At the Centre for Ageing Better, we often say that the UK is experiencing a social revolution. People now live much longer than their parents and grandparents did. A child born today has a one in three chance of living to the age of 100 – the advances we’ve seen in longevity are truly incredible.
The problem is, when we talk about the ‘challenges’ of an ageing population, we make it easy to fall in to the trap of focusing on just the problems – such as rising pension and health care costs – and forgetting about the immense opportunity of living longer lives.
For me, it’s important to remember that people in later life contribute massively to the economy – in the UK, there are over 10m over-50s in the workplace. The gross income of households with an individual aged 50+ amounted to 47% of total UK household income in 2014/15. Older people also contribute hugely to society; one in five people aged 50–64 in the UK are carers and around two-thirds of this age cohort make some form of contribution to their communities.
However, too many people are missing out on a good later life. Around 1.8 million households headed by someone aged 50 to State Pension Age are struggling to maintain their living standards and save for retirement. Many people would like to move to a more age-friendly home, but find there isn’t anything suitable near to where they live and are connected to their communities. And while we are living longer, the number of years we can expect to have good health as we age varies greatly depending on where in the country we live.
We need action to respond to and plan for this demographic change across public and private sectors.
- Housing – We need more affordable and attractive ways of adapting and improving our homes. Every new home built should be ‘age-proof’ - adaptable and accessible, whatever people’s ages or abilities.
- Work – We need to explore how new technologies can support people to manage health conditions in the workplace. Employers need to offer flexible working, training and development or older workers, and change recruitment processes to be inclusive.
- Communities – We need good transport links, opportunities to get involved in civic life and places and outdoor spaces to meet people’s needs. We need more places to become Age-friendly Communities and commit to supporting residents to age well.
- Health – We need to focus on preventing people from developing the health conditions and disabilities which reduce their quality of life. If we can help people to remain physically active for longer and support them to adopt healthier lifestyles, we can make great strides.
I think that the real challenge is to seize the opportunity of a good later life – and stop thinking about ageing as challenge to overcome.