The impact of bus cuts on older people in rural areas

We have heard a lot lately from various politicians about the need to examine the universal benefits received by older people and in particular the concessionary bus pass. It seems that in the age of austerity, even something that has been so successful and proved so popular, is subject to review.

But it is not just the threat from government to withdraw the bus pass from all bus cutsbut the poorest, there is also the threat to bus funding from the imminent spending review. Cuts to bus services will hit the poorest and most vulnerable the hardest.

Older and disabled people have hugely benefited from free bus travel and often rely on public transport to do their shopping, get to their GP and hospital appointments and visit friends. Continue reading “The impact of bus cuts on older people in rural areas”

Prepare for the flood

North Wales has become the latest area of the country to suffer severe floods; about 500 homes were hit by floodwaters in St Asaph when the river Elwy burst its banks, breaking through defences and turning streets into rivers. Tragically a 91 year old woman died as a result.

It is three years since Cockermouth experienced devastating floods and two years since Cornwall was hit. Once again this year the South West has been adversely affected by unseasonal rainfall causing rivers to breach natural and man-made defences.

Of course Local Age UKs can help and were able to make a real difference in Cockermouth where flood support workers played their part during the evacuation. For older people, flooding can cause particular difficulties, preventing them from reaching essential services, such as hospitals, GP’s or just the local shops. And the problems do not end when the flood waters recede; many homes remain uninhabitable for months afterwards. Continue reading “Prepare for the flood”

Police and Crime Commissioners

In terms of elections, this week’s chance to vote for Police and Crime Commissioners in your local police force area may not be up there with deciding the next leader of the free world, but in their own way the elections are significant.

This will be the first time that voters will have had the opportunity to elect Commissioners, who will be accountable for how crime is tackled in their area. Apart from London, where the Mayor has taken on the powers of a Commissioner, every police force in England and Wales will gain a new elected leader.

Crime is a major cause of concern to older people and fear of crime can increase isolation. But there is also evidence that older victims often experience ill health and reduced wellbeing, particularly if they are subjected to crimes such as distraction burglaries, which often target older people.

Photo: elliott.bledsoe (Creative Commons)

At present, older people’s experiences and views do not adequately inform crime reduction, so if Police and Crime Commissioners are to ensure their community safety and crime reduction services tackle crime affecting older people, they need to take time to find out their views and act on them. Continue reading “Police and Crime Commissioners”

Prison is not the preserve of the young

Amid all the discussion following the recent riots in England about how to punish those responsible, there appeared a footnote from government about the need to ensure prisoners released from jail without a job are fast-tracked on to the government’s work programme.

This would seem sensible, certainly in comparison with calls to evict families of convicted rioters from social housing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke also weighed in by suggesting that locking people up without reducing the risk of them committing new crimes against new victims the minute they get out does not make for intelligent sentencing.

The backdrop of recent disorder and the relatively young age of many involved, means that once again, a national debate about penal reform has failed to acknowledge what many in the prison estate know only too well; that the older prison population is growing.

It is also clear that the increases in numbers are not a one off, but part of a trend as a result of changes in attitudes within society and the criminal justice system, coupled with an ageing population.

However, to date no additional resources have been made available to meet the needs of this particular group of offenders, either within or outside prison. And according to HM Inspectorate of Prisons in a report from 2008, apart from short sections in the Prison Service Orders on disability and women, there remains no national strategy for older prisoners as such, supported by mandatory national and local standards.

While Age UK knows that many of these prisoners have been found guilty of serious crimes, it is important that this is not used as a reason for them to receive sub-standard support. In order to reduce the likelihood of these prisoners reoffending, it is imperative that those services which best aid rehabilitation – health and social care support, housing and pensions advice, education and training – be made available to them, both in prison and following release.

Read about how Age UK is advising commissioners on services that we make available for older prisoners and older ex-offenders.

Tackling fuel poverty and excess winter deaths

It may seem like an odd time to be thinking about the winter and the severe weather we have experienced over the last couple of years, but this month saw the publication of an important report by Prof Sir Michael Marmot and his report team for Friends of the Earth, looking at the health impacts of cold homes and fuel poverty. The report concludes that excess winter deaths (above what would normally be expected) are almost three times higher in the coldest quarter of housing than in the warmest quarter. As a result, thousands of deaths could be prevented each year if British homes were made more energy efficient.

In considering the impact on older people in particular, the report concluded that “the effects of cold housing were evident in terms of higher mortality risk, physical health and mental health.” It goes on to say that improving the energy efficiency of the existing stock is a long-term, sustainable way of ensuring multiple gains, including environmental, health and social gains. Around 5,500 more deaths occur in the coldest quarter of houses every year than would happen if those houses were warm. In 2009-10, there were an estimated 25,400 excess winter deaths, of which 21.5% can be attributed to the coldest quarter of housing.

Perhaps most tellingly, Prof Marmot argues that Government policies, actions and financial support for interventions aimed at reducing fuel poverty and improving the energy efficiency of existing stock need to match its stated commitment to both the public health and climate change agendas. The Government’s current support and financial commitment to addressing the problem of poor thermal efficiency of housing remains inadequate, given the potential it has to improve the health and wellbeing of the population and help mitigate climate change.

If, as the report concludes, a renewed effort is needed to support programmes and policies which have shown to be successful in increasing energy efficiency of homes and improving the health of their residents, then much of this effort will have to come through the ‘Warm Front’ scheme. This supplied grants to help pay for heating and insulation improvements, but the programme was not well targeted and it effectively ran out of money, leading to its suspension in December 2010. It was reopened in April 2011, but is now targeted at a smaller range of households on certain income-related benefits and living in properties that are poorly insulated or have a broken heating system.

The government is meanwhile conducting an independent review into the definition of fuel poverty, which while it might help us identify those most in need, will do little to address the underlying problem of cold homes and how to treat them.

Here at Age UK, we aim to tackle the problem on a number of levels, not least by offering practical advice and support services to help older people live safer, healthier and more fulfilling lives. Find out more at Spread the Warmth.

Determining deprivation

Following the recent local elections, the Liberal Democrats will want to raise their profile within the coalition and show that they still have influence at a policy making level. One positive outcome of this appears to be the announcement this week of a new pensioner material deprivation indicator.

On Monday morning at the DWP, Pensions Minister Steve Webb explained that the new indicator would capture wider elements of everyday life that are key indicators of older people’s experiences.

While income is a good indicator of deprivation among all age groups, the aim is to take a more rounded view of the difficulties faced by older people. This, in turn, should help government and third sector organisations to identify the most vulnerable and pilot ways to tackle social isolation. Continue reading “Determining deprivation”

A good place to live?

Cambridge countryside by Flickr user carl m
Photo by Carl M via Flickr

According to a recent survey conducted by Halifax, the countryside around Cambridge is the best place to live in rural Britain. It scored well for its mix of high incomes, life expectancy, good health and high educational standards. Apparently the good weather experienced there was also a factor.

The survey examined every rural location and scored them on criteria ranging from the size of homes, traffic flow, employment and crime, to the aforementioned weather and exam results, to create a chart of desirable places to live.

However, there is another side to rural living, especially as we age. Within 20 years half the adult population in England will be aged 50 years and over, and will account for 40% of the total population. Rural areas are ageing at a faster rate than urban areas and the fastest rate of growth is amongst the oldest old (age 85 years and over). Continue reading “A good place to live?”