The path to recovery must seize the opportunities of our ageing society
The Budget announcement sets out some positive measures for opening up the economy again and stimulating recovery and growth. But this should utilise the opportunity of our ageing population gives us, not ignore it.
In this blog our Chief Executive, Anna Dixon, looks at how securing our health and our ability to contribute and participate as we age is the key to economic growth.
With the vaccine roll-out ahead of schedule and the timetable for opening up the economy sketched out, the Chancellor has begun to set out the building blocks of the recovery while continuing much of the support that business and the economy needs right now. The Budget announcement showed some positive intent to invest in local communities and accelerate the shift to net zero. But to really achieve growth, we need to harness the potential of our ageing society - securing our health and our ability to contribute and participate as we age.
The Chancellor rightly recognises the need to keep protecting livelihoods in the short term with extensions to the furlough scheme, support for the self-employed and the uplift in Universal Credit. But once again there was a failure to address the need to give people of all ages back to work support, or to invest in the skills workers need to enable them to access new jobs in the labour market.
It is a sad inevitability that some people will lose their jobs in September, having been furloughed for 18 months. We know that people aged 50 and over have been slower to return from furlough than other groups, and saw the highest rate of redundancy at the end of last year. Yet, this age group are largely ignored in the Budget and in the Government’s Skills White Paper.
It is positive to see skills as a key plank of the Government’s plan for growth: access to lifelong learning that reflects our ageing society and longer working lives is vital. But to prevent older workers ending up in long term unemployment we need to invest in flexible training, which fits around their commitments and recognises their existing experience.
There was welcome funding for our local economies and communities. This is much needed to protect the amenities and assets that support people to build connections with each other and their local areas, and this funding will be crucial to secure the future of high streets and town centres. Those in later life contribute hugely to local spending power and are often at the heart of contributing to - as well as using - local services. This investment must be made both with and for older people.
Seizing the massive economic opportunity of our ageing population must be at the heart of the government’s road to recovery
One crucial plank of the recovery will be to get Britain moving – in particular those in their 50s and beyond whose fitness may have deteriorated as a result of lockdown. Whilst some leisure services will benefit from business support in the form of loans and business rates, much more needs to be done to support healthy ageing. Responsibility for public health and prevention is in flux but sadly the importance of addressing health inequalities, and the fundamental connection between health and wealth, were absent from the budget.
The budget included some new mechanisms to fund green investment including an investment bank, green gilts and retail bonds. But we’ve yet to see much detail on the government’s approach to achieving our aims of reaching net zero and keeping the commitments made on climate change. Those in and approaching later life are among those who will be hardest hit by climate change. They have a major stake in change and need to be considered not just for the impact that climate change will have but also on how they can be part of addressing it.
From our existing evidence at Ageing Better we know that older people are more likely to live-in poor-quality homes - the effects of climate change will only exasperate the effect these homes have on an individual's physical and mental health. Our homes are also a major contributor to emissions. There is both value and necessity to a long term, properly funded strategy to repair and decarbonize our homes – with benefits not only to the environment and job creation but also to the health and wellbeing of our ageing population who disproportionately occupy homes that do not meet basic decency standards. The Good Home Inquiry, set up by Ageing Better and chaired by David Orr CBE, is exploring the actions needed to improve the quality of the homes we live in.
However, the effect of climate change on those in later life expands much further than the quality of their homes. Evidence from Climate Just suggests that increased air pollution, heatwaves and floods will have the most detrimental effects on older people when compared to other age groups. In fact, people aged over 65, but particularly those over 75, consistently face more severe impacts as a result of flooding and heatwaves.
Greening the economy, levelling up the health of the nation, skilling up for longer working lives and boosting local economies are just some of the areas that need a coordinated cross government approach. A long-term plan for growth must, of course, reflect the huge changes brought by the pandemic. But it must not ignore the big societal shifts already at play, which were articulated in the Grand Challenges set out by the last Government and which have not gone away. Seizing the massive economic opportunity of our ageing population must be at the heart of the government’s road to recovery.