Changing one thing in Rochdale

It takes just 2 hours to get to Manchester from London and only another 20 minutes to get to Rochdale by train. But when we arrive at the small cul-de-sac of bungalows, it feels a long way from Westminster and the Comprehensive Spending Review. But it is in places like this that the impact will be felt.

Welcome to RochdaleMy colleague and I are in Rochdale to meet with a group of older people. The driving force behind the group – I’ll call him Mr Jones – contacted Age UK because he was concerned about the state of the little cul-de-sac where he and his neighbours live.

I’m hoping that the group will take up our new Change One Thing campaign. We’re going to be supporting local groups of people in later life to campaign to make their neighbourhoods better.

We know from a wealth of research that the things older people say they need in their areas are often very practical – public transport to get around, benches and seats, accessible public toilets, and so on. We want to help groups identify the one thing which would make the most difference and run a local campaign to change it. (Hence the name!)

We’ve arranged to meet at the house of Mr Jones’ next-door-neighbour. While she makes us a cup of tea, Mr Jones pops across the cul-de-sac to gather the others. In the end we have a group of four.

We start to explore the problems that they face. Graffiti, litter and poor service from council and housing association contractors are all mentioned.

Two themes emerge from what they say. One is the degree to which they depend on ‘the powers that be’ (mostly the council and the housing association) for things like household repairs and maintenance, and the constant battle they feel they are waging to be heard by those powers.

The other is the support they give each other, and the sense of community they obviously have. I’m interested to see what the Big Society might look like here.

After quite some discussion, and with our encouragement, they settle on one issue to tackle: the poor state of the pavements in the cul-de-sac. Then we go on to think about who could deliver this, and how they can go about organising a campaign to persuade them.

If they can organise themselves, and stay focused, I think they have a reasonable chance of success. After all, in many ways, it’s a no brainer – the cost of repairing a few pavements is trivial compared to the cost of treating a hip fracture, or of providing home care to someone who is unable to get out and about after a fall.

But with cuts to council budgets inevitable, I have a nasty feeling that pavement repairs is exactly the kind of thing which may just not happen in the future. Let’s hope that councils will take the challenge of seeing the big picture.

Comprehensive Spending Review a fair deal for older people

Overall, today’s Comprehensive Spending Review represents a fair deal for people in later life, with a range of announcements on pensions, social care and universal benefits. Firstly, we were relieved to see no cuts to universal benefits paid to older people, from free eye tests to the Winter Fuel Allowance. These benefits make a huge difference to the lives of the millions of older people managing on low incomes, and their protection is very welcome.

The Treasury obviously listened to Age UK’s top call for the Spending Review, “Don’t cut care”, with care budgets fairing far better than expected just a few weeks ago.  The Chancellor rather over-egged the announcement, by describing the package as £2 billion of new money. In truth, the extra resource from the Department of Health will only plug the gap in the government-wide cut to local government support. Overall, we expect that spending on care will fall modestly in real terms over the next four years; but it could have been far, far worse. Half of the money for care will come from the NHS budget, which we support, as health and social care are inextricably linked. The rest will be a grant for councils that will be earmarked for care services, but not ring-fenced – so it will be down to local campaigners to ensure that councils actually maintain care budgets in each community.

On the NHS, we were pleased to see an acknowledgement that the proposed £20bn savings would need to be reinvested, and that it was important to make these savings to face up to the reality of our ageing population. Sustained funding for dementia research will be welcomed by the thousands of sufferers and their families and friends across the UK.

We saw good news on the Post Office network, a vital lifeline for many older people, particularly those in rural areas; the temporary increase in the level of Cold Weather Payments will become permanent; and the Government’s commitment to roll out superfast broadband should hopefully encourage more people in later life to go online.

However, it wasn’t all good news. The State Pension Age will now be raised to 66 between 2018 and 2020 for both men and women, substantially before the previous plan of 2025-26 – and in breach of the coalition agreement’s commitment not to raise women’s state pension age. Many people approaching the end of their working lives will be disappointed that this rise is coming six years earlier than expected, and it is worth bearing in mind that this change will not save the Government any money for another eight years. That said, it could have been worse, as the original proposal was for men’s pension age to rise from 2016.

The Warm Front programme will, as expected, be phased out when new energy efficiency and climate change programmes come on stream. To accompany this, we now need urgent national and local plans for tackling fuel poverty, particularly among older people. One in five households containing someone over 65 are currently experiencing fuel poverty – that’s too many households facing the difficult choice between heating and eating. With energy prices continuing to rise, we’ll be scrutinising the Government’s forthcoming proposals to ensure they prioritise affordability for low income groups, not just climate change.

The Chancellor has done better than many feared at safeguarding public services and pensioner benefits over the short term. But so far, the Government’s thinking has been focused on the next four years, not the decades to come. With the immediate task of cutting the deficit now underway, Age UK will be challenging the Government to raise its sights to the horizon and develop responses to the long-term challenges of our ageing society, across care, the NHS, pensions and the consumer market.

12 challenges for our ageing nation

Welcome to Age UK’s new blog for everyone interested in later life and our ageing society. Age UK experts will be writing on age-related topics across politics, public policy, service delivery, research, campaigning and international affairs.

Over the next week or so, our main focus will be Wednesday’s Spending Review announcement (no surprise there). We’ll be blogging live while the Chancellor is speaking and providing more detailed analysis in the hours and days that follow. But in my first post, I want to step back from the nitty gritty of spending cuts and policy programmes.

Spending Reviews should be a moment for governments to ask themselves big, long-term questions. So what are the key long-term challenges we face as an ageing society, to which the Government should be responding? In our submission to the Spending Review we picked 12:

  1. Creating a savings and pension culture, to deliver good pension provision for everyone currently in working life
  2. Extending working lives to achieve sustainable national and personal finances as life expectancy rises
  3. Preventing longer periods of illness in later life, through the promotion of healthy lifestyles, the rollout of recent innovation in health and care, and sustained Research and Development.
  4. Reducing levels of inequality within each age cohort and moving towards the progressive eradication of pensioner poverty
  5. Delivering care and support which provides autonomy, security and dignity to frail older people and their families
  6. Fundamentally changing attitudes to later life and ageing
  7. Building communities that can tackle severe isolation and exclusion towards the end of life
  8. ‘Age proofing’ services and environments so they meet the needs and aspirations of every age group, including reform of the NHS to meet the needs of late old age
  9. Engaging people in later life with successive waves of new technology
  10. Re-imagining and re-designing every stage of life in the knowledge of very long life expectancies – ie, how we combine education, work, leisure and retirement across our lives
  11. Supporting strong families and intergenerational ties at a time of huge social change: growing ethnic and cultural diversity, increased family breakdown, and growing domestic and international mobility
  12. Planning for sustainable growth in the share of GDP spent on age-related social security and public services and the long-term fiscal implications

Now, there’s nothing like a list to kick off discussion, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. Are these that issues that will really matter over the next decade or so, if we’re going to improve later life in the UK? Have we missed something? Which matter most? And how on earth should politicians, public servants, businesses, charities and individuals set about responding?

Tell us what you think.

By Andrew Harrop

Why Age UK is blogging

This is Age UK’s pilot blog and we’re really excited about it.

Primarily, it will be used to talk about political and policy issues that affect people in later life and some of Age UK’s experts in various key areas will be posting their thoughts over the next few months.

While we don’t believe that any time is more important than any other for older people, the Government’s Comprehensive Spending Review and the fallout from the cuts is liable to affect people in ways that no-one can imagine.

The Age UK blog is here to try and make sense of the key decisions and issues that affect people in later life.

And, as we’ve already mentioned, this is a pilot blog and we’re keen for you to get involved and let us know what you think. A blog is nothing without comment and feedback from its audience, so please make your views heard.

We look forward to hearing from you.