What will later life look like in 2017?
2016 has been a tumultuous year with big implications for how we meet the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society. What will 2017 bring?
Cuts in working age benefits, wage stagnation and the lack of affordable housing, have increased pressure on the social contract between generations.
The perception that it was older voters who contributed to the referendum result to leave the European Union further threatened intergenerational relations, though subsequent analysis suggests level of education was a stronger factor. Further cuts in local government funding have led to reductions in the availability and quality of social care and the highest recorded levels of delayed transfers of care in the NHS. These statistics belie the human cost – people in poor health, frail and disabled unable to leave hospital – a place most people want to spend as little time as possible in.
But you might have missed the brighter side. Life expectancy at older ages is the highest it’s ever been, according to Public Health England, and most people are living longer in better health. More people aged 50 and over are in work than ever before, with the fastest rises among women. There has also been a significant shift from employment to self-employment among men. While this is undoubtedly positive for some, offering flexibility and autonomy, for others this means insecure, low paid work with few, if any, entitlements. Recent internet use in the 65 to 74 age group has increased 7.5% between 2015 and 2016. However still only half of people over 64 regularly use the internet. Finally, the government announced a £4 million fund to support organisations to encourage volunteering among the over 50s and yet, as our recent report showed, those who could benefit most are still least likely to volunteer.
What to watch out for in 2017
- After a long period of historically low levels of house building there are signs that the government has woken up to the issue and is serious about reversing the trend. We want to see a focus in the forthcoming Housing White Paper on ensuring planners and developers build housing that is fit for an ageing population, including life time standards.
- There are far fewer pensioners in absolute poverty today than 20 years ago, thanks in large part to the triple lock, but the Chancellor’s autumn statement indicated this might be under threat. It is important that any alternative to the triple lock ensures that the state pension continues to rise in line with real wages and provides a basic ‘living’ income for pensioners.
- The Independent Review of the State Pension Age will issue its final report in the Spring. Cridland’s interim report indicated he was keen not to only to address issues of affordability but also the need for broader social change so that more people can be in fulfilling work for longer. You can read our response to the report. The government’s forthcoming Fuller Working Lives strategy needs to make strong cross departmental commitments to raise the economic activity of those over 50. We also want to see a focus on lifelong learning and investment in training and skills development for older adults in the Industrial Strategy.
- The government seems to have very belatedly woken up to the crisis in social care, with the lack of funding having terrible consequences for older people with care needs and few means. The recent announcement that councils will be able to increase the social care precept will do little to address the problem particularly in areas of the country where the needs are greatest. The decision to delay reforms to social care funding also means those who have modest means can face catastrophic costs if they need long term care. The government needs to implement long term funding reforms to ensure people can access, affordable care that meets their needs.
- It appears the northern powerhouse is not dead and we can expect the recent devolution deals to begin to exercise their powers – with early moves on planning, housing, and transport and potentially more radical deals on health and social care to follow. This presents a massive opportunity for these areas to become more age-friendly and to achieve greater connectivity through transport infrastructure.