Our latest blog has been contributed by Mike Smith, joint Head of Public affairs at Age UK, commenting on the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement.
As we continue to digest the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor’s announcement contained some welcome news for older people, but lacked action on some of the biggest issues Age UK has been campaigning on to make Britain a great place to grow older in the coming years.
What was in the statement? Certainly we heard some welcome news around the £2billion extra funding for the NHS, and the additional £1.2billion to improve GP services. As people grow older many of us will rely more and more on vital health services. As Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, highlighted in the Five Year Forward View the NHS will need an additional £8billion a year in the coming years and so this is a positive start.
There were also various tweaks to the system which will benefit various groups of older people. These included people with defined contribution pensions who would like to invest in annuities, following the major reforms announced in the Budget 2014, with the news that from April 2015 joint annuity schemes will no longer incur tax when one partner under the age of 75 dies. Better off pensioners will welcome an increase in the ISA allowance for people whose spouses or civil partners die with ISA savings. The VAT refund for hospice charities and support announced for research into ageing also encouraging. And the previously announced new garden cities, with tens of thousands of new homes, could potentially be an opportunity to ensure these homes are suitable for the needs of an ageing population. A significant proportion must be built to the lifetime homes standard to so that they can be easily adapted for people throughout their life.
But what was missing from the announcement? Perhaps the biggest omission was the lack of new funding to ease the crisis in the care system. While additional money for the NHS is extremely welcome, the other side of the coin – our under resourced adult social care system – needs a similar commitment and proper funding to keep people well at home and provide the care they need. Finally, while the proportion of older people in poverty has fallen in recent decades, there are still 1.6 million older people living in poverty in the UK. Simple measures to make older people aware of the benefits owed to them and encourage take up of these could have a big impact, but nothing new was announced today on this front.
So, several welcome moves in the Autumn statement from Age UK’s perspective but still much more needed to make Britain a great place to grow older.