How far have we come in my five years at Ageing Better?
The Centre for Ageing Better is currently in its sixth year as an organisation with a focus on improving the experiences, opportunities and chances of those approaching or living in later life.
In this blog, our Chief Executive, Anna Dixon, takes a look back at the achievements of the Centre for Ageing Better during her time leading the organisation.
As I come to the end of my time at Ageing Better, I have been reflecting on the work we have done in the five and a half years since I joined as Chief Executive. From the beginning we set out at Ageing Better to focus on change. We have focused on the outcomes that matter to people in later life – health, financial security, social connections and meaning and purpose – and the changes needed in policy and practice to achieve those.
There was plenty of work to do. Back in 2015 older people were generally seen as a homogenous group, as an ‘other’, lumped together and labelled as dependent, decrepit and associated with dementia. Sadly, not enough has changed. As we have seen through the pandemic and in Ageing Better’s research on how age and ageing are portrayed in the media, advertising and public discourse – harmful stereotypes still abound. While there have been heartwarming stories of generations supporting each other during the pandemic, a more sinister undercurrent and narrative has emerged – a view that during the pandemic the lives of older people mattered less, that they were disposable. Recently it was alleged that this view was at the heart of No. 10 itself.
Over the last five years we at Ageing Better have worked tirelessly to counter this view and to create a new vision for ageing. From our foundational work with Ipsos MORI Later Life in 2015 to the more recent research on the experiences of people approaching later life in lockdown, we have highlighted the differences within generations and the inequalities that exist in our experiences of ageing.
The experience of people approaching later life in lockdown: The impact of COVID-19 on 50-70-year olds in England
The global ageing agenda has also moved on a great deal. In 2015, the WHO published the landmark World Health Report on Healthy Ageing. Now, in 2021, we see ageing firmly on the global agenda. We are at the start of the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing 2021-2030, a decade that is focused on taking action. Ageing Better has contributed to these global initiatives, collaborating with AARP, the World Economic Forum and OECD on their Living, Learning and Earning Longer programme. We have supported the WHO global campaign on ageism, and we have partnered with the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies to support its programme on the economics of healthy ageing.
In the UK, UKRI is funding the Healthy Ageing Challenge supporting innovators and investors to create products and services to support people to live longer, healthier and more independently. Ageing Better played a critical role in shaping the funding to focus on prevention – moving it away from a focus on high-tech, high-need, specialist products. We are now supporting a growing network of innovators and businesses to develop and scale products and services across a wide range of issues such as housing through the community of practice.
Back in 2015 there were just 12 cities that were part of the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities, which Ageing Better supports. Today, the network has 46 members – including a wide variety of areas from rural district council to city regions including Greater London Authority and Liverpool. We have built strong partnerships with Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Leeds City Council and Leeds Older People’s Forum, and we are excited about our new partnership with Lincolnshire County council and Local Enterprise Partnership.
I’m proud of how far we’ve come in this time, and the huge impact we have delivered along the way.
We have had a real impact on people, for example through our Age-friendly and Inclusive Volunteering programme with DCMS – people like John, who I met at the Late Spring project in Oxfordshire, who had been recently bereaved and was being supported to re-engage in his community.
We have impacted national government policy. For example, our evidence on the cost-effectiveness of housing adaptations secured an increase in the Disabled Facilities Grant, and our Housing Made for Everyone (HoME) coalition has campaigned for higher mandatory accessibility standards for new homes, securing a government consultation and positive stakeholder responses.
And we have had an impact on practitioners and local authorities: our work on redesigning falls pathways influenced local NHS commissioners, our evidence on muscle strength and balance was reflected in updated guidance by the Chief Medical Officers, and our report with Care and Repair England led to the adoption of innovative practice on aids and adaptations by local authorities and housing associations.
But while we have played our part in rewriting the story of ageing in this country, we know there is more to do.
I am confident that Ageing Better will continue to play its part in delivering change.
Now is the time for action: for government to introduce the Employment Bill changes to guarantee flexibility from Day 1, and to raise the mandatory building standards to higher levels of accessibility and adaptability for all homes. For employers to see age alongside other diversity characteristics and to implement actions to end age discrimination at work. For media and advertising to play their role in combatting ageism. For voluntary and community organisations to enable more people to contribute to their communities and remove barriers to participations for people of colour, those with disabilities or in poorer communities. For all local authorities and their partners to sign up to become Age-friendly Communities.
I am confident that Ageing Better will continue to play its part in delivering the change, making the case for why this matters, equipping people with the knowledge on what to do and how to do it, working alongside those who directly deliver services, and campaigning for changes in attitudes and policies – and I look forward to seeing the change that is to come.