UK must show vision to meet ageing challenges
Published on 22 April 2013 01:00 PM
The growing number of older people in the UK presents major opportunities for our society - but rarely since the Second World War has there been such a tough time to pursue the aim of a better later life, says Age UK.
The vision of adapting our communities for an ageing population comes in Age UK's Agenda for Later Life, which sets out some of the challenges facing older people in 2013 and some of the opportunities for change. The report is being launched in London on April 25 at an event attended by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
While the current fragility of the world economy makes this an exceedingly difficult time to find the funding necessary to make life better for current pensioners and tomorrow's generation of older people, the changes needed are about more than just money.
Equally lacking, says Age UK, is a positive approach to ageing backed by a coherent and joined up vision of a society in which older people are able to fully participate, avoiding life limiting disability and isolation.
Age UK's report gives a snapshot of both the over 65s and those approaching later life detailing the current challenges and opportunities facing the nation.
Challenges to be tackled include:
- 1.7 million pensioners are still living in poverty with half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani pensioners and a quarter of Black Caribbean older people existing under the poverty line.
- More than 200,000 people aged 75 and over were readmitted to hospital within a month in 2010/11 suggesting they were not given sufficient care at home or were released from hospital too early.
- A quarter of older households live in non-decent housing - impacting not only on the size of their heating bills but also on their health
- There is a growing 'health gap' for older people in parts of Britain. The number of years someone can expect to live without a disability after the age of 65 now varies by more than 12 years between local authorities with the highest and lowest levels of disability free life expectancy.
- More than 300,000 carers were forced out of the workplace last year because they were not able to work flexibly.
Despite the challenges facing the UK to become a society that enables its ageing population to live as fulfilling lives as possible, there has been significant progress made over the last year which should not be overlooked. The Government's plans for a single tier pension and its announcement that it would introduce a cap on social care costs are good news. But there have been other important developments:
- The number of people aged 65 + in employment has risen to 967,000 from 885,000 in the last year.
- Annual spending for older households up from £109 billion to £121 billion.
- Nearly 4.9 million people aged 65 and over in England take part in volunteering or civic engagement - more than half of that age group.
- Older people contribute up to £50 billion in unpaid family care for grandchildren, spouses and older family members.
- The number of people aged 65 years and over in England and Wales is projected to increase by 65 per cent in the next 25 years to more than 16.4 million in 2033, as more of us live for longer.
- The number of over 85s in the UK is set to double in the next 20 years and nearly treble in the next 30.
- Britain's older population is more diverse than ever before. The number of black and minority ethnic people aged 70+ is projected to rise from 170,000 in 2006 to 1.9 million in 2051 - an 11-fold increase.
Age UK is calling on the Government to urgently deliver an action plan for change setting out how our society will adapt to its ageing population so that everyone in later life can live as healthy and fulfilling lives as possible.
Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director General of Age UK said, 'Many more of us are living longer and doing so in better health and that is something to be celebrated. Among other things, the extraordinary human capital within our older population cannot be ignored.
'Of course, an ageing population does present challenges particularly if we want to ensure that everyone is able to lead fulfilling lives for as long as possible
'The Government has said it wants to make the UK the best country in Europe in which to grow old. That will require vision and careful planning. But if we start now, such a pledge is entirely achievable, helping to transform later life for generations to come.'