Author Archives: matthewjnorton

Age UK’s Economic Tracker: many in their early 50s fear losing their home

Last week Age UK launched the second edition of its Economic Tracker . This addition includes the result of the first wave of a survey we have developed to track older peoples’ views on the economy and their financial situation.

It received quite a lot of coverage in the media, particularly because of the startling statistic the nearly a quarter of people in their early 50s were worried about losing their home as a result of falling behind with mortgage repayments. Like other age groups many older people are suffering a fall in income in the current period of austerity and this is having an impact on their well-being.

  • Over three million people aged 50+ are very worried about the cost of living. This is in the context of rapidly increasing prices for some essential items, especially utilities, which we know have a significant impact on older people’s finances.
  • Only thirty-eight per cent of 50+ say the future looks good for them
  • 35% feel worse off financially compared to last year (see chart below)Pensioner income

Since our first edition, the UK economy and economic policy have given us food for thought. There are concerns, disappointments, and one or two silver linings. As our polling data suggests the economic situation is particularly worrying for many of those approaching retirement, tomorrow’s pensioners, who find it more difficult to find a job following redundancy. Our analysis has found that older workers are more likely to be made redundant when compared to those aged between 24 – 49. This translates into higher proportions of older unemployed workers being out of work for longer. Forty-seven per cent of unemployed people aged 50 – 64 have been out of work for 12 months or more compared to thirty-seven per cent of people aged between 25 and 49. The situation of older people is not as bad as those between 16 – 24, but it is important to highlight that all ages are struggling in these tough economic times.

Quite rightly there is a lot of attention on the young unemployed at the moment, but we must ensure that those over 50 are not forgotten. More can be done by the Government and employers to recognise the value of workers over 50 (the experience and skills that come with a longer working life), provide more training and learning for those in later life, and do more to eliminate the ageism that too often occurs in workplaces.

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Tackling dementia: the next big issue of the 21st century?

Age UK has recently launched the most comprehensive synthesis of evidence into the Health outcomes of older people, which looks at trends between 2005 and 2012. What it shows is that dementia is one of the next big challenges of the 21st century. Like cancer 20 years ago, we need to get to grips with this disease and begin to tackle it head on.

The numbers have been widely reported, but they are stark – we have roughly 800 000 people with dementia and this predicted to increase to just under 2 million by 2050. The chance of having dementia goes from 1 in 20 at 65 to 1 in 3 by the time you reach 90. This rise in numbers is going to have a huge impact on our society.

If we’re going to support the numbers of people with dementia in the future and ultimately find a way of treating the disease, what is required is a ‘step change’ in our collective mind set. One of the reasons we’ve made such good progress in fighting cancer is because of the very successful campaigns and initiatives that have fostered collective action across all parts of society to unite and do something about it – be that fundraising, research, improved treatment in hospital, better care for people suffering for the disease. We need this level of awareness and action to create change in the treatment and support of dementia. Continue reading

Protecting the future: We all have to pay, but negative framing of the challenge in the context of ageing is unhelpful

In mid-July the Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR), the independent forecaster of the economy and public finances, published its annual Fiscal Sustainability report. The purpose is to identify whether and when changes in government policy may be necessary to move the public finances from an unsustainable to a sustainable path. The report paints a bleak picture for the UK’s economic recovery without further Government intervention and highlights spending related to population ageing as the key driver of this bleak economic future.

According to the OBR, in order to compensate for the demographic pressures and keep the national debt in 2060-61 at its pre-crisis level of 40% of GDP, another £17bn of savings will have to be found in 2017/18. This assumes that it is imperative to return to pre-crisis levels of debt to GDP. While this long-term aspiration is desirable there is much dispute within economic circles about whether this needs to happen quite so quickly.

It also suggests that maintaining benefits to which people are currently entitled will create a £65bn hole in the budget deficit between 2016/17 and 2061/62 and that health spending will need to increase from 6.8 per cent of GDP in 2016-17 to 9.1 per cent of GDP in 2061-62.

At first glance the figures look worrying and clearly difficult decisions lie ahead. Highlighting the need for these decisions is important – focusing the blame on ageing is unhelpful.

When you look at the detail in the report the impact of ageing is not as doomsday as the OBR make out.

Continue reading

Technology in the care of older people

I recently gave the opening address to a conference jointly hosted by the Royal Academy of Engineering and Age UK. The title of the conference was ‘Designing cost-effective care for older people: how technology can make a difference’ and I was asked to give ‘An on-the-ground perspective on the role of technology in the care of older people’.

Keeping people out of hospitals and supporting them so that they can live safely and comfortably at home are challenges that the government are trying to address, and technology and engineering can provide some of the solutions.

There are two main forms of assistive-living technology: telecare and telehealth. Teleheath services are aimed at helping people manage their long term health conditions in their own home. (Conditions include – diabetes, heart failure and/ or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Teleceare services are aimed at vulnerable people who need the support of Social Care or Health Services to keep living on their own. For example those with physical disabilities, the frail and elderly or those suffering from dementia or epilepsy.

Unfortunately, to date take up has been rather slow; there are only around 5,000 telehealth users and only 1.5m pieces of telecare in use today.

My talk focused on how we can increase the use of technology in a way that enhances people’s lives. This drew in part from a project we are involved in funded by the Technology and Strategy Board titled: COBALT: Challenging Obstacles and Barriers to Assisted Living Technologies. We are about half-way through this project and have spoken to many older people. What we have seen so far is that, contrary to the common assumption that technology has passed older people by and that they fear it or are dubious about the value in terms of improving their lives, older people do embrace technology on their own terms: television ownership, for example, is virtually 100%.

The problem is that assistive-living technology tends to be presented and provided differently to other forms of technology, like a microwave or a TV. Instead they need to be focused on the person and designed to fit into everyday life, rather than symbolise frailty or decline.

If uptake is to change designers, developers, engineers and purchasers (both private and public) need to rethink how the technology is created and presented. The creation of personal budgets in social care and the development of these in health mean purchasing of assisted-living technology will be more consumer driven in the future. Designers of this type of technology will have to place greater emphasis on what the consumer wants.

The conference suggested that those responsible for developing these technologies are responding to these considerations and technology that actually improves and enhances people’s lives, as well as being desirable is likely to dramatically increase in the near future.

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