Five reasons why England needs a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing
The uncertainty around lifting the state pension age to 68 has again highlighted the need for better long-term planning for our ageing population.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Carole Easton OBE, outlines why Ageing Better believes so passionately that our country desperately needs this new independent voice for older people.
I am immensely proud that, after a lot of preparation and planning behind the scenes, we have now been able to publish our consensus statement calling on the government to establish a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England. The statement, that we have drafted with our fellow campaign organisers Independent Age, Age UK, and the National Pensioners Convention, is supported by almost 80 organisations and shows clear support amongst a varied and diverse group of organisations.
A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing would act as an independent champion for older people and ensure that policymaking across government considers the long-term needs of our ageing population. Here are my five top reasons why government should establish a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England:
1. A Commissioner could help government form an ageing population strategy
The UK has a rapidly ageing population, and in less than 20 years one in four people will be over the age of 65. This is a cause for celebration, but policymaking is yet to adjust, which means that we are not meeting the needs of current and future generations of older people. Despite the complex social and policy challenges that an ageing population will generate, successive governments have delayed forming a cross-government strategy.
A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England would be a valuable asset to the government in identifying the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population and bringing an independent, non-partisan approach to finding solutions. They could champion reforms like pension scheme auto-enrolment, which transformed the preparedness of people of all ages for retirement. There are many crucial long-term reforms that are needed.
One example concerns England’s poor-quality housing stock, because far too many older people live in homes that are endangering their lives through drafts, damp, and fall hazards. A Commissioner would help long-term thinking on this type of issue become the norm, an antidote to a short-term mentality that pushes necessary but challenging broad societal reforms into the long grass.
2. A Commissioner would address growing ageing inequalities
Inequality in older age groups is growing, with some groups increasingly struggling and overlooked. Already, many older people are marginalised in the labour market, or dealing with poverty and ill-health, and experiencing ageism in their daily lives. More than 2 million people of state pension age are currently living in relative poverty in the UK, and people in the poorest areas can expect to live 16-18 years longer with a disabling condition than those in the wealthiest areas.
These issues have consequences for our economy, our national productivity, and they further entrench inequalities as we age. Unless progress is made, these numbers will only get worse. With the right resources and remit, a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing would look at these inequalities and work with government and others to identify preventative solutions to help everyone enjoy a better ageing experience.
3. A Commissioner would champion the rights of older people
In the UK today, older people, especially the most vulnerable, are easily forgotten and their rights can be overlooked. As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, this can have devastating consequences. The government’s policy to discharge care home residents from hospitals without testing led to thousands of unnecessary deaths with the High Court eventually ruling it to be “unlawful”. There needs to be an independent voice to speak up and protect the rights of older people, particularly in times of crisis.
Aside from being an important voice protecting the rights of older people during crises a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing could also work with employers, civil society and other relevant sectors to challenge discrimination and improve practices. In summary, a commissioner would champion the rights of older people, act as an advocate and give older people a genuine voice that reflects their views and experiences.
4. A Commissioner could help redefine attitudes towards ageing
With older people a larger proportion of the population than ever before, we must start to address some of the deep-rooted and harmful ageist stereotypes that exist in society. A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing could play a transformational role challenging the age discrimination that is experienced by one in three people. Ageism has adverse effects on the mental health, physical health, employment outcomes, and financial wellbeing of individuals.
It also harms society, hampering the economy, the NHS and social care, social cohesion, and inequality. If we don’t take action on this as a country, I fear that the consequences of this will get far worse as our population ages. We could, however, take another path. We could challenge negative stereotypes and promote positive attitudes towards ageing and the contribution that older people make to society. A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England could lead a public campaign and work to shift attitudes, empowering older people and driving more positive outcomes. This would unlock opportunities for older people and benefit us all.
5. Ageing better benefits all of us
Ageing is something that everyone experiences, either directly or through family and friends, so improving this experience will benefit all of us. We want to see everyone given equal opportunity to live healthier, dignified, and more financially secure later lives. Whilst the government has long-term ambitions on levelling-up and net zero carbon emissions, there is currently little joined-up thinking about how we can age better in the context of an ageing population.
A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England will focus on how society and policymaking can enable us all to age better and work towards making our country a better place to grow old. Our consensus statement outlines the wide range of support for a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing for England, and we will be building on this by working with older people, organisations and policymakers.