This week’s blog from our General Election Series highlights the significant role older people play in society. Our ambition for the next Parliament is a world where everyone can participate in society and be valued for their contribution.
Older people make a huge contribution to society, going well beyond what is widely recognised. Age UK has previously estimated that all the work, caring and volunteering done by the over 65s adds up to a huge contribution of £61 billion to the economy.
But it’s about far more than just the hard economic value – being able to take an active part in society can make a huge difference to the lives of older people themselves, their friends and relatives, and everyone else too.
It is therefore extremely important that this contribution is fully recognised, and to make sure that barriers preventing people engaging in their community, accessing local services or going online, are tackled, so that everyone who chooses to do so can participate.
Creating more opportunities to contribute
Increasing numbers of older people are staying in work well past their State Pension age, while others continue to contribute by volunteering or caring for others.
A future government needs to recognise the full value of what older people offer. We would like to see better support for all unemployed over 50s that helps people move back into work more quickly, and into better jobs; improved access to flexible working; more done to tackle age discrimination, which can often be a barrier to work or volunteering; and more recognition given to the invaluable role played by people who care for others. There are 1.2 million carers aged 65+ in England, of whom nearly 90,000 are aged 85+, all of who are making an invaluable yet all-too-often underrated contribution to society.
Making essential services accessible
Essential services, such as banking, transport and utilities, are called ‘essential’ for a reason. Without them, people’s ability to lead a fulfilling life is severely restricted.
That’s why we need to make sure that the next Government is prepared to take action to ensure that all older people have the infrastructure they need to remain engaged – for example that postal and banking services are available in all communities, and that people who are not online are not penalised for being so.
Whether run by the public or private sector, every service moving online should provide an offline alternative to ensure that everyone can continue to access it without hindrance.
The availability of transport is another essential gateway to enabling a fulfilling later life. In a world of constrained budgets, local authorities and other partners need to ensure that older people are able to get out and about in their communities.
While the bus pass is an invaluable and greatly valued recognition of this need, where bus travel is not available or is being cut back, alternative options must be put in place. This can be challenging, particularly in rural areas, but failing to deliver can mean removing peoples’ independence, even forcing them to a more lonely and isolated life, a problem that in itself is in urgent need of action.
Local partners, including community transport, must work together to develop local transport plans that promote wellbeing and support older people to get out and about.
Beyond the election
Older people are far more than the passive recipients of services, and their vital role in local communities across the country should be given greater recognition.
As the £61 billion contribution shows there is already much being done, but at the same time there is a long way to go to make sure barriers are broken down so that everyone who chooses to can play an active role in society.
On 7 May 2015, we will all vote to choose our future MPs and the next UK Government. It’s vital that once elected our politicians act on the issues that affect older people, today and tomorrow. Ask your Prospective Parliamentary Candidates to become Age Champions