We must address racial inequalities in how we age
People from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds face multiple challenges as they get older. It’s vital we address these.
Our Chief Executive, Dr Anna Dixon, writes about the work we are doing to tackle ethnic inequalities in later life.
As part of Black History Month Ageing Better has collected a series of stories about growing older from Black Britons. They are stories of racism and discrimination and the impacts this has, of identity and belonging, and pride in heritage. They are also the stories of career choices and retirement, how people keep active and have coped with ill-health, of giving back to others and leading community projects, coping with bereavement and faith, raising kids and caring for elderly parents. I really encourage you to read them.
At Ageing Better like many organisations we have been challenging ourselves to take a hard look at our own practices prompted by BLM. We are at the beginning of making changes that we hope in time will result in us being a more diverse and inclusive organisation. We are also clear that we can, through our work, tackle racial inequalities experienced by people in this country as they age.
An increasing number of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are now approaching later life and our evidence shows that, compared to White people, they are facing challenges due to an accumulation of disadvantages built up over the life course. These challenges span across a large number of areas in their life, putting them at risk of missing out on a good later life. New ONS figures this week reveal huge ethnic inequalities in wealth, debt, assets and pensions. They show that households with a White British head of household are around nine times as likely to be in the wealthiest fifth of the population (with wealth over £865,400) than those of Black African ethnicity.
One of our first tasks is to better understand the nature and cause of these inequalities. Our earlier review of the research on inequalities in later life found a paucity of evidence relating to inequalities in later life experienced by BAME people. While there were a studies looking at ethnic differences in prevalence of health conditions the main focus has been on socio-economic inequalities in health outcomes. As the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities concludes its work we would urge them to call for increased high quality collection of data that is representative by both age and ethnicity so that we can better understand the extent and nature of inequalities and therefore effective actions to address them.
Nearly half of White people in their 50s and 60s (47%) own their home outright compared to 33% of Asian people and just 13% of Black people.
Ageing Better has commissioned research being conducted by UCL and IPPR to identify who is at higher risk of poor outcomes in later life. Initial findings from this study of the health, housing, employment and financial security of BAME people aged 50-70 illustrates the extent of inequalities they face, even before the challenges of COVID-19.
The BAME population are more likely to be in the poorest fifth compared to the White population, and while the average weekly income of White and Asian people is very similar (£499 and £500 respectively), it drops drastically to £397 for Black people aged 50-69. Despite these disparities in income, Black men and women in their 50s and 60s are far more likely to still be working compared to White people (74% compared to 60%). In fact, White people are nearly three times more likely to have retired than Black people (28% compared to 11%). This suggests that more Black men and women are likely to be in low paid work and are less likely to be able to rely on sources of wealth beyond income, such as financial assets, to finance their retirement.
There are also stark inequalities in the housing tenure. Nearly half of White people in their 50s and 60s (47%) own their home outright compared to 33% of Asian people and just 13% of Black people. People approaching later life from BAME backgrounds are also more likely to live in deprived neighbourhoods, with nearly a third of Black and a quarter of Asian people living in the most deprived areas compared to just 16% of White people. These areas often have the oldest and poorest quality housing, meaning an increased risk of unsafe, insecure housing that impact people’s physical and mental health.
We are going to take the insights from our research on ethnic inequalities among people approaching later life and look at how we can begin to address these through our programmes. What actions will reduce health inequalities, housing insecurity and poor housing conditions? What could enable more BAME people to save for retirement and be financially secure? How can we enable everyone to participate in communities through volunteering?
In addressing these issues we need to recognise that people often experience multiple forms of discrimination as illustrated by Ann’s story. She says “Now I am older, in my position, you’ve got a triple whammy – age, gender, race. As well as everything else, you’re always worried about ageism at my age. When it comes to racism, I would say nothing’s really changed – what’s changed is my awareness of it.” It will only by joining forces that we will bring about change. While we are experts in ageing, we recognise the need to collaborate with organisations who are experts on race and ethnicity. We want to work with other like-minded organisations to address these issues.
We need to act now to ensure that Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic people are able to have a good later life and the injustices they have experienced do not continue to disadvantage their chances of enjoying a healthy and secure old age.