This coming Tuesday Age UK launches our annual policy report, Agenda for Later Life 2011. The full report runs to 80 pages, but over the coming week or so, we’ll be highlighting some of the key points in a series of blog posts. The report opens with a digest of 2010 and a look forward to 2011, which will be mirrored at the Agenda for Later Life conference in the presentation of Tom Wright, Age UK’s chief executive.
We begin by celebrating the good news on public policy in 2010, thanks to the endeavours of both the incoming and outgoing administrations: sweeping age discrimination legislation, the indexation of pensions to earnings, the end of forced retirement; and cross-party commitment to radical reform of care and support. But we also predict that the prospects look much more bleak for 2011. The Spending Review announced spending cuts on an unprecedented scale. Now we have the early announcements on local cuts, we can see that vulnerable older people could suffer badly. The reality is that the genuine efforts the Government made to protect people in later life – by ring-fencing NHS spending, preserving universal benefits, and limiting the scale of social care cuts – just will not be enough to prevent hardship, especially as economic growth appears to be uncertain.
Taking a longer view, Age UK believes the scale of our national response to ageing still feels inadequate, for all the important political commitments of the last few years. There is no sustained, co-ordinated effort to address the scandal of persistent poverty that is designed into our pension system; to tackle hidden isolation and loneliness in our communities; to challenge disrespect and discrimination that erodes opportunity; or to re-focus an NHS that still does not see later life as its ‘core business’.
Age UK has long argued that the nation needs sustained joined-up leadership to help prepare for our ageing society. Despite all the recent commitments, no one is joining the dots or thinking long term. In 2011 we will work to put pressure on politicians on all sides to see this change. We hope that root and branch reviews of care funding and the state pension could open the the way to a wider cross-government programme on ageing. The alternative – in the context of spending cuts, localism and the log-jam of implementation – would be retreat from strategic planning for our ageing nation, with each new challenge written off as ‘too difficult’.
We want ministers to grapple in a co-ordinated fashion with the long term, cross-cutting issues facing our ageing society. Their eagerness to drive rapid reform within departmental boundaries appears to have reduced the scope for cross-Whitehall thinking on strategic issues. We hope that with the key decisions for the next five years taken, this year will present an opportunity to pause and look ahead over the coming decades. There is an opportunity over the middle years of this Parliament to consider the implications of ageing in the round, weaving together the ‘big picture’ challenges falling within departmental boundaries – instilling a pensions culture or reversing the rise in years of ill health, for example – and also those critical issues that have no obvious home, such as isolation in later life or public attitudes to ageing.
In the list below we set out Age UK’s 12 challenges for an ageing UK (first floated in a post on this blog last Autumn). We believe these should be the starting point for a cross-Whitehall response. Many of our challenges are about how society will need to change, rather than the traditional delivery of public services or welfare benefits. But the Government has shown its willingness to seek ways to challenge social norms and behaviours in other areas, from the promotion of the Big Society to the introduction of a unit devoted to behavioural economics. We think it is entirely consistent with this approach to seek to understand and take steps to ameliorate the big social and economic issues of ageing. If the Government is to embrace a co-ordinated, strategic approach to ageing, it needs to learn the lessons of Labour’s well-intentioned but marginal initiatives in this area. In particular, it is essential to have strong and cross-cutting political and administrative leadership, and a commitment to drive change across mainstream activities, rather than to work through a handful of small, incremental initiatives.
Age UK’s 12 challenges for an ageing nation
- Create a savings and pensions culture, to deliver good pension provision for everyone currently in working life.
- Extend working lives to achieve sustainable national and personal finances as life expectancy rises.
- Prevent longer periods of illness in later life, through the promotion of healthy lifestyles, the roll-out of recent innovation in health and care, and sustained research and development.
- Reduce levels of inequality within each age cohort and move towards the progressive eradication of pensioner poverty.
- Deliver care and support that provides autonomy, security and dignity to frail older people and their families.
- Fundamentally, change attitudes to later life and ageing, promote thoughtful preparation for old age, and ensure businesses are able to capitalise on the opportunities of older consumers.
- Build communities that can tackle severe isolation and exclusion towards the end of life.
- ‘Age-proof’ services and environments in the public and private sector so that they meet the needs and aspirations of every age group, including reform of the NHS to meet the needs of late old age.
- Engage people in later life with successive waves of new technology.
- Re-imagine and redesign every stage of life in the knowledge of very long life expectancies – i.e. how to combine education, work, leisure and retirement across our lives.
- Support strong families and intergenerational ties at a time of huge social change: growing ethnic and cultural diversity, increased family breakdown, and growing domestic and international mobility.
- Plan for sustainable growth in the share of GDP spent on age-related social security and public services and the long-term fiscal implications.