Poor connections – transport and poverty

New research from the Campaign for Better Transport emphasises the impact poor transport has on people on low incomes.  This is a growing concern as funding cuts continue to affect public transport.

Impact of poor public transport

They found that those on low incomes are more reliant on bus services with half of the poorest fifth of the population not having a car. Low income communities also tend to have higher exposure to the negative impacts of transport, including being at greater risk of being killed or seriously injured on the roads.

We know that the bus concession allows older people to reach key services, friends and family without having to make difficult financial decisions. But this obviously goes hand in hand with having good bus services. (See recent blog – Keeping bus services free and reliable.)

The impact poor transport has on people’s lives is brought to life in the research by Campaign for Better Transport by an in-depth case study of the Burbank Estate in Hartlepool.

A mile away from the town centre, some residents from the Estate can walk to use the shops and services they need. But many  have to rely on a bus that runs only three days a week or incur the expense of taxis.

Losing a regular bus service

A regular bus service that residents in Burbank relied on has recently been changed. Stephen, who has lived in Burbank most of his life, is now retired and has severe arthritis, commented:

“A lot of people blame the Council, but it is not their fault – the Central Government deficit has been passed on, but it’s frustrating, they didn’t need to be so stringent. The trouble is that the decision isn’t taken by people that live around here. They are managers and have cars. Those affected are the poor people who can’t afford cars”

Two things jump out from this comment. First that owning a car has become a necessity. The locations of shops and services are often based on the assumption that we all own a car. Secondly, that the Council needs to do more to listen and find solutions that meet people’s transport needs.

Government inquiry

The Environmental Audit Committee has just launched an inquiry covering some of these issues. They plan to examine whether Government policy is providing the transport infrastructure people need to get access to key services.

Age UK will be responding and would like to hear about your experiences.

Do you live in a ‘transport desert’? Have you recently lost the public transport you relied on, whether it is a bus or ring-and-ride? Let us know your views by leaving a comment below or emailing gemma.bradshaw@ageuk.org.uk

Age UK is committed to improving standards for people in later life. We seek to influence decision makers by conducting social and economic analysis, developing public policy proposals and shaping policy agendas in a wide range of areas. Find out more about our public policy work 

Keeping bus services free and sustainable

Over the last year there have been significant funding cuts to bus services. Many people will have seen the impact these changes are having on the ability of older people to get out to key services and to see friends and family.

With this in mind Age UK commissioned two research projects to evaluate the value of buses and concessionary travel for older people. Our recently published report –Getting out and about– summarises the findings of this research.

In short we found that keeping buses both free and sustainable is vital for older people to stay connected and maintain their independence.

Money management

The concession allows older people to reach key services, friends and family without having to make difficult financial decisions. Notably, ownership and use of the concessionary bus pass is highest for those on the lowest income.

‘Now I have free bus travel, I don’t need a car. I gave it up…and all the cost and worries of it breaking down and all that’ (Male, 77, town)

Continue reading “Keeping bus services free and sustainable”

Getting the heart back into our high streets

In the same week that the “Portas Pilots” were announced to revitalise our local high streets, shoppers in Leeds were taken by surprise as more than 50 older people gathered in the Victoria Quarter of the city to dance to T-Rex ‘We Love to Boogie’.

A city for all ages

They were there taking part in a ‘flash dance’ – inspired by ‘flash-mob’ campaigns where a group of people suddenly start an unannounced coordinated action in a public place to get their message heard. It was organised by Leeds Older People’s Forum (LOPF) to raise awareness of their campaign to make Leeds ‘a city for all ages’.

Frustrated by the promotion of Leeds as a city for young people, with a heavy focus on nightlife and clubbing, they wanted to highlight the common needs of older and younger people. Things like better public transport, public toilets and seating that make it easier to get into and around the place. Making the city a destination for everyone; a lesson that all high streets should take on board. Continue reading “Getting the heart back into our high streets”

Post Office revamp: will it pass the consumer test?

The government has announced a much welcome £1.3bn investment to modernise the Post Office network. There will be changes to 6,000 branches over the next three years designed to halt the decline in Post Office branch numbers. However, a report from Consumer Focus warns that the idea still has teething problems.

Modernisation plan: Post Office Locals

Following the Post Office closure programme everyone is well aware that the network needs modernising to put it on a more financially sustainable footing.

The Post Office provides vital services for older people. In many areas the Post Office provides the only access to postal and financial services that are close to people’s homes.

Part of the investment plan will see 2,000 branches revamped as Post Office “Locals”. In these branches Post Office services will no longer be at a dedicated counter but offered from a main retail counter in existing premises.

Photo: Abigail Silvester (Creative Commons)

The Local will provide a core range of services, which are regularly used by Post Office customers. The focus is on quick and easy services at the counter, which means more complex services, such as paying paper-based bills or parcel pick-up services, will not be available.

In many cases existing Post Offices will be converted to this new model, but it could also mean Post Office service popping up in petrol stations, convenience stores or even the local pub.

Making sure it works for consumers

Consumer Focus research has looked at the consumer experience in the 105 pilot Post Office Locals, which are already operating. Their findings show both risks and opportunities in this new way of providing Post Office services.

On the one hand the report notes that longer opening hours and the convenient location of the stores was seen to be popular with customers. This is good news as convenient access to Post Offices is of particular concern to older people – an Age UK survey found 18% of older people currently find it difficult to get to their Post Office.

However, Consumer Focus reported there were a number of experiences reported by customers that need to be taken into account before the model is rolled out further:

  • Products and services range: One in five say Locals offer only some or few of the products they need.
  • Privacy for personal or sensitive transactions: Over a third of users find the privacy of Post Office Locals to be poor and 41% say it is worse than in traditional Post Offices.
  • Reliable and consistent services: The mystery shopper research found a Second Class letter was sold correctly in only one in five transactions.
  • Cash withdrawals: There were incidents where a cap was put on the amount of cash or benefits a consumer can withdraw.

Some of these points correlate with concerns older people already have with Post Office services. For instance, in an Age UK survey about existing Post Office services 21% would like more privacy at the counter.

The investment programme has to be seen as an opportunity to maintain universal access to Post Office services. There is still time for these issues to be ironed out to make sure consumers get the best results from the change.

 None of these concerns are insurmountable, but it does need the Post Office to act on the findings.

Last year, Age UK helped 500,000 people put £120million back in their pockets through free benefits information and advice. This year, we will continue to break down the barriers that prevent people from claiming, in particular older people not realising that they are eligible for some additional income. For more information, please visit www.ageuk.org.uk/moremoney

Find out more about our work on consumer issues

Older drivers: Getting behind the headlines

We have all seen the caricatures of dangerous older drivers in the headlines. They often lurch towards the discriminatory assumption that people’s ability to drive stops on their 70th birthday.

But we are also likely to know of someone, a family member or friend, that should think about changing their driving.

The benefits of continuing to drive almost go without saying – it is available at any hour, provides door-to-door transport and is often seen as a symbol of independence. Research shows that many older people see the loss of a driver’s licence as a major stressful life event.

It is clear that we need to go beyond the headlines and have a sensible debate about what road safety means for people in later life.

Understanding road safety statistics

If you look at road safety statistics younger and older people are overrepresented in casualty statistics and causing crashes. This is central to the question of how safe older people are on the road.

First we need to be clear about the scale of the problem. That is to what extent do these trends increase over the age of 70.

Research from IAM found that although 8 per cent of drivers are over 70, they are involved in only around four per cent of injury crashes; whereas of the 15 per cent of drivers who are in their teens and 20s, 34 per cent are involved in injury crashes. Suggesting that the risk of older drivers being involved in an accident is in fact relatively small.

However, we also need to understand where the risk lies when there is an accident.

A recent report from the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety, It’s my choice, brought together a range of research on older drivers and transport, concluding they were not ‘a risk’ to other road users.

Rather they found that older drivers were putting themselves “at risk”.

The research suggest that, particularly for drivers over the age of 80, the increase in the number of casualties relates to their increasingly frailty, which makes people more vulnerable to injury in an accident.

The Department for Transport have reported that older people are between two and five times more likely to be killed or suffer a serious injury as a result of any road accident than a younger person.

Taking responsibility

This is not to say that we should carry on driving regardless.

For instance, some medical conditions will affect your driving and you should discuss this with your GP.

You might be concerned about bad habits or have lost confidence behind the wheel. In this case you should think about taking a refresher course. You may just want to pick the times you drive, such as leaving the car at home in bad weather.

When it comes to driving everyone is responsible, at whatever age, for making sure they are safe on the road. The emphasis should be on supporting older people to continue driving safely so that older people retain their ability to get out and about.

Make your voice heard on environmental challenges

A new survey aims to raise the profile of your views on the environment.

Many older people are keen environmental activists. Yet people in later life feel their views on the environment are sidelined.

The Greener Wiser Manifesto, written by a taskforce of older people, said they wanted a much greater role in decision making about the environment and issues that affect their communities.

The environment touches many elements of our day to day life. Whether it is our choices on transport, energy or recycling they can all have an impact – for good or bad – on the environment.

Older people can also find themselves disproportionately affected by the consequences of environmental change, such as air pollution, flooding, heat waves and other natural disaster.

The EnviroSurvey55 will provide a snap shot of the current attitudes of over 55s to environmental issues. In an age of austerity and rising environmental scepticism, it is important that the views of over 55s on what can or cannot be done to reduce our impact on the environment are heard.

This is an international survey and is being launched by a consortium of older people’s organisations, led by the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute and Simon Fraser University’s Gerontology Research Centre (Canada).

Don’t let your views on environmental issues go ignored. We all have a stake in our environmental future. Please can you spare a few minutes to complete the survey.

Guest Blog: The Dublin Declaration – a large step in the right direction

As part of our Pride of Place campaign to promote better neighbourhoods for older people we invited Paul McGarry from Manchester City Council to write this guest blog about his experience of Age Friendly Cities.

I’ve just finished reading an article by well-known social gerontologist Prof Alan Walker who argues (and I’m paraphrasing here) that social policy, in connection with older people, has become dominated by an “individualisation of the social” at the expense of what are sometimes called ‘structural’ explanations of, and policy responses to, ageing societies.

It is a position I have some sympathy with.  Too often it seems that we – the age sector – downplay how society creates the social, economic and political circumstances in which older people create and live their lives.  The result can be the endless pursuit of ‘evidence-based’ short-term interventions, whilst feeling frustration at not being able to tackle the underlying causes of ill-health, poverty or social exclusion in older age.  And sometimes researchers appear content to describe the lives that older people live whilst falling short of setting out arguments for change.

That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about my time at the First International Conference on Age-Friendly Communities held in Dublin on 28th-30th September and which launched the ‘Dublin Declaration.  More of that later.

The conference, which was expertly organised by Anne Connolly and the Irish Ageing Well team, attracted 400 delegates from 42 countries and featured presentations from leading European ageing researchers such as Chris Phillipson, Tom Scharf, Jenny de Jong Gierveld and Sheila Peace as well as planners, designers and political figures from across the globe.  It was also an opportunity to hear the latest from innovative programmes grouped around the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities such as New York and Lyon as well as those from the emerging economies.

I shared a platform with Grace Chan who leads an inspirational project in Hong Kong, setting out Manchester’s vision and describing some of the work we’ve done since 2003.  A well-stocked information stall was well received by delegates and Councillor Sue Cooley, Manchester Older People’s Champion, signed the Dublin Declaration on Age Friendly Cities and Communities on behalf of Manchester.

The Declaration builds on the work done by the World Health Organisation’s age-friendly environments programme.  It is a tightly argued two page document which sets out nine propositions relating to ageing in the C21st and commits signees to short-term action and longer-term objectives.  You can find it here.

I am a member of a small group that is now charged with developing a roadmap for the next phase of this work.  In the UK a number of partners are focusing their work on this agenda through a working group of the Age Action Alliance as a step towards establishing a UK wide network of cities.

My view is that in these difficult days the Declaration and the international movement attached to it offer an excellent opportunity to tackle some of the tough structural challenges we face.   I would encourage all local authorities, other agencies and in particular public health teams to endorse the Declaration and join the movement to create places, which as we say in Manchester, are “great to grow old”.

Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People, Public Health Manchester

Find out more about our Pride of Place campaign