Aging in the Valencian Community, Balearic Islands and Andalusia shoots up the risk of living in substandard housing

"In Spain we have regions where aging is either first class or second class," explains Irene Lebrusán, a sociologist, who has focused on the relationship between the vulnerability of the elderly and the conditions of the homes where they live. In Spain, practically 90% of households headed by people over 65 years of age are owned homes, but that does not mean that they are properties in good condition. Not even in the best ones.

"When you analyze by tenure regime and compare it with vulnerability, there is more to rent, but owning a flat does not exempt you from it. Having a roof does not mean that it is adequate, because we are talking about a population that does not have the economic capacity to improve the conditions of a property. If you have a flat without a bathroom, with humidity or without an elevator, it is very difficult for you to sell it and move to a better one. We are talking about people in a very difficult situation," Lebrusán explains to elDiario.es.

The expert sociologist in housing has already carried out a doctoral thesis focused on the residential vulnerability of the elderly. Now his analysis goes a step further to specify the situation of the different autonomous communities. The conclusion is that the elderly who live in the Valencian Community, the Balearic Islands and Andalusia, in addition to the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla, are at greater risk of extreme vulnerability and that these communities should accelerate investment in housing so as not to make this situation chronic.

"Vulnerability is when you have conditions in your home that do not respond to a minimum quality," he explains, referring to his analysis. "Decent housing is what gives you a basic quality of life, but if you live in a room without an elevator, it excludes you socially; if you don't have a bathtub, you don't wash; if you have humidity, you will have respiratory problems," he lists. "At any point in your life you can be in a situation of residential vulnerability. Inequality marks an unbalanced distribution of resources, which leads to vulnerability, lower life expectancy and greater loneliness. These are issues that go hand in hand" .

As a starting point for its analysis, Lebrusán is based on the combination of two indicators: one, on the aforementioned residential vulnerability; another, on the lack of comfort in the dwellings. The first, explains the sociologist in her analysis, is made up of five dimensions: habitability, which refers to the existence of minimum and essential provisions (running water, toilet, waste water evacuation, having a bathtub or shower). The second, health, in terms of the state of the building or if you live in an overcrowded situation. Thirdly, endowments, such as the availability of telephone lines, essential to access home telecare services. Lastly, physical insulation – for example, whether or not it has an elevator – and necessary welfare provisions, such as heating.

Regarding comfort, it includes aspects such as the availability of hot water, internet or gas in the building, which are not essential variables when it comes to conditioning the vulnerability or risk of exclusion of a person, whether or not they are older than 65 years, but they do function as corrective elements for other problems.

Regarding these two analyses, one of the problems is the updating of data from the official statistics in Spain. Both are based on data from the 2011 census. A lack of updating that is especially relevant in the case of data on the elderly. "The situation of older people can change simply because those who are in a vulnerable situation die, not because they get better," he criticizes.

Using the two aforementioned indicators, vulnerability and comfort, Lebrusán concludes that "when most of the analyzed population presents low values ​​of vulnerability and lack of comfort, a subgroup of older people suffers in their home from a combination of shortages or serious residential problems".

In his thesis, Lebrusán already confirmed that 20% of the elderly in Spain are at risk from a residential point of view. "In Spain there is a high number of elderly people who do not have their residential needs adequately covered. Furthermore, residential risk situations arise that would be preventing their proper integration and participation in society. Residential conditions not only have a determining effect on the quality of life of the elderly person, but they are also key to their independence and, therefore, to delaying the need for care", details Lebrusán in his analysis, even more so in situations of dependency.

Based on this premise, the regionalized analysis highlights the geographical disparity in the residential vulnerability of the elderly in Spain. The autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla not only have a higher average level of vulnerability than the rest of the Spanish territory, but also have a higher percentage of elderly people at extreme risk, more than 53% and 42%, respectively. "Despite being young regions, with a very low percentage of people over 65 years of age, about half of these people are in an intolerable situation," summarizes Lebrusán.

They are followed by the Valencian Community, with 29.6% of people over 65 years of age in a situation of extreme vulnerability; and Illes Balears, with 28.1%. The sociologist highlights the situation in the Valencian region, "because it would be expected that a region with a high Gross Domestic Product and which is home to one of the largest cities in Spain (Valencia), would have had more resources to fight against substandard housing." In this sense, she indicates to elDiario.es the relevance of urban development. "In Valencia, there are situations of aggressive urban planning, with a greater concentration of population. For example, urban planning plans were developed, with large avenues, but no attention was paid to the conditions of existing homes," she explains.

Behind, Andalusia, the Canary Islands and Catalonia; all with a higher percentage of elderly in extreme vulnerability than the national average, above 20%. "These would be the regions that most urgently need measures, and that show a higher incidence of vulnerability," he sums up.

That other autonomous communities come out better in terms of data does not mean that there are no older people at risk. "It is worth mentioning the case of Madrid: although it is below the average national score [con un 17,4% de mayores en situación de extremo riesgo] , its high population makes it home to almost 11% of the elderly population in a situation of extreme vulnerability. On the other hand, Navarra, with just over 7% of elderly people in a high-risk situation, would be the example to be followed by the rest of the communities, indicates the sociologist in her analysis.

"The truth is that neither regional nor national public policies are providing an adequate response to situations of vulnerability," concludes Lebrusán. "Although Spain, at the national level, has not been able to solve serious problems, the existing regional inequality expresses differences attributable to the territorial administrations", he indicates, since the competences on housing matters have been transferred. "In other words, territorial inequality indicates that some administrations have been more ineffective in implementing housing policies and in creating optimal conditions for households to respond to the needs of the elderly."

And there is an older population group that is especially vulnerable and at residential risk. "Being a woman, divorced or never married. Women who stayed to take care of their parents, who have been able to inherit a home, but it is not in the best conditions," she breaks down; even more so if these women live in the regions with the highest risk. And for the future, the solution comes from the administrations. "There is a problem in urban, residential and social services policies. Older people in vulnerable situations will die, but those spaces in which they live, which are not in optimal conditions, will once again be in the hands of people who are in the same situation", highlights Lebrusán.

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