2016: the year we realise the opportunity of ageing
The failure to see the ageing population as an opportunity, risks failing to address some of the most pressing issues we face as a society.
The media over Christmas and the New Year included many stories and images of frail and lonely older people, kickstarted by the John Lewis ‘man on the moon’ advert. These stories remind us there are people who do not enjoy a good later life: for whom poor health or disability limits their ability to do things they enjoy, who worry about finances, who live in unsuitable housing, who feel isolated, or lack purpose in their lives.
The problem with these portrayals is they only show part of the story – and they rarely discuss the opportunities to help people prepare for and enjoy a good later life. This is where the Centre for Ageing Better comes in.
Our analysis of Later Life in 2015, found there are many ways in which people experience later life with the ‘struggling and alone’ group – typified by that man on the moon – making up about 12% of people aged 50 and over.
However, we also found that there are lots of people in later life who are satisfied and happy. Three quarters of people aged 50 and over report their general health as excellent or good and say they never or rarely feel they have too little money to spend on their needs. Given the right opportunities these people could be contributing more and a greater number of people could feel positive about their later life. There is potentially lots to learn from those people like the ‘can do and connected’ and ‘thriving boomers’ groups about why they are ageing well.
We want to find out what works and spread these ideas so that more people can enjoy a good later life in future. During 2016, we will be working with others to identify solutions and develop and test new approaches. We will also learn from others, such as learning from international examples of good practice and from cities like Manchester about how to design age friendly cities, how to create thriving retirement communities like the Whiteley Village, the potential of digital to connect people in new ways from social entrepreneurs behind Casserole Club or North London Cares, how to enable people to stay active and connected in later life from local voluntary sector organisations like OpenAge.
2016 a significant year in many ways – from elections and referendums to changes to welfare entitlements and pension freedoms. As a society, we also face many pressing issues in 2016, including housing and skills shortages and a lack of care workers. But on all of these issues we are currently failing to see those in later life as central to the debate and part of the solution. Here are some examples of how that could change.
There are now more than 6 million older home owners in England. Why focus only on supporting the building of starter homes? What about stimulating house builders to build houses that appeal to those in later life who want to be active and independent for as long as possible, and to create more ‘homes for life’? Providing people with appropriate housing can help improve health and ensure more people remain active in their communities.
People over 50 already contribute hugely to the economy but there’s so much more untapped potential. 70% of 50-64 year olds in employment today compared to 65% ten years ago. However, there are more than a million people in this age group involuntarily unemployed.
There are many positive benefits to individuals from continuing in paid work (of the right quality) as well as generating wider benefits to the economy. So why only invest in training and support for younger people? What about apprenticeships for older adults and retraining for those in mid-life so they can work for longer? Could more business start-up support be made available to older entrepreneurs?
A considerable number of people over 65 years old already provide essential care and support to their loved ones. For example, one in four working families depend on grandparents for childcare. To further this, as well as recruiting younger people into the care sector, more can be done to support older unpaid carers. Could employers do more to offer flexible working to enable people to balance caring and work as they enter later life?
It is estimated the contribution of older people in the UK in relation to volunteering is worth over £10 billion per year. With the right encouragement and opportunities, this number could rise considerably. United For All Ages in their new report Fairness For All Ages suggest a ‘national retirement service’ which would encourage older people to volunteer and share skills and experience.
The failure to see the ageing population as an opportunity, risks failing to address some of the most pressing issues we face as a society. Government policy makers, housing developers, employers, the skills sector, voluntary sector organisations, and health and social care providers, need to firstly recognise the rapid growth in the size of the population aged over 65, but more importantly see these people as active citizens, consumers, volunteers, employees, and carers first and foremost not as ‘older people’.
In 2016, we want to see ageing move to the top of the agenda, not only because it is the biggest challenge that we face but because it is also the biggest opportunity.