Agenda for Later Life report – last year’s priorities

In the second post previewing Agenda for Later Life 2011 we look back a year to the priorities we highlighted in the 2010 edition of the report. Published just weeks before the general election, we knew in March 2010 that a lot would change over the coming year, but no one predicted how much. The political landscape has of course transformed, but there have been huge ruptures in public policy on later life as well. The 2011 report charts the changes impacting us as we all live through or look forward to our later years.

There are many positives to report. It was a year of considerable progress on issues that Age UK and our predecessors have campaigned on for many years. In early 2010 we published our pre-election manifesto, Our Power Is Our Number, setting out 30 challenges to the political parties. We were delighted when key proposals appeared in the manifestos of all three main parties, and then in the subsequent coalition agreement.

In the list below we evaluate progress on each of our election priorities with a traffic-light score. Some (labelled red) have been ignored by the new administration; notably our proposals for specialist support packages for unemployed over-50s, the future-proofing of new housing and prioritising older people within international development and disaster relief. In health there are radical proposals for reform, but it is far from clear how these will affect the priority issues that we highlighted last year, with respect to dignity and mental health.

But in many more areas there has been solid (green) or partial (amber) progress. The Spending Review safeguarded key universal entitlements in later life, including Winter Fuel Payment, Attendance Allowance, and free bus travel, which people over 65 told us was a top priority for protection from cuts. The coalition has stuck to its guns and is pressing ahead with the ending of forced retirement, in the face of business pressure.

The future of care is a critical issue for the most frail, but never likely to turn the result of a vote. It could have been kicked into the long-term grass, after a bitter war of words before the election and very different proposals from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. Instead the Government has commissioned Andrew Dilnot to present radical plans by summer at the latest. The short-term financial outlook for care is very worrying, but even here things could have been a lot worse, with the Autumn Spending Review including a support package that will limit but not entirely avoid service cuts.

Perhaps the most important changes for the long term were with respect to pensions. To our delight, the coalition announced that the long-awaited re-indexation of pensions to earnings would begin at the earliest opportunity, this April, and would include a ‘triple guarantee’ with uprating matching the highest of earnings, inflation or 2.5 per cent. The Government also declared its intention to press ahead with other key elements of the Turner Commission’s reform package, in particular auto-enrolment into employer pensions and the creation of the publicly-run National Employment Savings Trust (NEST). The Government has also indicated a strong interest in a second stage of State Pension reform, with the eventual creation of a single pension set at a rate sufficient to avoid poverty and means-testing for most people. Protracted internal discussions seem to have bogged down the publication of proposals, but this could be the most promising development of 2011. More worryingly, the coalition also confirmed Conservative plans to increase the State Pension age earlier than planned. It will now reach 66 for both men and women by 2020, six years earlier than previously announced, which will have a particular impact on people unable to work in their 60s for health reasons and for a group of women who may need to work two years longer than expected.

Progress on Age UK’s general election priorities in the last 12 months

1. Equal respect

GREEN Forced retirement must be ended by scrapping the Default Retirement Age (UK). End of forced retirement in October 2011 announced in July and confirmed in January.

AMBER Laws to outlaw age discrimination in Great Britain and across the EU should be approved, and must stop unwarranted age limits on insurance (Great Britain and EU). Coalition commits to implement Labour’s Equality Act age provisions, but no indication insurance will be included. EU negotiations stalled.

RED A new package of support must be provided to get people aged 50+ who are out of work back into jobs (UK). Integration of all existing welfare to work programmes, without any age-specific support or contractor incentives.

2. Support to be independent

GREEN Radical reform of the care and support system must be taken forward as an urgent priority (England). Dilnot Commission on Care Funding established to report by July 2011.

AMBER To prevent the current system collapsing, social care must be included within safeguards for health-related spending (England). Deep local government cuts, but partial protection for adult social care including the transfer of some NHS resources.

AMBER Attendance Allowance supports independence and control. Any reform of care and support must retain its essential features (UK). Coalition agreement fails to safeguard AA, unlike Conservative manifesto. Awaiting Dilnot Review proposals.

3. Enough money

AMBER The benefits system should be reformed so that older people are paid their entitlements automatically (UK). Small test of feasibility of concept proceeds.

GREEN Commitments to link the Basic State Pension with earnings must be honoured by 2012 and pension payments must be increased over time, as this becomes affordable (UK).Coalition introduces ‘triple guarantee’ from April 2011 and floats idea of single State Pension that would take most pensioners out of means-testing.

AMBER Energy-efficiency programmes should be scaled up and mandatory social tariffs should be introduced to tackle fuel poverty (UK). Mandatory social tariffs proceed, but hiatus in energy-efficiency programmes with new scheme appearing unsuitable for fuel-poor households.

4. Feeling well

RED Treating older patients with dignity must be at the top of the NHS reform agenda, including tackling malnutrition and other infringements to human rights (England). Radical structural reforms risk distracting from incremental service improvements and a focus on patient experience and dignity.

RED A quarter of us have symptoms of depression. GPs should be trained and incentivised to diagnose depression in later life (England). No new announcements or initiatives.

AMBER NHS resources must be redirected towards community health services that sustain good quality life by preventing and treating common health conditions (England). Structural reform of commissioning could eventually lead to GP-led reconfiguration, but will stall change for now. Positive proposals for public health, with new powers for councils.

5. Lifetime neighbourhoods

GREEN Everyone over 60 should be entitled to free local travel, including people who cannot use conventional public transport (England). Free bus travel for people over pension age protected.

AMBER Local authorities should do more to create age-friendly services and public spaces, safeguard local amenities and give older people a voice in local decisions (England). Localism Bill could give people more voice and ability to save local services. But deep spending cuts and low profile for Public Sector Equality Duty.

RED All new homes must be built to Lifetime Home standards (UK). Government rules out national regulation, as part of drive for localism.

6. Global ageing

RED The UK must champion ageing and health in later life in all global development and humanitarian initiatives (UK). No initiatives.

AMBER The Government should support a new United Nations convention on the rights of older people (UK). UN initiates process to consider case for a convention. UK position unclear.

AMBER The UK should offer all developing nations help to introduce basic pension systems (UK). Slow progress.

Author: Andrew Harrop

Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Age UK

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