Why I’ll be glad to see the back of 2022
While 2023 promises changes that will enable more of us to age better, there’s no doubt 2022 has been another tough year for many.
Our Chief Executive, Carole Easton, reflects on a challenging year and sets out some of the important issues Ageing Better will be addressing in the year ahead.
Impact of the cost-of-living crisis on older people
People of all ages continue to be impacted by the soaring cost of living but people from older age groups on (low) fixed incomes or living in poor-quality homes are particularly affected.
More generally, ONS data shows that a third more over 50s are reducing their energy use because of cost-of-living concerns compared to a year ago. This is particularly worrying given the Chartered Institute of Housing’s finding that more than 60% of over 65s live in England’s least energy-efficient homes, which can have serious implications for people’s health, prompting or worsening health conditions. Around 10,000 people die in cold homes each year and this winter could see an even higher number.
Measures such as the Energy Price Guarantee and Energy Bills Support Scheme only provide a temporary sticking plaster to this deep-rooted problem. That’s why we are calling for the rollout of a national retrofit programme to make homes warmer, safer and more energy efficient.
Only 1 in 10 out-of-work people in their 50s and 60s accessing employment support
We are in an older worker employment crisis: employment rates have now recovered to their pre-pandemic levels – except for over 50s. After decades of growth, the employment rate of 50-64s is still lower than it was pre-pandemic – and there are over 250,000 more who are neither in nor seeking work. And the House of Lords economic affairs committee says this is presenting 'serious challenges' for the economy.
And yet only 1 in 10 out-of-work 50-64s are receiving encouragement, advice and support to help them find work. As the cost-of-living crisis bites, many pandemic retirees will be wondering if they can return to the labour market – but without anywhere they feel they can go for help or training.
There are some services available but there needs to be so much more support on offer. At the very least, the government’s Restart programme needs to broaden its offer beyond individuals attending Jobcentres and claiming benefits to help older workers who have disengaged with the labour market altogether. Even better, we should see the People and Skills element of the Shared Prosperity Fund (the UK replacement for EU skills and employment funding) – currently due in 20024/25 - brought forward to the next financial year, to provide the holistic, local services this group needs and wants to return to the workplace.
Ongoing prevalence of ageism
Ageism is a bias against people based on their age and manifests in stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination in many aspects of life. Ageism continues to be the most prevalent form of discrimination in the UK and can intersect with other factors such as someone’s gender or ability.
The drivers of ageism are complex, and while we are beginning to see greater awareness of ageism in society, it continues to be deeply engrained in our national psyche. Media portrayals that draw on negative stereotypes about ageing undoubtedly play a part, but often the problem with media reporting is insidious. For example, why are people’s ages still given even when irrelevant to a story’s content and purpose? And for those who still consider ageism to be ‘harmless banter’, we were reminded again this year of its life-threatening consequences. Research suggests that differences in levels and types of treatment given to women with breast cancer based on their age is leading to a stark gap in survival rates. We will shortly be publishing a summary of the harms of ageism, drawing together all the available evidence. It makes the case perfectly clear – ageism is a danger to us all. It limits lives, it harms us physically and mentally, and it harms the economy and society.
This all makes for gloomy reading I know, but there are some reasons to be optimistic as we move into the new year.
For too long, our country has failed to provide millions of people with the basic human right to adequate housing.
Employers are waking up to the benefits that older workers have to offer
We launched our first Age-friendly Employer Pledge for employers who recognise the value of older workers and want to make their workplaces more appealing to over 50s. More than 40 companies have already signed up – from NHS Confederation to Silver Marketing Association. And the number is rising each week.
Signing the pledge is a fantastic opportunity for employers – research shows that multi-generation workforces boost productivity and innovation. With skills and labour shortages across the country, and around a million over 50s who are not working but would like to be, becoming an Age-friendly Employer makes great business and economic sense.
Implementing minimum accessibility standards for new homes
For too long, our country has failed to provide millions of people with the basic human right to adequate housing. Less than 1 in 10 homes are currently visitable by all people – including Disabled people and those with mobility issues – let alone habitable. The majority of homes built in this country are not designed to be easily adapted if people’s needs change, and many make it impossible for people to remain at home, living independently as they get older.
The government has committed to raising minimum accessibility standards on all new homes. 2023 should be the year that this becomes enshrined in law and we are hopeful will see that change take effect.
A chance to challenge ageism
In 2023 we will launch the country’s first nationwide, public campaign to try to shift negative public attitudes to ageing and increase positive and realistic portrayals of ageing across society. People who have experienced ageism or are at greatest risk of doing so will be central to the campaign. We will also work closely organisations and communities across the country to make our engagement as broad as possible. Ageism is truly a curse on us all and we will only be able to tackle it if we work together. If you’d like to get involved and hear more about the campaign as it develops in 2023 you can sign up here. And if you’d like to raise the profile of the issue of ageism right now you can vote for our film about ageism to win a charity award.
Until then, wishing you all a restful festive break and here’s to a more hopeful new year.