Age UK has just published its annual overview of how public policy is meeting the needs of our ageing population, Agenda for later life 2014. It reveals that the answer is a bit of a curate’s egg: parts of it are excellent, my lord. On the plus side, May 2014 saw Royal Assent on two major pieces of ground-breaking legislation, the Care Act 2014 and the Pensions Act 2014, which will set a new framework for later life in future years. But for Age UK, the real hard work starts here, as implementation is critical and there are many details still to be decided. The legislation will not meet its aims unless the new single-tier State Pension to be introduced in 2016 under the Pensions Act is brought in at a high enough level for private saving; and unless the social care system is sufficiently funded to meet the aspirations in the Care Act.
1.6 MILLION PENSIONERS ARE STILL LIVING IN POVERTY
Nor will either piece of legislation assist the 1.6 million current pensioners who the report reveals are living in poverty now, or the 980,000 older people who are estimated to have an unmet need for social care. As just one example of the pressures in the health and care system, the numbers of hospital bed days lost through delayed discharges because of social care topped half a million in 2013/14. In the report, Age UK challenges all political parties to say how they would re-design health and care around the individual, rather than around the system, and ensure that individuals have enough money to live on in retirement. More encouragingly, we hope that the decline in private pension saving has reached a turning point, as although only a third of working-age people are paying into a non-state pension, the percentage of private sector employees contributing has jumped up from 26 per cent in 2011 to 35 per cent in 2013. This is attributable to automatic enrolment into workplace pensions from 2012 – an enlightened piece of public policy achieved through long-term consensus building across the political spectrum.
GOVERNMENT CONSENSUS IS NEEDED
The challenge for the next Government, of whatever hue (or even rainbow-coloured) must be to achieve similar consensus for care funding and for re-design of NHS care. Without it, we will be faced with a scenario where local authority social care will be restricted to older people who are at imminent risk, while NHS support is focused on reducing hospital admission. This means that people who are not at immediate risk but need care and support to achieve a tolerable quality of life increasingly have to do without. While moves towards greater integration of health and care will help, there is no ducking the urgent need for transformational change. To put this in context, local authorities currently spend just under £10 billion a year on social care for older people (a 10% cut in real terms since 2010/11). Yet Agenda for Later Life also reveals that people aged 65 and over in the UK contributed £61 billion to the economy last year through employment, informal caring and volunteering. £37 billion of this total amount came from employment and £11.4 billion from informal caring. Child care contributed £6.6 billion, while nearly £6 billion came from volunteering. This huge contribution that older people are making to our economy must be recognised – it is surely in all of our interests to see a world where each and every person can fulfil their aims and ambitions, and contribute as fully as they wish to society without people judging them because of their age.