How are the current policies of UK government and businesses meeting the needs of an ageing society?

1.4 million people in the UK are now aged over 85 and the numbers of older people continue to rise. Age UK’s new report, Agenda for Later Life 2012, looks at how public policy is meeting the challenges of an ageing society both at home and abroad.

This annual stock take sets out our longer term vision and the priorities for action in each area. We outline the opportunities to build on the positive developments of 2011, such as the publication of the Dilnot report on care funding, proposals for reform of State Pensions and the abolition of the Default Retirement Age.

While the Coalition Government is starting to address some of the challenges associated with ageing, action is needed to bring together disparate policy threads and to create an overarching, strategic framework for active ageing for today and tomorrow.

This should cover what Government, local authorities, the private and voluntary sector and individuals need to do. After all, our ageing society affects us all. Continue reading “How are the current policies of UK government and businesses meeting the needs of an ageing society?”

Making older people visible in emergencies

Today our sister organisation, HelpAge International, won the world’s largest humanitarian prize – the Hilton Humanitarian Prize – in recognition of “its work to alleviate human suffering”.  This is a timely award on the day we present our vision for older people affected by crises and disasters in Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life report.

Older women hit by severe flooding in Pakistan.Age UK believes that people in later life must receive the protection and assistance they need and deserve following humanitarian emergencies.  HelpAge International does a tremendous job ensuring that the interests of older people in developing countries are represented and their contributions recognised.  

And this is imperative because the world is getting older; more and more civilians are dying in conflict; and natural disasters are becoming more frequent and deadly.  In fact:

  • The most rapid increase in the 60+ population is occurring in the developing world
  • Since 1945, 90 per cent of casualties in conflict have been civilians
  • Climate-releated disasters are increasing: the first four years of the 21st century saw an average of 326 disasters a year – a doubling in twenty years.

Older people are the invisible casualties of conflict and climate change.  And they are often neglected in the response by governments and humanitarian agencies alike. 

Part of the reason they are neglected is because of the myths that exist around older people in humanitarian emergencies.  These myths include: the extended family and community will always protect people in later life; older people only have themselves to worry about; and a humanitarian agency will look after older people through general aid distributions.   

In reality, migration and urbanisation mean that the extended family is no longer as common as it once was.   And many people may not have the resources or ability to help others at a time when they are also suffering.  

Furthermore, while some older people may not have families to care for them, many others are actually caring for grandchildren as their own children migrate in search of work or die through conflict and illness.  So in many cases, people in later life not only have to look after themselves, but also the children in their care.  

Finally, there are no United Nations agencies and very few international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) dedicated to older people.  Besides, older people have particular nutritional, cultural and health needs that are often not met by general relief distributions.  Sick, injured and frail people might find it difficult to queue or walk to relief distribution points, so they may not be able to access aid in the first place.  Relief packages may contain food that is too heavy to carry, too difficult to chew or lacking the nutrients that older people need.

That is why the work of our sister organisation, HelpAge International, is so important.  And it is only right and proper that the Conrad N Hilton Foundation should recognise their invaluable work.  Congratulations HelpAge!

Age UK’s annual policy conference, Agenda for Later Life 2012, is taking place today. Follow the conference tweets on Twitter #AFLL

Read the Agenda for Later Life  2012 report

What’s the point of the Age Action Alliance?

 The needs and aspirations of older people deserve more serious attention – not just because they are a fast growing element in the population.   They can no longer be lumped together and stereotyped as passive and undemanding ‘pensioners’:  they are the best educated, fittest, most diverse generation of older people we have ever seen in history.

Yet perversely, their numbers include a growing group of the most socially excluded people in society. Approaching one in five live below the poverty line, millions are living alone, and clusters of supportive family members living nearby is a thing of the past. Traditional networks centred on post offices, local bank branches, or village or neighbourhood retailers, are dwindling.   The digital age is advancing relentlessly, and a generation of older people are being left in the slipstream.   The loudest voices in society are calling for choice and ‘personalisation’, but this is merely confusing if not supported by information and advice.

Government, public services, the commercial world and the voluntary and community agencies need to take a fresh look at the older population in all these dimensions.   And against a backdrop of austerity, all need to find sharper, smarter ways of reaching out to older people.

That is the simple starting point of the Age Action Alliance. The objective is to:

  • bring together in new partnerships organisations which have neither thought nor needed to collaborate in the past,
  • explore ways of working together which can share insights, knowledge and resources,
  • seek new ways to deliver information, services and support to older people.  

 The focus is on people who are socially excluded or at risk of landing there.

Do we need a new organisation to do this?   Is there not a lot of this happening already?   Of course there is, and where there is good practice we want to celebrate and pluralise it.   The organisation is essentially a coalition of the willing, sharing and developing ideas through a website.

There will be a lively discussion about the Age Action Alliance at Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life conference on 8 March.   The initiative for the Alliance was taken by Age UK and the DWP, but it is ‘owned’ by the partners who step up to work together.   Too many good ideas have been lost as funding streams dried up, or the wilful individuals driving them moved on.   Society is facing unprecedented changes and tensions, but out of that we want a better deal for older people.

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012

Find out more about the Age Action Alliance

Read the latest Age Action Alliance blog posts

Inclusive design – luxury or “must have”?

Philippa Aldrich is the founder of The Future Perfect Company, which promotes and sells good design for an ageing population. Philippa will be speaking about inclusive design at our Agenda for Later Life 2012 conference.

In these cash-straightened times it is easy to dismiss inclusive design as a luxury. If we are finding it difficult to find the money for the most basic of care for our older people, why are we wasting money on re-designing the products we already have? However, inclusive design may actually hold the key to reducing future care costs as well as improving the quality of all our lives as we get older.

At its most simplest, inclusive or universal design means designing for as many people as possible, taking into account the diversity of their abilities.  As many designers have up till now been focussing on younger consumers, the idea of inclusive design is today being used increasingly as a way of encouraging designers to think about the older people who are making up a bigger and bigger proportion of our population.

Not only is there an increasing demand for inclusively designed products, many older people for the first time have the money to buy them. Age UK have predicted that the spending power of people over the age of 65 in the UK is over £100 billion.

But why would people choose inclusively designed products over their mainstream equivalents?

Older people, like any other sector of the population, like products to be attractive and stylish – something that unfortunately cannot be said of many products specifically designed for their use.  And many of the designers working in this area have taken this on board. But more than mere aesthetics, an inclusively designed product can lead to increased and prolonged independence. – something which most people profess to want.  These products can either be small scale such as a teapot with a second handle for easy pouring or large scale such as automatic doors which are easy to open for someone with limited mobility.

There is also something very satisfying and empowering about using a product which is properly designed and does its job well. How much more likely are we to cook or garden if we have the right tools for the job which we enjoy using and which do not strain our wrists?

The best thing about inclusive design is that if you design with the old in mind, the resulting product is easy to use for everyone. It is not only older people who would appreciate another teapot handle,  easy to open doors or well designed garden tools. Think how popular the so-called “pensioner trolleys” in supermarkets have become.

So far from being frivolous, I think inclusive design is becoming increasingly important to the quality of our lives – and is an area which deserves investment in this era of cuts.

We will be holding a ‘twitter conversation’ about inclusive design at 11am on Monday 13 February 2012. If you are interested in design for an ageing population please join us by using the hashtag #ageukdebate

Find out more about Agenda for Later Life 2012