Author Archives: Michelle Mitchell

Celebrating volunteering

Last week I attended the Queen’s Volunteering Award Event with Age UK volunteer, John McArthur, to celebrate the huge contribution that our 70,000 volunteers add to our work across the Age UK network. We know that like many voluntary and charity organisations, a significant proportion of the support we provide would simply not be available without these individuals. In the current climate, their support is even more vital.

440x210_woman_and_carer_laughingWe’re experiencing unprecedented cuts. NCVO estimates the voluntary sector is set to lose £3bn over the next five years with cuts to volunteering the most commonly reported theme by organisation. The belief that volunteering is free and will ‘fill the gap’ makes the situation even harder.

For those of us in the ageing sector, the challenge comes at a time when we need action more than ever before, with the number of people aged 65 and over expected to rise by 65% in the next 25 years, and the number of over 85s predicted to double. Ensuring we are able to enjoy the opportunities this presents will mean tackling significant challenges: providing decent and sustainable income in retirement, addressing inequalities in ageing, delivering dignity for older people, reforming social care and tackling isolation and loneliness. This means we need to ask ourselves not just how to strengthen volunteering in this difficult environment, but also how it can be used to help us meet the challenges of an ageing population. Continue reading

Attitudes to ageing

With an ageing population and increasing numbers of us living in to late old age, attitudes to later life have never been more relevant. At the same time, our straitened economic position and pressures on public services to meet financial challenges whilst providing for these growing numbers of over 6os, means the debate often hinges on economic and political issues.

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The ‘burden’ of our ageing population is frequently stressed, accompanied by an emphasis on inequalities between generations that incite division.

Yet, one of the strongest messages to come out of a session I chaired last week at Age UK’s For Later Life conference was that the media furore on the ‘burden of ageing’ is not reflected in public attitudes.

No satisfaction

Ben Page of Ipsos Mori revealed polling showing that 68% of people aren’t satisfied with the Government’s treatment of older people and that care for the elderly is consistently amongst the top three scoring issues of concern to people of all ages.

I believe this polling strikes at the heart of the debate about attitudes to later life, illustrating the gap between political and media rhetoric and the views of the individual. But why is there such a gap? How do we form our attitudes to later life? And are they showing signs of changing, heralding strains on intergenerational relations? Continue reading

Wising up to what works

We are faced with unprecedented ageing.  Those over 85 will reach 2.8 million by 2030, a doubling of present numbers.  Such numbers are enough to raise panic in the Treasury, if the prevailing scenarios of cost are to be believed.

Conversely, I have always thought that we should celebrate our increased longevity as an enormous success story for society. I have been encouraged in my belief by the increasing evidence of the contribution that older people make and the progress that is being made, albeit slowly, in reducing the years we spend in ill health.

440x210_dr_blood-pressureSpeaking recently with media I was struck by the number of presenters who, like me, concluded that ‘we’re not really ready for this, are we?’  It is one thing to age and another to age well, but the revolution in longevity is going to completely re-structure society.

We will need new solutions, new approaches and most of all new evidence on what truly works.  Simply increasing expenditure in itself is not an option because there is little evidence that much – some would say any – of what we do is cost-effective. Consider the escalating NHS budget: £43.5bn in 1988; £64bn in 1998 and a staggering £120bn (8% of GDP) in 2008 – without any corresponding reduction in demand or focus on outcomes.

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Older women and care: are they invisible to the sisterhood?

This blog is an edited version of an article appearing in the International Longevity Centre’s Compendium on Older Women, published for International Women’s Day. 

As women, we outlive men in nearly all parts of the world, outnumbering our male counterparts across the globe by 100 million. But though we live longer than men and are stronger in number, we are also likely to spend more years in poor health.

This is reflected in the gender profile of users of health and social care. Across OECD countries ¾ of long-term care users are women. Older women are therefore disproportionately affected by inadequacies of care and support.

Paradoxically, though, older women are also the main providers of care. photographer: Claudia JankeAcross OECD countries 2/3 of informal carers aged 50+ are female. In developing countries, in addition to informal care, a significant amount of the care older women provide is as a grandparent to children whose parents have migrated or have been killed by HIV/AIDS or conflict. Continue reading