Author Archives: Hilary Evans

Healthy changes to the Health and Social Care Bill?

NHS

Photo: Pickersgill Reef via Flickr

The Health and Social Care Bill returns to Parliament this week. MPs will have their last chance to debate the Bill on Tuesday and Wednesday during the Bill’s Report Stage and Third Reading before it is sent for scrutiny in the House of Lords.

Despite the changes the Government made to the legislation after the public consultation earlier this year, the Bill remains controversial with some groups of medical professionals and the Labour Party accusing the Government of privatisation and further fragmentation of the NHS.

The number of people aged 65 and over is expected to rise by 65% in the next 25 years to almost 16.4 million. The population is also living longer with the number of people aged over 85 expected to treble within 30 years. As life expectancy increases, so does the likelihood of more years spent in ill health, with women aged 65 having on average 8.7 years and men 7.7 years of poor health at the end of their lives. And yet, too many older people in the UK experience poor practice and ageist attitudes when it comes to care which can put their health at risk.  Age UK is therefore supportive of the Bill’s aims to bring decision making about treatment and services closer to patients, and to better involve patients in decisions about their care. We agree with the Bill’s central principle which calls for ‘no decision about me, without me.’ However, we are continuing to lobby the Government for improvements to the Bill to ensure the NHS is able to meet the needs of our growing ageing population.

We are asking the new NHS commissioning board to instigate a fundamental review of how the NHS and local authorities assess, prioritise and commission services to meet the needs of an ageing population to make sure NHS structures, particularly the new commissioning bodies understand and know how to meet the needs of older people across the UK. Older people often struggle to access the basic care they need as the NHS continues to under-commission essential preventative services such as falls prevention, continence care and audiology. These types of services make a huge contribution to keeping older people well, independent in their own homes and helping to maintain a decent quality of life.

There is clear evidence that it is never too late to improve health and well-being if people are given the right access to information, support and services. We are also calling for changes to the Bill to improve the regulation of care homes to try and prevent a repeat of the recent crisis which saw the collapse of the Southern Cross network of care homes.

Not Enough Time: The Pensions Bill’s impact on women

This post originally appeared on Left Foot Forward.

Yesterday’s debate on the Pensions Bill was an opportunity for MPs of all parties to raise concerns about the numbers of women affected by the proposals to speed up the increase in the State Pension Age to 66. While the Bill was voted through its Second Reading stage, last night saw some concessions from the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on supporting those most affected by the Bill’s provisions.

The current Pensions Bill proposes to increase the speed at which women’s pension age rises to 65 to equalise with men’s, a process that is currently in train, and then to bring forward the start of the rise from 65 to 66 for both men and women from 2024 under current legislation to 2018. As such, the proposals impact on nearly 5 million people across the country.

Age UK’s campaign, and those of other organisations, has emphasised the impact on women in particular of this change; while the new proposals will mean that no man will have to wait more than a year longer for his State Pension, half a million women will face at least a 12-month wait. 330,000 women will have to wait for 18 months, while the worst-affected 33,000 will have to wait for a full 2 years longer than originally promised.

Government arguments have centred on the idea that encouraging women to work for longer before receiving their State Pensions means that they can save more for retirement, making them better off. While true for some women, this simplistic assumption ignores the many women who are not able to work to 66. Our new report, Not Enough Time, finds that significant numbers of women in the age-group affected by these changes cannot work due to caring responsibilities for parents or grandchildren, health issues or unemployment.  Some have already retired, relying on small private pensions and savings to tide them over until they reach State Pension Age – savings that will not spread over an additional two years. Continue reading

Ageism in Europe – new report

On Tuesday, I attended the launch of ‘Ageism In Europe’, a report Age UK commissioned that analyses European Social Survey to shed a light on ageism and stimulate the policy debate. The survey sought the views of 55,000 people across 28 European Countries.

While gender and race have been headline equality issues in Europe, ageism is becoming an important issue for the 21st century. Ageism is now the most widely experienced form of discrimination in Europe. 44% of the people we aked perceive age discrimination as ‘quite serious’ or ‘very serious’, while 35% report unfair treatment on the grounds of age. Over half of people are worried that employers prefer people in their 20s to older workers.

In practically all developed countries, life expectancy is increasing, fertility is decreasing, and working lives must be longer if pension promises are to be sustainable. These trends have significant implications for many aspects of modern life: the labour market, workplace technologies, consumer behaviour, social security systems, national health arrangements, and economic growth as a whole.

This demographic challenge is high on the agenda of Europe’s policy-makers, at EU and national level. The latest figures from the European Union’s Statistical Office show there are now 87 million Europeans aged 65 and over. In the past 12 months, important EU policy debates have been launched around ageing, including a Green Paper on the future of European pensions, EU 2020 employment targets up to age 64, and a European Innovation Partnership for active healthy ageing. The year 2012 has been designated the European Year of Active Ageing (EY2012), which will engage the 27 EU Member States in promoting active ageing in employment and community life, healthy ageing and independent living. The European Parliament also recently launched a debate on the consequences of demographic change for the future of EU Cohesion Policy.

Our briefing summarises key findings from the study for a European audience. It presents policy recommendations to EU and national decision-makers, concerning employment, active ageing, equal treatment and intergenerational solidarity. We hope the briefing will prove a useful input to the 2012 European Year for Active Ageing, and support the work of AGE Platform Europe in promoting active ageing and intergenerational solidarity.

Doing better for social care users

The inadequacy of current social care provision has been a hot topic in the media and Parliament this week. The appalling abuse of residents in Winterbourne Care Home, as uncovered by Panorama, and concerns about Southern Cross’ 750 care homes have provoked anger and anxiety. As such, Stephen Lloyd MP’s adjournment debate on Tuesday night on care services for older people was well-timed.

Mr Lloyd, as Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ageing and Older People, highlighted in Parliament the growing age profile of our population and the need to reform the social care system now. He highlighted in particular the needs of older people suffering from dementia, their families and carers. In support, Penny Mordaunt MP stated that in her constituency of Portsmouth alone, there are 1,000 people with dementia who have no access to services whatsoever.

The debate provided many questions, but few answers. The consensus was clear that the care system needs to change. Stephen Lloyd challenged the Government to provide a minimum level of care and support to everyone for free. He argued that access to early intervention services for those with dementia would improve the lives of those suffering from the condition and would make economic sense by delaying progress of the disease. He raised the importance of respite care for families coping with a loved one with dementia and called for a guarantee of good-quality care.

But we heard little from the Minister responding (Paul Burstow MP, Minister for Care Services) about concrete proposals for reform – he, like everyone else, is waiting for the proposals of the Dilnot Commission. Dilnot’s Commission on Funding of Care and Support is due to report at the beginning of next month, and we expect that legislation based on the Commission’s proposals and those of the Law Commission on reform of social care law will be a high priority for the Government in the next parliamentary session. In the meantime, the Minister last night did not comment on Stephen Lloyd’s proposals about social care funding, saying only that “there is no perfect solution… but we need to strive to reach a settlement that requires trade-offs but also secures the necessary change and sustainability of a system for the future.”

What Tuesday’s debate did do, was to raise in Parliament the real, human impact of care services on the lives of older people. Several MPs spoke with passion about the numbers in their constituency who were not receiving support, while Stephen Lloyd talked about the impact of dementia on his own family. Social care funding is not just a policy problem to be solved; it has a huge impact on the dignity and quality of life of millions of older people in the UK and their families. When the Government legislates to reform social care, Age UK will be making sure that their voices are heard.