All too often, our ageing population is represented as an unmitigated disaster for the nation and the words ‘ticking timebomb’ appear with monotonous regularity.
A new report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change offers a refreshing change of perspective. It recognises that ‘longer lives represent progress, and the changes do not mean a great economic or general fiscal crisis’. But it also sets out a number of challenges facing us – and some thoughtful solutions for change.
The Committee, chaired by Lord Filkin, called the nation ‘woefully unprepared’ for the changes ahead and recommended a number of actions for all of us. The Government is challenged to set out its vision for public services in an ageing society in a White Paper.
In particular, the report rightly recognises the increased strain on health and social care and calls for greater integration and much more focus on prevention, early diagnosis and managing long-term conditions, with patients fully engaged in decision-making. Age UK agrees.
But it’s not just down to Government to act. The report says that the Government cannot carry all the risks and costs of increased longevity, although it can help people to prepare.
Housing, employers and the financial services industry all come under scrutiny in this respect:
- Employers will need to adapt their policies, practices and attitudes to allow those who want to work longer to do so, with special support for those might find this more difficult.
- Housing markets need to give as much priority to promoting suitable housing for older people as is given to housing for younger people – but older people with housing equity should also be facilitated to withdraw it through equity release.
- Better savings, pensions and equity release products are needed and the Committee recommends a Commission to investigate improvements.
A big challenge to us all as individuals is laid down too since ageing isn’t about ‘them’, it is about ‘us’, and many of ‘us’ are open to criticism for being in denial about the costs of living longer and what that implies for the decisions we make earlier in life about how much to spend and to save.
‘Ticking timebombs’ were not entirely absent in the media response to the report, but we hope that the report will change the terms of the debate.
For the first time, a senior group of policymakers has grasped the scale and nature of the opportunities and challenges of longevity, and has faced up to the policy choices we face as a result.