This blog was contributed by Angela Kitching and Hannah Pearce, joint Head of Public Affairs, at Age UK.
It’s hard to believe that it’s September already and that in a couple of weeks’ time the party conference season will be upon us again. After an unusually sunny summer and a rather sombre silly season political discussion will soon restart at Westminster and then around the country in Glasgow (Lib Dems), Brighton (Labour) and Manchester (Conservatives).
The party conferences always provide a useful opportunity for formal and informal discussions with politicians, party members, businesses, unions and other charities to discuss both their priorities and ours for the legislative session ahead. This year the looming presence of the general election will be felt, still 18 months away and a long way off in political terms but not such a long time for policy development and decisions on spending priorities. Age UK constantly engages with the political parties to highlight the needs and experiences of older people but the party conferences remain a particularly useful occasion.
Earlier this year Age UK welcomed the report of the House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change which warned that the Government was ‘woefully underprepared for ageing’. The Committee explained that our rapidly ageing population will have a huge impact on our society and public services and unless Government and all political parties address this, the gift of longer life could lead to a series of crises. The report identifies that England will see a 50% rise in the number of those aged 65+ and a 100% increase in those aged 85+ between 2010 and 2030.
Following the themes of the Lord’s Committee report Age UK will be holding a series of fringe meetings at all three conferences entitled ‘Living well for longer…fitter, happier, more productive.’ We want to discuss the choices individuals can make to improve their health, wealth and well-being in later life, and the strategies and structures government can put in place to support people at a national and local level.
The refrain about the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population has moved out of policy dialogue and into everyday discussion and we want to debate the impact of those public policy changes which are being made and those that are not. There are significant efforts to reform the pensions system and social care, but structures like the NHS, employment patterns and housing supplies were planned for a different age. We will debate how effective a muddle-through approach can be and whether there is a need for a considered cross-government strategy to manage changing demographics.
We will also hold a series of private breakfasts to discuss how we can ensure that the UK’s growing older population stays warm and healthy in winter whilst energy prices continue to rise. And we will be arranging private meetings with politicians, organisations and businesses who share our interest in improving the lives of older people.