UK life reimagined

A demographic revolution is under way, with more of us living longer than ever before. Fifty years ago there were nearly 20 million people in the world age 80 or over; now that figure stands at about 105 million, and it’s rising fast. Many – though not enough – of our older population are in good health and will retire with a decent income and a strong social network, and many have much to offer society.

The timing of the debate around the aging population in the UK is then 440px_older_carers_handsperhaps unfortunate, held as it is against a back­drop of a beleaguered economy. Since the Coalition Government came to power we have seen cuts to government services and working-age benefits and a further £10 billion reduction in welfare to come. Against this context there is a perception that older people have fared better than most other groups but media commentary suggesting that today’s older people belong to “the lucky generation” obscure the enormous variations that exist. This is particularly stark in terms of poverty and wealth – fewer than half of all retirees have an income big enough to pay income tax.  Older people’s median income lev­els remain lower than those of the population as a whole. Continue reading “UK life reimagined”

No news is not always good news

The Chancellor delivered his third Autumn Statement today. He tried to strike a tone of cautious optimism over recent economic data suggesting the end of the recession and rising employment. Underneath this, however, there were more cuts as Government struggles to eliminate the structural deficit as it has prioritised.

Yet again the biggest omission from the Chancellor’s statement was any plan to help resolve the crisis in social care. We welcome the continued protection for the NHS budget but unless funding for social care is urgently addressed then the knock on costs to the NHS will continue to grow. The announcement of a further two per cent cut to council budgets in two years’ time is likely to exacerbate this if it leads to further reductions to frontline care and support services that are often already stripped to the bone.

Allowing the social care system to limp along, leaving too many older people isolated and afraid of what tomorrow might bring, is not only morally questionable but makes no financial sense. Reform of care funding would be a worthy legacy for any Government, it remains a scandal that 18 months after Andrew Dilnot published his report, it remains unresolved. Continue reading “No news is not always good news”

Party conferences 2012

As this year’s conference season commences, we’re clear about what the Government should be focussing on for older people: A firm commitment to Dilnot and social care reform, and the publication of a white paper and bill to introduce a flat-rate single tier pension.

Care is in crisis with many of those who need help and support in later life being badly let down by a faltering system, while others find themselves having to sell their homes in order to pay for the support they need. Of the 2 million older

Age UK’s party conference stand

people in England with care-related needs nearly 800,000 receive no support of any kind from public or private sector agencies.  At the same time, the legal framework of the social care system is not fit for purpose. There is a range of legislation, case law and guidance leading to a legal maze that fails to give people the support and clarity they need at what is often the most vulnerable times in their lives.

Age UK has therefore very much welcomed the Government’s White Paper and draft Care and Support Bill which were published in July. Together, we believe they have the potential to significantly improve the quality of care available and help create a care system that is fairer and more straightforward for older people and their families. Continue reading “Party conferences 2012”

Means testing could make things worse for those that need help most

It seems incredible that, in the name of cost saving and to prevent a few well off pensioners from receiving some pretty modest benefits, ministers can be entertaining the idea of extending means-testing.

Making people apply for benefits they are entitled to is notoriously inefficient. Pension Credit is not claimed by about 30 per cent of those eligible and Council Tax Benefit by about 40 per cent. When Gordon Brown refused to increase the state pension above the rate of inflation (with a freakish inflation figure in 1999 leading to a 75p increase), he argued that a means-tested Pension Credit was the efficient answer.

However, even he exercised a balance, by making the Winter Fuel Payments universal and restricting the free TV licence to the oldest – who are demonstrably the poorest part of our none-too-wealthy older population, and of course a means-tested claim costs ten times as much to process as an automatic one.

Bizarrely this proposal is surfacing as the ONS publish figures on the poverty risk facing older people ion the UK and the EU. It turns out, according to their figures, that older people in the UK are faring worse than their counterparts in most of the rest of Europe.

There are more than enough poor pensioners struggling with energy bills and food price inflation to maintain some parts of our benefit system which actually get help to them.

Some older celebrities were proud to proclaim last winter that they were donating their Winter Fuel Payment to charity – that is fine and that is their right. It is hard to imagine many of the seriously rich pensioners on the buses with their passes.  Continue reading “Means testing could make things worse for those that need help most”

60 Years of Birthday Greetings

The DWP sees itself as the lead Government department on older people.   With a quirky newsrelease (29 May), it sought to link its work on pensions with the Diamond Jubilee, and issued a story entitled ‘Pensioners Change the Face of Britain over the Queen’s Reign’.   So no lack of bureaucratic artiface there, despite Steve Webb’s customary whimsical supportive commentary.

A killer fact is that there are around 13,120 centenarians today compared with 300 in 1952.   The Queen has sent around 110,000 telegrams and messages to centenarians during her reign.   A case of royal writers’ cramp – a case for a quick appeal to fund a new fountain pen and plentiful supply of ink for the years ahead?   We are living a decade longer than our peers in 1952, but only in the last six years or so have we begun to remodel our state pension scheme to reflect our changed society, and only then at a glacial speed.

Beveridge left us a legacy of a flat-rate state pension, designed with the limited ambition of protecting older people from poverty, and based on a model where men worked and paid contributions, with their wives (who worked at home unpaid, and to whom they remained loyally married all their lives) would share if they were widowed.   With a few tweaks, that model remained right into this century.   It is to the credit of the last and present Government that we have seen that model change – if modestly.  Continue reading “60 Years of Birthday Greetings”