Reaching those who are socially excluded
Age UK believes that everyone should have access to health and care support services when they need them, whatever their circumstances. Those who are socially excluded should not be forgotten.
Age UK and The Salvation Army have come together with people who are socially excluded and key professionals to produce vital research exploring some of the challenges older people face when accessing support.
But why is this research necessary?
When we think of older people, we don't tend to consider issues such as homelessness, poverty, substance misuse or severe mental illness. But there are many older people who are experiencing these challenges and we know it's increasingly likely more older people will find themselves in these circumstances. Yet, as well as their age, these circumstances make it harder for them to access the support they need when they need it.
What has this research highlighted?
Our research has highlighted some key themes that make it harder for those that are socially excluded to access support services and some of the reasons behind them.
Older people who are socially excluded are living with complex health challenges
Whether it's physical or mental health conditions - or both - experiences throughout their lives mean people that are socially excluded will often present with conditions associated with later life much earlier than the rest of the population. Not only that, but when they do face these difficulties with their health, they're more unlikely to have social networks that can provide support.
Existing support services often don't meet the needs of older people
The likelihood of poor health, living with long-term conditions or disabilities, increases as we get older. But the support services in place are often not designed to meet these needs. For example, staff working in hostels for homeless people may be unable to support those with personal care requirements, such as washing or continence issues. Or, support may be focused on recovery strategies which aren't relevant for many older people, such as finding a job when the person may be past retirement age.
Unhealthy behaviours present a greater risk as we get older
While they can affect anyone, some circumstances are a greater risk or come with specific health considerations are we age. For example, the risks of alcohol addiction increases as we get older, and if rough sleeping, the cold presents more health risks to those in later life.
People face certain attitudes and stereotypes
Older people who are socially excluded can encounter ageist attitudes and negative stereotypes when trying to access support. This includes myths that it is too late for them to change or views resources would be better used on younger adults.
We've put together three reports outlining our research. There's an Executive Summary, a report of the research conducted with older people themselves and another conducted specifically with professionals who organise support for older socially excluded people.
Download and read our Executive Summary.
Report with professionals
Download and read the insights from professionals.
Full report and findings
Download and read our full report and the key findings.
What needs to happen now?
The research has made it clear that things need to change. Improvements have to be made and misjudged and ageist stereotypes need to be tackled. That's why Age UK is calling for 5 steps to be taken for older people who are socially excluded.
- Older populations need to be better understood. Local authorities and health systems must improve their understanding of the needs and experiences of all older people. Steps should be taken to understand the scale of need in their communities and to meaningfully engage with those with lived experience when designing services, to ensure they're suitable for older people. This includes homelessness and addiction services.
- End ageist stereotypes. Health professionals must take proactive steps to ensure services are inclusive and suitable for older people who are socially excluded. This includes breaking down unhelpful stereotypes about older people and making sure services are delivered in accessible spaces.
- Improve understanding and awareness of socially excluded older people. Local authorities and the VCSE sector must work together to build and share evidence about what works for older people who find themselves socially excluded.
- Access to high-quality information and advice. Older people in complex circumstances need to be able to access appropriate information and advice when they need it, including support on how to access services and claim any benefits they may be entitled to.
- Increased financial support for those struggling to reach State Pension age. Options such as early access to the State Pension for specified groups who are close to that age, a lowering of the eligible age for benefits such as Pension Credit and additional support in working age benefits for those over 60 years old should be considered.