Our new Government must prepare for an ageing society to secure a fairer future for all of us
If the Government doesn't address some of today's most pressing issues, it will fail to seize the opportunities that an ageing population brings.
Our Chief Executive, Anna Dixon, makes the case for the new Government to prioritise the age shift in society and related key areas such as housing and prevention of ill-health and disability.
The Queen’s Speech laid out the Government’s plans to achieve ‘a complete transformation of our country for the better.’ The speech included much to be positive about with some concrete proposals on workers’ rights, saving for the future, protection for renters and NHS funding.
However, with such a powerful mandate, the Prime Minister should be both more ambitious and more strategic in responding to one of the biggest challenges facing us today: demographic change.
Policy areas like social care reform, housing and prevention of ill-health and disability have all been ducked by previous governments of all stripes. If we do not address these issues now, we will fail to seize the opportunities that an ageing population brings. More seriously, we will exacerbate the health and wealth inequalities that widen as we age.
Commitments to increase NHS funding are welcome but if we are all to stay healthy for longer, it’s also crucial to focus on tackling preventable ill-health throughout our lives. The last Government made a vital commitment to ensure that people can enjoy at least 5 extra healthy, independent years of disability by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest. We must see Boris Johnson’s Government renew this pledge including to reduce inequalities.
One of the most pressing questions facing the Government is how to fund social care fairly and sustainably. Rapid progress is now needed to agree a reformed care system that is fairly funded and provides for those who need community and preventive support. It must work for those of all ages and put in place more resources to support unpaid carers.
By 2030, there will be just one new accessible home built for every 15 people over the age of 65.
Helping people stay financially secure in later life and the closing savings gaps means big changes to our workplaces. Today, an estimated 800,000 people between the age of 50 and state pension age would like to be working but are not. Millions more over 50s face an early exit from the labour market because of poor health or caring responsibilities in the years to come. So, proposals to make jobs flexible by default and introduce a right to carer’s leave are very welcome.
An emphasis on skills and the introduction of a National Skills Fund is also good news. This must support lifelong learning to enable us to stay in fulfilling work for longer. Reforms to pension information set out in the Queen’s Speech could also support us to plan better for our longer lives.
Providing suitable housing for people at all ages is one of the most urgent issues we face. Policies to address our immediate housing crunch are much needed but it’s vital that we don’t ignore another less talked about crisis. Growing numbers of people are living in homes that don’t meet basic standards of decency, and we have a woefully inadequate supply of accessible homes to meet the needs of an ageing population. By 2030, projected figures suggest that there will be just one new accessible home built for every 15 people over the age of 65. As we embark on building millions of new homes, we must take a longer view and ensure these are quality homes that are accessible and able to adapt to the changing needs of the population. In the last Spending Round, the Government recommitted to consulting on the mandatory accessible standards of new builds – the new Government must do so again and urgently implement this so we don’t store up more problems for the future.
New protections for renters outlined in the Queen’s Speech, especially the commitment to outlaw no fault evictions, are welcome. They could give confidence to the growing numbers of older renters to seek the improvements they need to live in a safe home.
The Single Housing Infrastructure fund announced also has great potential to improve local infrastructure. This is absolutely vital to the economic contributions and social connections of citizens of all ages and abilities.
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we will work to ensure these important proposals set out in the Queen’s Speech are informed by evidence of what works in practice, and we will continue to push for the bolder long-term policies we need to ensure a fairer future for all of us.