Today, we launched our Agenda for Later Life 2015 report, Age UK’s annual assessment of how public policy is meeting the needs of older people. Here, Jane Vass, Head of Public Policy, discuss the findings of the report in light of the upcoming Spending Review.
In the run up to what is likely to be one of the most challenging Spending Reviews of recent times, Agenda for Later Life, Age UK’s annual audit of how public policy is meeting the needs of our ageing population, highlights that older people are increasingly being thrown back on their own resources, as the public services on which they rely are being scaled back or withdrawn.
Each year, we track a number of key indicators, and this year shows progress in many areas but also the scale of the challenge facing us.
What the indicators highlight
Older people’s employment, digital inclusion, household spending and many
other factors have improved over the last year; fewer people are living in non-decent housing and future pensioners are now more likely to be paying into a pension (even if many are not yet paying in enough).
However, the long-term downward trend in pensioner poverty over the past few years appears to have stalled, and it is very worrying that virtually all of our indicators tracking progress in health, care and wellbeing have continued their downward slide over the previous year:
- Delayed discharges from hospital due to lack of social care rising to 421,557, up from 365,061
- Over 1 million people with a need for social care get no help – formal or informal – rising from 870,000 in the previous year
- 22 per cent increase in emergency admissions of people 65+ since 2006
- Over 1.14 million older people say they are ‘often or always’ lonely – an increase both in numbers and in prevalence (from 7 per cent of the 65+ population to 10 per cent).
Investing in social care
Older people are often left to fend for themselves, with the numbers of carers aged 85+ more than doubling over a 10-year period, and 1 in 20 people aged 65+ now caring for at least 50 hours a week. And, in terms of Government spending, the investment it has made in the NHS will go to waste unless there is also investment in social care.
Our resilient and resourceful older population is an immense strength for this country and recent trends in Government policy – such as moves towards better integration of health and social care, and devolution – present opportunities to support their aspirations for independent living, choice and control.
However, in a world where people are increasingly expected to provide for themselves, supportive systems – such as help to live well and independent for longer, information and advice, are essential. Last year, for example, Age UK’s information and advice put £183 million in pensioners’ pockets.
The pressure on local authority budgets is a particular worry, with a predicted funding gap of £6 billion by 2016/17, as the services they provide are vital for older people, including social care, trading standards (so important in the fight against scams) and adult safeguarding. Devolution of public services to local level will not on its own address this.
Our submission to the Spending Review
That is why, in its submission to the Spending Review, Age UK has called for the Government to prioritise spending on support services. In particular, the Government decision to delay the introduction of a lifetime cap on care costs will have saved £6bn over the course of this Parliament – this should be reinvested in improving care and support for older people.
Putting in place a cross-departmental strategy to coordinate the delivery of high quality information and advice will support those people who just need that bit of help. And developing appropriate local strategies to tackle loneliness, supporting GPs to deliver practical help, and introducing a national measure to track progress will start to tackle the loneliness so many older people experience and make the UK a great place to grow older.