This blog was contributed by Barbara Limon, Programme Manager – Private Sector, at Age UK.
The Money Advice Service, the statutory body responsible for financial capability is currently developing a new strategy for the UK. But just what does an age-friendly financial capability strategy look like?
Contrary to the stereotype of later life as a time of stagnation, as we age we may need to adjust to events such as falling income, changing health, the need to care for a partner or bereavement. At the same time, the external world continues to present new challenges, as technologies and the prevailing economic conditions change for good or ill.
Age UK’s Planning for Later Life project, funded by Prudential, is designed to help people adapt to just some of these challenges. Initially piloted with 11 local Age UKs across England and Wales, to date it has helped 2,590 older people through face to face advice sessions, home visits and telephone support. From January 2014 we will be rolling it out more widely.
So far, the programme has resulted in extra income for clients, through access to welfare benefits and grants, but its real value is the personal and holistic nature of the support it gives. Each client has their own story. The difference with this programme is that it enables staff or volunteers to look at people’s situation in the round and link them in to a wide range of services. For example, when someone is referred to the service following bereavement, they may be helped to claim appropriate benefits, sort out their finances, and be introduced to new friends through an activity group.
A wide range of life events have brought clients to the programme, but more often than not it is because of an unexpected financial difficulty. For example, a husband going into care and his wife being unable to manage the bills and ending up with arrears on her utility bills. Rising utility prices feature frequently – perhaps not surprisingly since for many retired households on low incomes, energy is now the largest household expense.
The programme has also demonstrated the importance of outreach and home visits to the most vulnerable older people. Sometimes it is actually the most efficient way to deliver the support as sessions carried out through different channels may need a number of separate interventions to achieve the same outcomes that can result from just one home visit.
So, as the Money Advice Service come to develop the UK strategy what lessons have we learnt about what an age-friendly financial capability strategy would look like? We think it would:
- Recognise that financial capability is for life – not just for a particular life stage and enable people to cope with change at any age.
- People often seek help and advice only when a problem arises – key to any strategy is to help people develop their future financial resilience.
- People are likely to need referrals to a range of services so the co-ordination between local and national services needs to be improved.
- Whilst ‘remote’ methods of delivery such as internet and telephone services are vital without ring-fenced funding for face-to-face and outreach services the most vulnerable in society are at risk of being ignored.