Age UK’s vision is for the UK to be a great place to grow older, where everyone has the chance to love later life. Yet there are still 1.6 million older people living in poverty; a million older people in the UK haven’t spoken to anyone for a month; 870,000 older people who need care and support miss out each year and 25,000 older people die needlessly of cold during the winter. Living longer should be a cause for celebration yet stereotypical attitudes and a lack of joined up thinking and strategic action holds back the potential of our ageing population.
Where we live and our immediate environment sets the tone for daily life. Older people often act as the glue which holds our communities together. They contribute a huge amount to society and the economy – a massive £61 billion each year through work, caring, volunteering and as Councillors and civic leaders. We all want to feel valued and remain connected to our communities as we age, to retain a sense of purpose and wellbeing. Yet there is often inadequate choice, flexibility, support and opportunity to make the most of later life. Local Government has a crucial and fundamental role in shaping places in which people can age well, thrive and maintain good health, wellbeing and independence into later life. This isn’t just good for individuals but saves the public purse in the longer term. Demographic change and austerity means this approach must be properly supported and strategically resourced by Central Government to enable Local Government to create resilient ageing communities.
So what should the priority be for the first 100 days of the next government? Whoever forms the next Government, they must now grasp the nettle, invest to save and deliver the shift in attitudes which will enable our ageing population to be a significant benefit. There must be a cross departmental ageing strategy which allows everyone fair access to health, care, support and the dignity they deserve in later life, through properly resourcing the Care Act (2014), implementation and investing in person centred integrated care, and strategically involving the voluntary sector. Government must promote healthy living and active ageing – to prevent or delay physical and cognitive decline – but also invest in innovations as assistive technologies, and lifetime homes which are energy efficient and can be adapted to enable people to live in their own homes for longer.
Economic development needs to consider skills and jobs for populations, enabling choice, opportunity, flexibility and skill sharing across all ages. It should also consider that transport, well maintained pavements, public loos and lighting enable older people to get out and about to local shops and volunteering and saves on falls prevention and costly health and care. Access to information and opportunities, support and entitlements must continue to be available offline as well as online – enabling people to have enough money to remain healthy, active participants, and valued members of our communities and society.