more such projects. I believe Senators agree that it is something we must do. There are good examples of such projects in each of our counties. However, we want to scale up delivery, which is why my Department has worked with the Department of Health under the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, to put together a policy document which will allow us to scale up delivery of good projects such as those and offer far more housing options and solutions for older people, while allowing them to retain their sense of place by giving them the choice to live where they want to live.
In case Senator Dolan has to leave I will say we have to have renewed focus on people with disabilities also. When we provide accommodation and allow for towns and villages for people who are ageing, it should cater for people of all abilities, including those with disabilities. I am very happy to focus on this issue in the Seanad and at the committee with the input of the Senator. Now that Rebuilding Ireland is delivering on overall supply, we should focus on the different aspects of that supply and aim to get the concentration of different types of accommodation right. I am happy to do this to ensure we have the conversation, through the delivery office, with all local authorities. We must ask them to make sure they provide accommodation for people with disabilities. We need the correct quantity and percentage. A certain percentage of the housing stock has to be ready and adapted for people with disabilities. We have to make sure we get it right and that we are providing the correct houses in the correct places at the correct time. We do not want to go back to the old system where we would start talking about such accommodation when someone needed it and plan it for three years later. That is not what Senator Dolan is asking for. We have to make sure we have the houses we need when we need them. I believe we can do that now.
We are aware of the trends and have made an analysis of the population and where people are based. There is no reason we cannot make sure we are getting the right housing stock delivered at the right time. Local authorities are once again delivering houses and have reassembled their teams, including planners and housing delivery units, and are now back in the business of delivering houses and housing solutions. They should always have been doing this, but for some reason it was stopped. I do not wish to delve into the history of it. They are delivering the numbers and we can now look at what is being delivered to ensure we have the correct amount of every type of housing we need. Central to this is accommodation for older people and people who are ageing.
Going back to where we started with Senator Reilly, it is absolutely essential that we have this motion. My Department welcomes, agrees with and supports the motion because we have been working in this way for the past couple of years. We are working on this policy, informed by key objectives underpinning it as expressed in A Programme for Partnership Government and pillar 2 of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. We focused on this area and identified that we wanted to carry out a number of actions. The policy document is part of it and we have an implementation plan to ensure it will happen. These aim to support older people to live in their own homes with dignity and independence for as long as possible and in doing so to examine the potential of targeted schemes to meet differing housing needs. We all want to achieve independence and allow people to remain in their homes for as long as possible. When that is not an option or does not suit a person's needs, we want to makes sure people are able to right-size, as we call it, and move to more suitable accommodation. Ideally, that more suitable accommodation will be a couple of hundred yards up the road, whether in Swords, Skerries or Tralee or where other groups are coming together. It must be where people want it to be. Nobody wants to right-size or downsize to a house in another town or county. It does not suit people and nobody wants that. We do not want it either and are not trying to achieve it.
I like the phrase Senator Reilly used at the start of this debate. He said we should make the right thing to do the easy thing to do. That is exactly what we are trying to do. We are trying to make it easy to right-size. We have not always made it easy. Groups have come together to find a solution to this problem, but they get bogged down with rules, regulations, red tape, planning and funding issues. There are debates about which Department pays for things and people do not know where to go or what to do. This policy document seeks to break through all of that and make it easy. It seeks to provide simple logic in order that when a local authority or group of individuals in a private capacity such as a developer or an approved housing body seeks to deliver a project, there is a step-by-step approach in place which will allow it to be delivered quickly.
I have seen some wonderful projects during my travels all over the country. The Housing Agency has produced a document which highlights 19 of the best projects out there. Each had a different journey, long and slow and complicated in some cases, with red tape, rules and questions. We want to break through all of that. If a group decides to undertake a project, there must be logic it can follow and a plan it can access. There is a very good project in Inchicore which is going through that process. We have developed a toolkit from that project that everyone else can use. This means that if anyone wants to repeat this project elsewhere, it would be easy to do so. That is what my departmental officials have been working on in the past couple of years and thankfully it is close to completion.
We have been trying to think ahead, plan ahead and future-proof this country under the national planning framework to make sure we have the correct policies in place and the correct housing we require. The national planning framework is part of Project Ireland 2040. It is an overarching policy and planning framework for the social, economic and cultural development of Ireland. It is grounded on key demographic data to inform the broader policy context and long-term vision in addressing the needs of the population, including older people. Objective 30 of the framework provides that local planning, housing, transport accessibility and leisure policies will be developed, with a focus on meeting the needs and opportunities of an ageing population, with the inclusion of specific projections, supported by clear proposals in respect of ageing communities as part of the core strategy of city and county development plans. I firmly believe Governments have to deal with today's issues and try to fix them as quickly as possible but also to have an eye on the future and ensure we are planning for it. A number of Members said that while we were solving the housing problems of today, we might be creating problems for the future. We are trying to avoid doing so. Many of the problems in housing are due to the lack of planning and focused delivery on planning in key areas in the past, for example, where there should have been an analysis of population trends and the failure to manage the delivery of housing stock.
Rebuilding Ireland is not just a document about delivering houses. It is about delivering a sustainable housing construction sector. That means that a certain amount of particular types of housing unit is delivered every year and that amount is managed. We cannot go from zero units delivered one year to 90,000 delivered the next, then down to 16,000 or 17,000, back to 20,000 and down to 10,000. That is not a sustainable construction sector. People cannot make plans for this or assume that they will have a house in the future. One cannot assume, if one goes to college or does an apprenticeship, that one will find a job in a construction sector that operates in that way. There has to be a sustainable construction delivery plan to deliver a set amount of units every year. We believe that amount is between 28,000 and 30,000 housing units every year. In recent years we have put together a housing supply, both public and private, that was built on success. There is a pipeline of projects which will continue into the future and the Government is absolutely committed, on behalf of taxpayers whose money we are spending, to delivering 10,000 social houses each year from now on and up to 12,000 across all of the schemes. There is total capacity for housing of between 28,000 and 30,000 units per annum every year, based on the projections for the next 25 or 30 years. That is where we are at and what we intend to deliver. People can plan for that, set aside land for it and build for it. Local authorities can do their jobs to make this happen. If we stick to all of these plans and make them a reality, we will be able to provide the accommodation people need in the right place, at the right price and at the right time.
The ageing of the population, in common with other developed countries, will represent one of the most significant demographic and societal developments Ireland has ever encountered. The number of people over the age of 65 years is expected to increase substantially, reaching 1.4 million by 2040, or 23% of the total population. In the same period, the number of people aged over 80 years is set to quadruple. The implications for such diverse public policy areas as housing, health, urban and rural planning, transport, policing, the workplace and the business environment are considerable. It is prudent to plan carefully now to ensure our resources can be used to best effect for the whole population in the years ahead. The motion refers to the blend of social and private money, which some Members have also mentioned. Taxpayers fund a substantial amount of housing, but they cannot fund all of it.
When it comes to the provision of accommodation for people who are ageing, we want to achieve a blend. Senator Byrne touched on some of the schemes she has seen, both private and public. We want to achieve that too and allow for a mix of public and private money. By doing so we can achieve real scale, with real numbers in the system and real choice for people who can then decide to right-size or downsize within their locality.
These numbers are evidence of how much we have moved forward as a country. We are living longer and healthier lives, something we should celebrate. However, that also brings challenges in the housing and health spheres, in particular. It highlights the importance of developing a wider choice of appropriate housing options for older people suited to their needs. We are talking about options. I have heard the words "forcing" and "making" used in this context. We are not using any of those words. We want to give people the option or choice. Perhaps they would like to move, change their house, use their equity or downsize. They should have the option to do so within their locality. People do not want to hear the word "forcing" or "moving". That is wrong and it is not what this is about. I want to be very clear about that. Other benefits accrue when a person decides to right-size. The existing house can be used for one's family or it can be used by another family. We are talking about choice and options. Often, if we provide the correct options, it works well from a family point of view.
Planning policy requires, under section 94 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, that planning authorities must include a housing strategy in their development plans. It must include provisions to ensure any development being provided during the lifetime of the development plan must have a mix of housing types and sizes to reasonably match the requirements of different kinds of household, including the special requirements of older people and people with disabilities.
We are going to make sure that happens. We are working with the local authorities to make sure they are doing it in their plans. I was not picking out Senator Boyhan with regard to who can vary what, but the development plan belongs to the councillors. It is their plan. Please do not be upset with the variations because it is the councillors' plan in the first place. If we are planning 20 or 25 years ahead, we should be getting the plans right. Yes, there is a mechanism in place, enabled by the Senator and others, to allow the variation conversation to take place, but I want us to get the development plans right in the first place. There is no point in councillors spending two or three years on a development plan and then a week later wanting to vary it. Get it right in the first place, think ahead for the long term and make provision for people of all ages and abilities or disabilities in the development plans.
Fundamentally, we are aiming to encourage and facilitate timely planning by older people and rebalance the care model away from residential care to supporting older people to remain living independently at home for longer. As all of the research clearly shows - many Members have referenced it - this reflects the preferences of older people and their advocates. It also makes sound economic sense. As I said, I compliment many of the groups which helped us with policy development. Over the years these groups helped to provide housing for older people and a lot of groups spend time advocating, putting policy together and feeding it to us. I thank them again for their expertise and making it available to us. It makes a lot of sense to us.
Varying levels of support will be needed to enable older people to continue living in their own homes and communities, including care needs, where appropriate. Older people are not a homogenous group and the policy statement will recognise the diversity and uniqueness of individuals. This goes back to giving people choice. The Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, is very clear about this and has brought the Department of Health with him on this journey. The Departments of Health and Housing, Planning and Local Government have had to change and develop their relationship to make this new policy statement work and be able to drive on with the changes we need to make it easier to happen.
It is also about supporting the development of housing and services on centrally located sites within the urban area and within rural areas and villages. The development of good quality, well connected, urban and village centres, with a range and choice of housing tenures and types, actively supports ageing in place. It allows older people to choose housing that is appropriate to their needs, which will help them to enjoy more active, healthy and socially connected lives and age confidently and comfortably within their community. This will help people to choose the most suitable home to meet their needs and enable them to right-size as they move through different stages of their lives.
Social isolation can be associated with a higher risk of death among older people. In that regard, the importance of social interventions and interaction is vital in ensuring the older population is adequately cared for and supported. Social interventions are based on preventive care and support for older people and can substantially increase a person’s quality of life. When we are trying to make policies for people who are ageing or people with disabilities, it must be remembered that they want to feel part of the community and we need them as part of the community; they have a lot to offer, be it in job creation with fulfilling jobs or contributing to the local community. People of older years might believe that as they are retired, they are no longer needed to work. It is about designing homes, villages, towns and cities that encourage such people to come out and become involved. An age friendly town or a disability friendly town is one that encourages people to come out, become involved and take part, but one has to believe it. That is why I ask local authorities to embrace our policy work also. That is what we are trying to achieve and it starts with people's houses and homes.
I am only one third of the way through my speech. Perhaps I might get a chance at a later stage to contribute further. I am aware that this is a motion that has been brought forward by Senator Reilly. We are going to bring forward a policy document in a few weeks. Perhaps we will get a chance to discuss it in the Seanad also. There have been many issues raised and discussed by Members and I would like to be involved in that discussion and have a chance to discuss them with them further. This is about giving people a choice; it is about planning ahead and it is about using properties and land in a good way. The local authorities are central to all of it in making it happen.
Senators referred to credit unions being blocked from putting money into social housing. I cannot be any clearer when I say they are not being blocked. Much work was done with the Central Bank to enable credit unions to invest their members' money into housing. That legislation and the regulations were passed nearly one year ago. It means setting up a special purpose vehicle. The Department has aided that process. We cannot set it up as it is not the Government's job to set it up. It has to be separate from the Government. Some credit unions are involved in doing it. As I understand some credit unions have set up a special purpose vehicle, they can now invest money in housing. They are waiting for housing bodies to express an interest in doing so. It is wrong to say they have been blocked, as that is not the case. It may have been the case in the past, but it is no longer the case. Other credit unions are trying to develop a new vehicle where they can also do it. The mechanisms are in place and the work just needs to be completed. Some of the work in which the Irish Council for Social Housing was involved is nearing completion and we should have it in the weeks ahead to make it open for use again.
There are many other issues on which I could touch, but I know that I am short of time.
No doubt the Minister of State will be back.
I thank all those who contributed to the debate and the positive response. I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive response and positive contribution on the motion.
I wish to make a few comments, to Senator Dolan in the first instance. This model could be modified further to deal with communities and individuals with a disability in providing co-ops to build appropriate accommodation. It could be in smaller amounts because we would not want to semi-institutionalise any group.
I assure my colleague, Senator Boyhan, that there is no opportunity to make a quick buck because the co-ops must be not-for-profit. As I said, when the house is sold, the money must go back to the co-op. That is the only place to which it can be sold. If there is a lift in value, it can be shared between the individual seller or his or her estate and the co-op.
The Minister of State may be aware that there are 19 projects like this around the country but only one of them is private. There is a huge demand from people who do not need social housing - they can afford a house or they own a house - but they need an incentive and help to be able to help themselves. They want to be able to get into co-ops and I believe there is a huge appetite. Earlier I referred to a meeting that took place in Skerries which my colleague Councillor O'Leary attended and how long ago it was set up. They want to help themselves. They want the Government to give them a little help along the way, but they want to be independent and help themselves.
We mentioned various examples. There is an excellent one in Malahide that was done by Fingal County Council and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. They cost around €165,000, which is real value and much more affordable for older people than what is regularly on the market. St. Michael's House in Dublin 8 is another great development. Even if we just consider the Fingal area alone, statistics show that there are 11,939 people over the age of 65 years. The figures for over 65s in the following areas are: Skerries, 1,299; Balbriggan, 1,271; Rush, 959; Lusk, 678; Donabate, 677; Swords, 2,827; Malahide, 2,476; and Portmarnock, 1,752. Although Fingal has a very young population, we have a big need for this type of housing also. We have an ageing population too. All of these older people want to stay in Fingal, near their families and friends, and be located near to amenities. As this has been well rehearsed by several speakers, I will not go over it again.
The Minister of State quoted what has been a great maxim of mine over the years - make the right thing the easy thing to do. The motion is about helping people to help themselves. It is going to take a pan-government approach. I was delighted to hear the Minister of State say that. It is not just about housing. It is also about health, social protection, the law and so on. It requires a whole-of-government approach and the drive from the Taoiseach's office to make it happen. There is a long, strong tradition in Ireland of the meitheal where people come together as a community to achieve something for the community. That is what the co-ops are about. They will be the meitheal, with people coming together to help themselves and design for themselves what suits themselves. It will not be the same in Dún Laoghaire as it is in Swords, Lusk or the Naul.
For the benefit of Senator Murnane O'Connor who spoke of me as a Dublin representative, I am very much a Dublin representative, but I am from north County Dublin and live a couple of miles outside the Naul, County Dublin. I am acutely familiar, therefore, with what rural villages are like and the somewhat different needs they have. I appeal to all Members because we all have a duty in that regard to start on the way to achieve this as an idea primarily, rather than focusing on the five reasons it might not be done.
There is an advertisement in which a famous astronomer looks up at the sky and says he can see the stars because he has stood on the shoulders of giants. Older people built this nation and we need to reflect that fact. We must honour and recognise their contribution and, more importantly, continuing potential to offer more.
I will not support the Sinn Féin amendments. I regret that Senator Warfield alluded to playing tricks and games because the very notion of his amendments speaks to that.
I have the floor; the Senator had his time. To those who recommend re-examining taxation on gift tax and other matters, if there are Senators who believe the widows of retired schoolteachers or gardaí are wealthy, they have an issue which they should address.
I move amendment No. 2:
In the first paragraph under “calls on the Government”, after “in collaboration” to insert “, such as models being proposed by the Credit Union Development Agency”.
Is the amendment agreed to?
It is agreed to. It aims to include credit unions, with which we have no issue.
Does Senator Reilly have the floor again?
I was merely speaking about the agreement.
The Senator had five minutes.
I move amendment No. 3:
In the sixth paragraph under “calls on the Government”, to delete all words from “to review the tax regulations” down to and including “to encourage downsizing”.
I move amendment No. 4:
After the eighth paragraph under “calls on the Government”, to insert the following:
“- to consider fully the recommendations of the report published by the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local and Government, entitled ‘Housing Options for Older People’, published in June 2018;”.