Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this morning at one of the greatest events in Ireland, the National Ploughing Championships, to highlight for the second time today, the important work of my Department, following on from Minister Coveney’s earlier launch of the Local Economic Community Plans (LECPs).
At the outset, it is important to reiterate that homelessness and the acute shortage of homes available to those who need them is one of the greatest challenges facing this country today. It is having a profound effect on the daily lives of many individuals and families who feel they have been failed by the system and who urgently require homes.
The Government and I have made it our number one priority to resolve the housing and homelessness crisis and under “Rebuilding Ireland” we have set out a broadly based and comprehensive set of actions to do just that.
Housing in Ireland and Rebuilding Ireland as a solution to the challenges
As you may be aware “Rebuilding Ireland” sets out a practical and readily implementable set of actions that will increase housing supply to create a functioning and sustainable housing system that is capable of:
- Providing homes for families in emergency accommodation;
- Tackling the underlying causes, addiction and otherwise, of people living on our streets;
- Producing a minimum of 25,000 housing units nation-wide every year by 2020;
- Responding post-2020 to meet future housing needs
- Delivering more social housing, much faster, and putting in place financially sustainable mechanisms to meet current and future requirements for social housing supports.
Homes for Smart Ageing: A Universal Design Challenge
In addition to the actions aimed at the accelerated delivery of quality housing and a more responsive housing market, Pillar 2 of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, contains specific commitments to meet the housing needs of the vulnerable, which includes our older people.
As with many of the themes within Rebuilding Ireland, addressing the needs of the elderly will require cross-Departmental and inter-agency co-operation and collaboration. In this regard, the commitments in the Action Plan are complementary to the objectives of the Programme for Actions for Smart Ageing published by the Department of the Taoiseach in April of this year.
The ageing of our population represents one of the most significant demographic and societal developments that Ireland faces in the years ahead, with the number of people over the age of 65 expected to reach 1.4 million by 2041. Across this same period, the number over the age of 80 is set to quadruple, from 128,000 in 2011 to some 480,000.
The implications for public policy in areas such as housing, health and urban and rural planning are considerable. Government policy is to support older people to live with dignity and independence in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.
In terms of cost effectiveness, home care costs in Ireland are estimated to be consistently lower than hospitalisation. For many, living in adapted or specialist housing reduces reliance on health and social care services and can result in measurably improved health status and lower rates of hospital admissions, while also contributing to a greater sense of well-being.
Smart ageing is a broad concept that has been largely defined as using technology and innovation in both the public and private sectors to design and produce products, services, solutions, and systems to improve the quality of life of people ages 50 and over.
Adaptable and smart homes will be the future in the developed world with advantages from saving energy to creating homes suitable for a lifetime. An opportunity now exists to develop the know-how and commercialise the knowledge of smart ageing adaptation to support assisted living for older people in their homes.
In terms of housing there are collaborative approaches already underway involving local authorities; the HSE; the Department of Health and NGO’s (such as Age Friendly Ireland). For example, the Age Friendly Cities and Counties Programme, which provides a local multi-agency collaborative structure in partnership with older people, with local authorities taking the lead on changing thinking about ageing, and how services are planned and delivered.
Action 2.19 of the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness states that my Department will support a design challenge, focusing on three distinct areas:
- smart technologies in housing for older people;
- adaptation of existing houses to meet the needs of older people; and
- life-time communities.
My Department has recently established a steering group comprising the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design which is part of the National Disability Authority, the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation to oversee the development of the brief for the competition Homes for Smart Ageing: A Universal Design Challenge.
The overarching objective of the design challenge will be to stimulate and encourage the design, construction and technology industries to be innovative in designing and delivering housing solutions for older people.
As part of the brief’s development, the steering group will consult with stakeholder groups and other interested parties.
Announcement of Prize Money
I am pleased to announce that that I am providing €100,000 in prize money to support this “Homes for Smart Ageing: A Universal Design Challenge”.
Returning to a normally functioning housing and construction sector is critically important in order to support economic growth, social progress and environmental sustainability.
While the Government is acting, the challenge does not stop there. It is vital that, as the 84 actions to facilitate house building are implemented, local authorities, approved housing bodies, voluntary bodies, builders and developers proactively respond to the housing supply challenge.
The “Homes for Smart Ageing: A Universal Design Challenge” is a small but key element of the Rebuilding Ireland solution.
I wish everyone involved in its implementation and indeed those who take part in the competition, every success. I look forward to seeing the winning ideas and solutions utilised in the delivery of good quality housing to those who need it.