Age-friendly Communities can help ‘Level Up’ places for everyone
The Levelling Up White Paper has made closing the gap in healthy life expectancy one of its missions. This is how Age-friendly Communities can help.
Our Head of Localities, Natalie Turner, sets out how local areas can start to tackle the inequalities that stop many of us enjoying later life.
In the lead up to local elections, the government has published its prospectus for the Shared Prosperity Fund. A central pillar of the agenda set out in its Levelling Up White Paper, the fund aims to help level up people’s “pride in the places they love”, including boosting the local economy, creating a stronger social fabric, and improving life chances. The disparities between places that the levelling up agenda targets are stark. Not least in health and wellbeing in later life.
In low-income areas, for example, the onset of poor health – or the end of healthy life expectancy – starts on average 17 years earlier than for those in higher income neighbourhoods. That’s at an age of just 53, compared to aged 70 in higher income areas. For those in more deprived areas this means managing with poor health over a decade before state pension age.
This gap impacts on people’s life chances in terms of ability to gain and retain employment, lifelong learning, participation in the community and the economy, and on social connections. We also know these inequalities aren’t just about wealth or area; they intersect with gender, ethnicity and other types of discrimination and disadvantage, and are often cumulative.
The Levelling Up White Paper has made closing the gap in healthy life expectancy one of its twelve missions, which while welcome, still has some way to go in demonstrating how this will be achieved. Luckily, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Age-Friendly Cities and Communities framework is already well established in the UK with over 50 areas already signed up.
Age-friendly Communities can help deliver pride in place, and empower local leaders and the community.
The Framework offers a step-by-step, evidence-based approach to support healthy ageing, and empowering and improving community and place as set out in the Shared Prosperity Fund prospectus.
Already at the heart of many communities during the COVID-19 pandemic building resilience and keeping people connected, the age-friendly approach brings partners from different sectors and older residents together to make practical plans for the place where they live.
Here are some of the ways that Age-friendly Communities can help deliver pride in place, and empower local leaders and the community:
- Speaking to and empowering a range of older residents and the wider community to shape their futures and that of the places they live.
- Holding community walk audits across your locality. These can serve to inform improvements to the public realm; town centres, parks, and neighbourhoods. Helping people stay socially connected, physically active, and contributing to local economies and communities.
- Ensuring all measures to encourage active travel meet the needs of those aged 50 plus who are least likely to be physically active and are the biggest car users.
- Publishing data on the State of Ageing locally to understand how well people are ageing in your locality and using this to support a locality-wide action plan that targets inequalities and ensures fair access to local services.
- Creating more age-friendly employers by, for example, tackling age-discrimination in recruitment and creating the conditions to retain older workers in work for as long as they want.
- Tackling ageism to ensure that people in later life feel welcome and included in local leisure, culture, and community services, through being visible in imagery, and not being portrayed as simply vulnerable or burdensome.
- Delivering age-friendly and inclusive volunteering opportunities, building in schemes for community ownership, as well as the informal participation that can most benefit least well-off groups.
Levelling up poses many difficult questions in the context of our ageing population. Committing your place to becoming an Age-friendly Community and joining the UK Network is a good place to start.