On Tuesday, I joined panellists Pensions Minister Steve Webb MP and Sara McKee, Chair of CSJ Working Group on Older Age to welcome the new report from the Centre for Social Justice. This interim review as part of their ‘Older Age’ project looks at how loneliness, isolation and social breakdown have fuelled poverty in later life for millions of people. I was particularly pleased with the emphasis this report has on the more positive aspects of ageing. As a society, we need to challenge perceptions and celebrate the good things about growing older.
The report brings together a wealth of information about the experiences of later life for many older people. Many of the findings are all-too familiar; 1 in 5 pensioners in the UK lives below the poverty line; almost 1 in 10 people aged 65 and over report regularly or always feeling lonely. Many also face social exclusion; in particular, those over 80 years old, who have never been married or have experienced family breakdown, or those who live on low incomes. These stark findings act as a reminder to all of us, but especially public policy makers of some of the challenges that lie ahead.
Importantly though, this report – through its working group of which Age UK is a member – has sought to champion the benefits that living longer brings and the contribution that people in later life make to society. Something I was pleased to highlight when welcoming the emphasis of the report, this was wonderfully highlighted by Mo Smith, Founder and Director of Regenerate RISE who talked about some of the inspiring stories from her work tackling isolation in South West London; from supporting world war veterans to make a trip to the Normandy beaches to taking a lady on a fairground ride which was something she had always wanted to try.
The report identifies social care as one of the top threats to the well-being of older people, that unless tackled imaginatively and radically, will inflict poverty and suffering on even more pensioners. It rightly highlights the fact that in social care demand is set to rise sharply against the backdrop of continuing public spending constraints and no clear policy remedy as yet from the government or the opposition.
We at Age UK are looking forward to working with the CSJ on the next stage of the ‘Older Age’ project – turning the wealth of information in this report into practical solutions and recommendations for the future.