This must be the year we seize the opportunities of an ageing society
In 2017, we heard a lot about the challenges of an ageing population, with heated debates during the General Election campaign about housing, funding for social care and pension benefits.
This is the year that the Government must lead the way in seizing the opportunities as well as facing the challenges of an ageing society.
Much of this debate was framed as old versus young. And yet recent research by Ipsos MORI for the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission found that older generations were sympathetic to the challenges facing young people, and little resentment existed among the young towards older people enjoying higher living standards. Respondents saw issues as structural, due to rising house prices, Brexit and austerity, rather than something the baby boomers are to blame for.
We all hope to grow older healthy and happy; we want this for future generations, and we want to see our parents and grandparents thriving in old age. Changing society so we can all benefit from longer lives must be a collective endeavour.
In 2018, the Government must lead the way in seizing the opportunities as well as facing the challenges of an ageing society. This needs further action on a range of commitments it made last year. It also requires engagement with the public to consider the difficult choices we face, including who pays for the rising costs of pensions, health and social care and how to fix the broken housing market. Within this, we need an opportunity for open and honest discourse on how to reach a fair and equitable settlement that will enable all of us to look forward to a good later life, now and in the future. This must include:
1. Social care
The Conservative manifesto set out its policy prescription for funding elderly care which got caught up in political debate and dubbed the ‘dementia tax’. Despite this, at the end of 2017, the Government committed to its pre-election promise of publishing a Green Paper on care and support for older people. This will involve engaging with experts and care users in exploring possible solutions.
Within this, Government needs to focus on stimulating innovation in the provision of high-quality care that is centred on the needs and aspirations of individuals and their carers. This needs to go beyond care and support to consider housing and the wider actions to promote healthy and active ageing.
It must address the short-term deficits in statutory funding as well as agreeing a long-term plan on how to meet rising care costs. It is difficult to see how we will reach an adequate funding solution without tapping into the wealth gains enjoyed by older home owners, particularly in the south east of England, or changing the policy on reducing the deficit or increasing taxes.
The Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission report this summer will identify some of the necessary but politically difficult options that governments will need to address in the future. This should include how to tackle the impacts of our broken housing market, which lie at the heart of the challenges and anxiety facing younger generations.
But we also need to see action from the Government following its White Paper in 2017, which recognised the need for housing to meet the needs of an ageing population.
Planners and housing developers need not only to understand the future demographic trends, but also the needs and aspirations of these future home owners and tenants. Regulations, guidance and incentives must ensure all housing is built to meet life-time standards where homes are accessible and adaptable as we grow older.
We also need to be able to adapt current housing for people entering later life. Even small changes to people’s homes such as handrails, ramps and level access showers can enable people to live independently for longer, if done in a timely way, and with the individual’s own needs and aspirations in mind. We will be sharing examples of where councils and health services are doing this well with the Department for Communities and Local Government as they review the Disabled Facilities Grant later this year.
3. Employment and economic growth
Older workers are crucial to the future of the British economy and an asset we are not making the most of currently.
The number of workers over 50 looks set to exceed 10 million in early 2018. These numbers need to rise further to fill a possible Brexit-induced shortage of labour and skills.
Brexit aside, we need to do more to support and ensure people can work for longer and find high-quality jobs. This will require businesses to redesign jobs and workplaces, adapting environments and roles to support those with disabilities and health conditions, and offering flexibility as the norm to help balance work and caring responsibilities. It also demands further action across all sectors of the economy to ensure older workers are recruited and retained.
These points were reflected in the Government’s Industrial Strategy last year, which also expressed a commitment to “harnessing the power of innovation to help meet the needs of an ageing society”. This will need to involve stimulating the private sector to develop new products, goods and services that better meet the needs and aspirations of people in later life – areas such as housing, care and support, but also technology and financial services.
4. Pensions and savings
In order to successfully roll out their plans to increase the state pension age to 68 between 2037 and 2039, the Government will need to address wider issues, as raised in the Cridland Review, including how to support people who are unable to work before they reach state pension age.
We need also to find more effective ways of supporting those later in their working lives who fall out of work and who face multiple barriers to gaining employment. A pilot we plan to run in 2018 with Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the Department for Work and Pensions will develop and test innovative approaches to employment support for older job seekers.
If we are all to have the opportunity to save adequately for later life, the Government must also ensure that the benefits of auto-enrolment can be enjoyed by everyone, including those self-employed and who work part time. The many people in mid-life for whom auto enrolment comes too late need help to plan and prepare and make decisions about savings and employment. Look out in 2018 for developments by Government and employers in piloting different approaches to a mid-life MOT and the new single money guidance body being established to succeed the Pensions Advisory Service, Pensionwise and the Money Advice Service.
If in 2018 we start from the view that longer lives are a cause for celebration, rather than seeing them and older people as a burden on our society, we might find that the solutions to these issues are easier to reach.
First published in HuffPost UK.