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6 questions we should ask if we want to age better

Published on 21 September 2018 12:47 PM

6 questions we should ask if we want to age betterDoes planning for later life increase our wellbeing at older age? What enables people to plan for their later lives? What challenges do they face in doing so? And should planning for the future purely be focused on the financial? This was the focus of a recent panel event organised by the Centre for Ageing Better, and attended by Age UK.

A Message to Myself: Planning and Preparing for Later Life also served as the launch for the centre's report, Planning and Preparing for Later Life. It was chaired by Paul Lewis, financial journalist and the presenter of Radio 4’s MoneyBox, and featured an expert panel. Here are six of the big questions posed during the discussion.

1. What do we mean by planning?

When we say we want to plan better for the future, what exactly does that mean? It was a question posed by Dr Claire Preston from Anglia Ruskin University, whose research fellowship focuses on improving later lives, particularly by building social connections. She identified ‘structural’ and ‘individual’ levels to identify what can be done to help people plan. ‘Structural’ elements included creating an environment that makes planning easier and recognising the different levels of peoples’ ability to save. ‘Individual’ elements included people being better informed and gaining some time perspectives (people shown mocked up pictures of them in older age are more like to start planning for the future, apparently.)

2. Do we even want to think about getting older?

Dr Preston had alluded to this problem during her remarks by commenting on the fatalism illustrated by many. “They know there’s an issue but think it’s beyond their control to do anything about it.”

Allyson Whisker from Citizens’ Advice elaborated on the issue. “People don’t want to think about growing older, becoming frail and their own mortality. They want to live life now, because you don’t know what’s around the corner.” For that very reason, people do see the value in saving for life changes and events.

3. How can we get people to think about the future?

Other than describing people, rather amusingly, as “short-term animals”, Matthew Blakstad, Head of NEST Insight at NEST [National Employment Savings Trust], suggested the easiest way to encourage people to talk about their expectations for later life is to get them used to the idea of preserving the good things in life, by asking what they enjoy today.

James Walsh, Policy Lead: Engagement, EU & Regulation for the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, said that people should be given clear targets on how much they should be saving. “Engage them with the question of what kind of lifestyle they want.”

Meanwhile, Claire Turner, Director of Evidence at the Centre for Ageing Better added that when it comes to the future, we need to look beyond the financial, because time pressures and growing responsibilities make saving difficult. Yes, it’s important to save for the unknown, but what about the equally big questions that come with growing older: “Where do you want to live? What is a good death?”

4. Should we take stock in middle age?

James Walsh mentioned the notion of people having a midlife financial health check at around the age of 45 (“So there’s still time to make changes.”) It’s an idea he identified as being championed by Age UK.

5. How important is working together for later life?

The overwhelming consensus among the panel of individuals representing academia, charities and pensions is that all of these areas, and other areas such as health, should be working together to provide a more comprehensive roadmap of, and solutions to, planning for later life. “We’ll benefit greatly if we were more joined up in our respective areas,” suggested Matthew Blakstad.

6. Is planning worth it?

A couple of members of the panel asked the question of whether people need to think so actively about the future at all. “Should we bypass planning altogether?” considered Claire Turner. In her summary, Dr Claire Preston used the term “side-stepping” with regards to planning, identifying auto-enrolment for pensions – which has resulted in 10 million more people saving for the future according to the ONS – as one of the reasons we don’t necessarily need to be so diligent.

How we can help

The general consensus from the panel was that the topic of planning for later life raises a great deal of questions. Our Information and advice section can help you with many of them, with free information on financial and legal matters, health and wellbeing, and care and support.

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Last updated: Dec 19 2018

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