The Budget is a huge opportunity for the Chancellor to give us all a better later life
Longer lives are something to be celebrated, but increased longevity has implications for some of the big-ticket political issues of today – health, housing and work
Chief Executive Anna Dixon discusses how policies that meet the needs and aspirations of the ageing population must be part of the wider response to addressing major challenges the Government is already grappling with.
We’re living longer than ever before. There are many more of us living to age 80, 90 and even 100 – an incredible achievement brought about by medical advances, better public health and improved living standards.
But while our longer lives are something to be celebrated, this increased longevity has significant implications for some of the big-ticket issues of the day – health, housing and work. Policies to help people to enjoy the opportunities that come with living for longer are being overlooked in today’s fraught policy environment.
Here’s our take on how policies that meet the needs and aspirations of the ageing population must be part of the wider response to addressing major challenges the Government is already grappling with – and how the Budget could be the launch pad for action:
The Government has already vowed to boost the NHS budget by an extra £20 billion a year by 2023. But there’s a big question over whether this will be enough to meet increasing demand for health services if more of us develop disabilities and long-term conditions as we grow older.
In truth, the NHS is already struggling to meet current demand, so instead of pumping in more money to new treatments, we should focus on prevention to delay the onset of long term conditions and slow down the progression of disability.
Emergency hospital admissions often happen because of a sudden crisis, like having a fall and breaking a hip, which can lead to escalating care needs and can result in further hospital admissions and long stays. NHS services do amazing work, but they need to get better at making sure people don’t decline further while in hospital, can recover more quickly and have better access to rehabilitation so they don’t end up being readmitted.
The Chancellor should use any funding committed to the NHS as an opportunity to ensure there is sufficient investment for intermediate care, rehabilitation and reablement.
Much of the debate about how we tackle the housing crisis is focused on first-time buyers and what we can do to help more younger people onto the property ladder.
What is often overlooked, however, is that the biggest increases in future demand for housing will be among older adults.
The UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe, but much of it simply wasn’t built to meet our needs as we age. Older adults are much more likely to live in homes that are hazardous to health and in disrepair and only 7% meet basic accessibility standards.
The Chancellor should use the Budget to commit renewed investment to improving the conditions of homes that fail the Decent Homes Standards and protect the Disabled Facilities Grant, as well as measures to stimulate a diverse range of housing for people of all ages.
“We cannot wait until crisis point to develop and deliver concrete policies that help the future older population.”
The UK is currently experiencing skills and workforce shortages, which are likely to become more acute post-Brexit. An estimated 1 million people aged 50-64 want to be working but are not, most having left the workplace because of poor health, redundancy or caring responsibilities, meaning employers are missing out on a lifetime of skills and experience that older employees offer.
Flexible working options that accommodate health needs or caring responsibilities have been shown to help keep people in work for longer. Although all UK employees currently have the right to request flexible working, they can only do so after being in a job for six months, and the business reasons for turning people down are very broad.
The Government could help make flexible working the norm by tightening the business reasons that can be used to refuse a request for flexible working and by allowing all employees to request flexible working from their date of hire rather than having to wait six months.
Seizing the opportunity to give everyone a better later life
Although the Government has published many reports on issues like loneliness, fuller working lives and transport, what’s missing in some of these areas is action that will make lasting changes for generations to come. We cannot wait until the situation reaches crisis point - it will be too late.
The Budget and subsequent Spending Review needs to ensure all policies address the huge social change we face so more people can enjoy the benefits and opportunities of living longer.
When policies look across the whole life course and the issues facing society, more people will have the opportunity to live a good later life.