Shining a light on later life

This blog was contributed by Andy Glyde, Senior Campaigner at Age UK.

The BBC season on ageing, When I’m 65, produced some excellent hard-hitting documentaries on what it is like to get older. As a self-confessed telly addict and campaigner on older people’s issues, it was right up my street.

The good thing about the season was its boldness for not holding back. This was strikingly clear in the first programme, When I Get Older, which exposed some of the toughest issues faced by older people: poverty, isolation, loneliness, bereavement and caring for a partner, followed by life in a care home. Even I have to admit to shedding a tear or two as the four older celebrities went through their journey of discovery.

The crucial thing throughout the entire series was that all of the older celebrities involved were honest about their pre-conceptions about later life; Lesley Joseph thinking that families should be fine to care for loved ones, John Simpson seeing little point to living with dementia and Tony Robinson having such a negative attitude towards care homes. As one might expect with such stories, each experienced an epiphany to one level or another about how they had completely misjudged the situations they found themselves in. Not that later life is always rosy, but it certainly is not always as bad as one might think.

For me, the most inspiring show of the season was the one that seemed to arouse the least attention. How to Live Beyond 100 met some of Britain’s centenarians and found out their experiences of life having reached the big 1-0-0. From playing golf to swimming to being involved in the community, each highlighted the importance of being active in later life.

My particular favourite was Fauja Singh, the 101 year old marathon runner, for whom I have a huge amount of respect for, particularly as I ran past him in the London Marathon earlier this year. Continue reading “Shining a light on later life”

Agenda for Later Life report – 12 challenges

This coming Tuesday Age UK launches our annual policy report, Agenda for Later Life 2011. The full report runs to 80 pages, but over the coming week or so, we’ll be highlighting some of the key points in a series of blog posts. The report opens with a digest of 2010 and a look forward to 2011, which will be mirrored at the Agenda for Later Life conference in the presentation of Tom Wright, Age UK’s chief executive.

We begin by celebrating the good news on public policy in 2010, thanks to the endeavours of both the incoming and outgoing administrations: sweeping age discrimination legislation, the indexation of pensions to earnings, the end of forced retirement; and cross-party commitment to radical reform of care and support. But we also predict that the prospects look much more bleak for 2011. The Spending Review announced spending cuts on an unprecedented scale. Now we have the early announcements on local cuts, we can see that vulnerable older people could suffer badly. The reality is that the genuine efforts the Government made to protect people in later life – by ring-fencing NHS spending, preserving universal benefits, and limiting the scale of social care cuts – just will not be enough to prevent hardship, especially as economic growth appears to be uncertain.

Taking a longer view, Age UK believes the scale of our national response to ageing still feels inadequate, for all the important political commitments of the last few years. There is no sustained, co-ordinated effort to address the scandal of persistent poverty that is designed into our pension system; to tackle hidden isolation and loneliness in our communities; to challenge disrespect and discrimination that erodes opportunity; or to re-focus an NHS that still does not see later life as its ‘core business’.

Age UK has long argued that the nation needs sustained joined-up leadership to help prepare for our ageing society. Despite all the recent commitments, no one is joining the dots or thinking long term. In 2011 we will work to put pressure on politicians on all sides to see this change. We hope that root and branch reviews of care funding and the state pension could open the the way to a wider cross-government programme on ageing. The alternative – in the context of spending cuts, localism and the log-jam of implementation – would be retreat from strategic planning for our ageing nation, with each new challenge written off as ‘too difficult’. Continue reading “Agenda for Later Life report – 12 challenges”