Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives

It may be measured in baby steps, but at last the Department of Health (DH) is acknowledging the importance of cold homes, and living in fuel poverty, to the health debate.

Age UK’s lobbying and campaigning on fuel poverty issues is strongly grounded on the health implications – the ill-health arising from not keeping adequately warm, measured both in terms of human suffering and costs to the NHS – so this engagement by the DH is a significant advance.  Two short reports from Age UK have looked at recent public health initiatives to assess their impact.

aOne is concerned with the Warm Homes Healthy People programme.  This was announced as a ‘one-off’ in 2011, then repeated in 2012.

It was a £20m prize pot to which local authorities were invited to bid, provided their proposals were to address ‘winter pressures’, and provided they were doing so in partnership with the local voluntary and community groups.

It stimulated a remarkable range of varied activities, from clearing snow and going shopping in adverse weather, to providing hot meals and issuing ‘winter survival packs’, to checking electric blankets and checking benefit entitlements.

It drove a wave of local, community activity, and local Age UK partners were substantially involved. This report looks at their experience of the project, and it is overwhelmingly supportive. Continue reading “Cold homes, fuel poverty and healthy lives”

Meeting the challenges of an ageing population

Each year, Age UK stands back and takes an overview of how society is meeting the needs of people in later life and sets out our agenda for public policy in the year ahead. In our Agenda for Later Life 2013 report we track changes in a range of key areas including money matters, work and learning and health and social care.

A couple smile at each other in the garden.

Public attitudes, policies and the economy all impact on people’s experiences of ageing.  This year, as the economy bumps along the bottom, it would be all too easy to concentrate on the challenges we face. However, we strongly believe in the need to focus on the opportunities as well.

The publication of a White Paper setting out plans for a new single tier State Pension brings hope of better provision in future for those with low incomes and interrupted working lives. Continue reading “Meeting the challenges of an ageing population”

Ready for ageing?

Reablement photo by Philippe Leroyer

All too often, our ageing population is represented as an unmitigated disaster for the nation and the words ‘ticking timebomb’ appear with monotonous regularity.

A new report from the House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change offers a refreshing change of perspective. It recognises that ‘longer lives represent progress, and the changes do not mean a great economic or general fiscal crisis’. But it also sets out a number of challenges facing us – and some thoughtful solutions for change.

The Committee, chaired by Lord Filkin, called the nation ‘woefully unprepared’ for the changes ahead and recommended a number of actions for all of us. The Government is challenged to set out its vision for public services in an ageing society in a White Paper.

In particular, the report rightly recognises the increased strain on health and social care and calls for greater integration and much more focus on prevention, early diagnosis and managing long-term conditions, with patients fully engaged in decision-making. Age UK agrees. Continue reading “Ready for ageing?”

Have your say – a better deal for older leaseholders

The retirement homes sector has come under fire in recent years over reportedly unfair practices by some retirement housing providers – aspects of which have recently been investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT).  Problems include confusing service charges, lack of competitive tendering for maintenance contracts, high transfer fees, high commission charges on building insurance and unfair rental charges for wardens flats.

In response to these concerns, the Association of Retirement Housing Managers 440x210-woman-leaning-on-fireplace(ARHM) – which the majority of providers are members of – has worked with Age UK and a panel of leasehold residents to improve their voluntary code of practice.  The ARHM has also given older people and their families the opportunity to help shape the new code to improve practice in the retirement home industry. This consultation comes after a recent roundtable discussion, chaired by the Housing Minister, Mark Prisk, looking at promoting best practice in the sector. This is helpful, but it is vital that as well as listening to the views of the retirement housing industry, residents also have an opportunity to express their views and influence Government policy. Continue reading “Have your say – a better deal for older leaseholders”

Sheltered and retirement housing – ‘Making it Work for Us’

Age UK has launched a new report on sheltered and retirement housing ‘Making it Work for Us’, coinciding with a meeting of MPs and Peers to discuss reforms to leasehold housing. The complexity of leasehold agreements in retirement housing makes some older people vulnerable to financial exploitation – an issue we address in our report. Older residents tell us they are increasingly concerned about lack of transparency in leasehold contracts, particular in regard to service charges.

To produce the report Age UK supported a panel of older residents to look at how sheltered and retirement housing could be improved. Most of the residents were positive about what retirement housing could offer, but had concerns about a failure to address issues around bad practice.

Why is this so important? Currently only a very small percentage of older people actually live in retirement housing; the vast majority live in ordinary mainstream housing. Yet there is a growing interest in the role of retirement housing in freeing up larger family homes for younger people.  Achieving this is difficult when there just isn’t enough affordable, well designed retirement housing in the right locations to make a real difference. Continue reading “Sheltered and retirement housing – ‘Making it Work for Us’”