Older people… what have they ever done for us?

Tony Watts OBE, Director of EngAgeNet, on why we need a new narrative on ageing

 

There are more of us than ever before – over 20 million aged 50 plus, some 11 million are 65 and over.

We are living longer than ever before.

And because more of us are living with chronic long-term conditions than ever before, we also represent a challenge to services such as health and care that keep us going.

We are also – in case no one has drawn this to your attention – drawing our pensions for longer than ever before.

However, what is also often forgotten when anyone brings up the “problem” of older people, the “challenges” they present to society, and the “burden” they represent, is that older people are also an asset. A resource that other generations rely on. Contributors to, not just takers from, society.

But that’s not the narrative that is most commonly heard.

All too often, they’re blamed as the demographic that spends all of our council tax on care.

The “lucky generation” that selfishly sits on the nation’s housing stock and forces younger people to rent their homes at exorbitant prices.

The old crusties who won’t retire when they’re supposed to and are taking jobs from younger people.

Who sets the agenda?

I could, if I was feeling controversial, point to the fact that children too could be portrayed as not contributing to society. They don’t work. They need nursing, feeding, clothing – and educating – but society quite rightly sees them as an asset, not a burden.

However, like all these things, how society perceives us is often driven through the narrow lens of the media, opinion formers and people who have an agenda – an agenda, it often appears – to separate different sections of society from each other when it’s only when society cooperates and pools its individual strengths that it functions to its full potential.

And that is the danger we currently face: that – through ignorance or malice – older people are routinely defined by what they take from society, and not what they give.

So we at EngAgeNet are trying to change that narrative, and telling anyone who will listen about how older people are an often neglected resource.

Contributing to society

Nearly half of older people are active volunteers, gifting 1.4 billion hours a year and making a massive positive difference to the lives of people of all ages.

1.2 million of those aged 65 and over are still working, paying tax and contributing to the economy, retaining valuable life skills which we pass on to younger people. And no, we aren’t keeping those younger people out of a job – that is a proven fallacy. Indeed, according to the Government’s own figures, if everyone worked one year longer, it would add 1% to the GDP.

2.25 million of us provide a total of some 54 million hours of unpaid care each week – not just looking after other elderly people but caring for grandchildren and enabling their children to work.

Even those requiring care are contributing – the care sector alone employs 1.6 million people and represents a £45 billion sector. We keep a lot of people in work!

And all that is ignoring the “softer” contribution we make to society when called upon to advise or mentor younger people.

So what are we doing to try and change the way older people are portrayed and perceived?

Attached is a document called “New Narrative on Ageing”, produced by the South East Forum on Ageing and EngAgeNet, and which aims to provide a template for a more positive view of ageing. Through this narrative we hope that the contribution made by older people and their value to society will become better understood.

Not only is it a necessary attempt to change deeply embedded social attitudes and influence policy, but it aims to help older people themselves become more confident about their own personal ageing journey and their place in society.

Why stereotyping needs to end

Like any group outside the social mainstream, older people are routinely stereotyped and are the subject of many false assumptions, simplistic generalisations and plain untruths. And, make no mistake, if you as an individual or as a group feel constantly denigrated and unvalued, then you can soon start believing it.

Across all generations we need a debate on ageing – a debate that is not just about today’s older generation.

We are all – if we are lucky – going to get older. So, this is also a debate about our own futures and to consider how we all prepare well for longer and more valued lives.

Continuing to see ageing as a social problem, the old narrative, gets in the way of creating the kind of change that would benefit people of all generations.

Dispelling the myths, exposing the untruths, creating a more balanced portrayal of ageing as part of life, will enable people to have a more hopeful view of their own ‘future ageing’, and hence to be more appreciative of older people generally.

Through sharing a more enlightened, a less fearful perspective view of ageing, people will think about their own future, how they might want that to look, and hence what might need to change right now.

This new narrative needs to be heard by all organisations and institutions whose decisions and actions affect people in later life: government, business, social commentators and the media in general.

EngAgeNet, the organisation I am part of, was set up to speak up for older people. But it was set up to speak up for all older people – including tomorrow’s.

New Narrative on Ageing:

http://www.engagenet.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/A-New-Narrative-on-Ageing-ePDF2Final.pdf

 

Posted by Tony Watts in News

EngAgeNet launches a template for a more positive view of ageing

EngAgeNet has launched a revised and updated “New Narrative on Ageing” which aims to provide a template for a more positive view of ageing.

Through this narrative we hope that the contribution made by older people and their value to society will become better understood.

Not only is it a necessary attempt to change deeply embedded social attitudes and influence policy, but it aims to help older people themselves become more confident about their own personal ageing journey and their place in society.  Across all generations we need to recognise that a debate on ageing is also a debate about our own futures and to consider how we all prepare well for longer and more valued lives.

Why do we need a new narrative?

The demographic time bomb – it’s an all too familiar story: the notion that an ageing society is a major social and economic threat.  In this story older people are seen as dependent on working age people, make no contribution to and have little value in society.

Negative portrayals of older people are commonplace: the media is largely preoccupied with the assumed cost of ageing, reinforcing a view that older people are dead weight in society – non-productive beneficiaries of state largesse; at the same time, however, they are perceived as well off, and in the eyes of some social commentators responsible for both the housing crisis and youth unemployment.

Like any group outside the social mainstream, older people are routinely stereotyped and are the subject of many false assumptions and untruths.

Why does it matter?

How older people are perceived and the assumptions made about them are bound to influence society’s response to ageing.

Negative perceptions result in older people being ‘compartmentalised’ and regarded as having little value. Continuing to see ageing as a social problem, the old narrative, gets in the way of creating the kind of change that would benefit people of all generations.

What do we want a new narrative to do?

Our new narrative needs to speak to all generations.  Ageing is the FUTURE for us all, yet we tend to fear it, much as in past times what was not known was feared, and sometimes persecuted.

Dispelling the myths, exposing the untruths, creating a more balanced portrayal of ageing as part of life, will enable people to have a more hopeful view of their own ‘future ageing’, and hence to be more appreciative of older people generally. We need a more enlightened view of ageing, so that through a less fearful perspective, people will think about their own future, how they might want that to look, and hence what might need to change right now.

Who needs to listen?

This new narrative needs to be heard by all organisations and institutions whose decisions and actions affect people in later life: government, business, social commentators and the media in general.

You can read and download the new narrative by clicking here:A New Narrative on Ageing ePDF2Final

Posted by Tony Watts in News

“Don’t make rise in State Pension Age an intergenerational issue”

The Government’s decision to move forward the rise in pension age has made plenty of headlines, writes Peter Dale (Chair of the Board of Trustees, SEEFA), with the media again seizing on the opportunity to create inter-generational tension.

We perhaps ought not to be surprised by proposals to increase the age at which people become eligible for state pension in the future. Arguably it’s more of a surprise that it will have shifted so little by the time it is due to be implemented between 2037 and 2039, almost a century since the publication of the Beveridge Report in 1942.

In spite of recent reports that the increase in life expectancy is beginning to stall, there is surely no doubt that there have been vast improvements in the health and well-being of retired people since the immediate post war years and that today’s sixty something year olds bear little resemblance to their predecessors. It might not seem unreasonable, therefore, that there should be a delay in being labelled as an ‘old age pensioner’. Shouldn’t a more positive approach to ageing encompass the belief that people are ‘written off’ as old far too early?

There are of course questions to be asked. The motivation for the proposal is likely to be the £74 billion saving that will accrue as a result of the early implementation of the increase. The cost to the public purse of the state pension is never far away as an issue; always seen as a burden grudgingly to be borne, it provokes headlines about the ‘demographic time bomb’ and suggestions about the country not being able to afford supporting so many older people – forgetting of course that older people have contributed throughout their lives, and continue to do so, as taxpayers and consumers.

According to the Royal Voluntary Service’s Gold Age Pensioners report, 2011, older people make an annual net contribution of £40 billion to the UK economy (i.e., net of the costs of pension, welfare and health support) and by 2030 this is forecast to rise to an estimated £77 billion. Rather than being concerned about the so called state pension ‘bill’, we should perhaps be drawing more attention to the fact that the UK state pension is one of the lowest in Europe.

An increase in the SPA will of course create a financial pressure for many people to carry on working and hence there will be significant implications for the labour market. First, recruitment and retention practices will need to be fit for purpose to enable work opportunities to be available. Secondly, employers will need to adopt new approaches that maximise the value of an older workforce; this could involve creating new roles that draw on experience and expertise.

There are questions about the increased risk of ill health or lack of capacity that may prevent people from working for longer. There are also question about extending the length of time that people will have worked throughout their lives. These questions of course can be posed whether the SPA is 68 or 65.

How does the risk that faced manual workers approaching 65 in past decades compare with the risk their counterparts will face in twenty tears time as they approach 68? And will the pensioners of 2037 have worked any longer when they reach SPA than many of today’s pensioners who started work at age 16 or in some cases 14? Whatever the SPA there should be a clear recognition within the benefits system of the needs of those people who are unable to work but just short of the qualifying age to claim their state pension. As the NPC suggests, five years seems a reasonable period.

The main concern about the pension age announcement is the way in which it has been reported. The media again have seized on the opportunity to create inter-generational tension. The message has been that while current pensioners were able to retire at 65 (earlier for many women), today’s younger people are once again being ‘short changed’. Moreover, it has been reported that while pensioners have seen an increase in their income, younger people have experienced a fall in income in real terms. In general, the implication is that older people are very comfortably off at the expense of the younger generation.

The facts tell a different story. Most pensioners are on low incomes in spite of the triple lock and other benefits. Government figures for 2015/16 (Pensioner Income Series) show that their average weekly income is £296. Although the state pension has more recently seen year on year increases, two and a half percent of a low figure is still a low figure, and it bears repetition that the UK state pension is one of the lowest in Europe. It also bears repetition that older people are net contributors to the economy, not a drain on its resources. Furthermore they have contributed all their lives through taxation and national insurance contributions to the public purse from which their benefits are paid.

The narrative that the burden is being carried by the younger generation who are now going to suffer as a result of the proposed SPA increase is highly misleading and divisive. Age is an issue for us all. It is to be hoped that older people in the future will benefit from changing social attitudes and a more positive view of ageing. The 68 year olds of 2037 may wonder what all the fuss was about.

Posted by Tony Watts in News
Housing Manifesto launched by older people’s champions

Housing Manifesto launched by older people’s champions

“Ageing Well: a Housing Manifesto” has been launched by the Older People’s Housing Champions, a national network of older activists who support action by older people’s groups to improve housing and related services for an ageing population across England.

The emphasis of the manifesto is that by focussing on the housing needs of our ageing population there can be significant health and economic benefits – vindicating additional resources and funding in a number of key areas as well as demanding new thinking in some key areas.

The 10 “key asks” of the Manifesto are:

Improve existing homes for good ageing

The vast majority of people spend most of their later life in ordinary housing (not especially built for older people). Therefore:

  1. Home Adaptations assistance should be mandatory, delivered quickly, efficiently and be a core part of future integrated health, social care and housing systems.
  2. There should be nationwide provision of practical, affordable housing repair and adaptation services – including home improvement agencies and handyperson services for older people in all housing sectors.
  3. Small “healthy at home” grants or low cost loans for essential repairs and improvements (including heating systems) should be made available for disadvantaged older people, resulting in benefits both for individuals and
  4. Local authority house condition audits should be re-introduced alongside private sector housing renewal programmes to tackle disrepair and prevent existing housing stock decline.

Build new homes to meet the range of diverse needs in later life

An ageing society means we need more imaginative housing options for older people of all tenures, both mainstream and specialist housing.

  1. Build all ordinary housing for all ages – all new homes should be built to accessible standards and be suitable for further adaptation.
  2. Build more innovative mainstream housing of a design and size that is particularly suitable for later life.
  3. Build a wider range of specialist and supported housing for those with later life care and support needs.

Provide independent, impartial information and advice

Timely, integrated information and advice about later life housing, care and related finance (from a trusted, impartial source) enables older people to make well-informed decisions.

  1. A national source of independent, specialist, housing, care and finance information, combined with impartial local one-to-one advice and support, is urgently needed for older people, their carers and professionals.
  2. A register of accessible, adaptable housing would help people locate suitable homes quickly when their needs change.

Planning and engaging with older people

We need local housing strategies developed that place housing at the heart of health, care and wellbeing for older people.

  1. Older people – experts through experience – need to be engaged and involved in developing and delivering housing solutions for later life at all levels.

A download of the manifesto can be found here: Housing champions Housing Manifesto Final 2017

The Older People’s Housing Champions is a national network of older activists who support action by older people’s groups to improve housing and related services for an ageing population across England.

Posted by Tony Watts in News
New national organisation aims to be the “direct, positive voice of older people”

New national organisation aims to be the “direct, positive voice of older people”

A new national organisation has been formed, enabling the voices of older people across England to be heard directly by those who create the policies, strategies and services that affect their lives.

Launched at the House of Lords on 20th March, EngAgeNet (The English Age Network) immediately embraces local groups and activists with an estimated reach of over 300,000 older people. It is based on the long-established English Regional Forums on Ageing, which were set up in the wake of the 2009 Elbourne Report.

The Forums played a key role in the UK Forum on Ageing, which provided direct input into Government departments until it had its funding removed in 2016.

English Forums on Ageing have a long track record of collaborating with local, regional and national bodies to inform decision making. The new network builds on this to provide informed individuals across the country willing to take part in surveys, focus groups and facilitated meetings – providing a direct conduit for public, private and third sector bodies.

“We believe there is a huge role to be played in the current environment,” says Marjory Broughton, Chair of EngAgeNet “Many of the big challenges currently facing society – the crisis in the care system, a shortage of suitable housing, long term concerns over pensions, flexible retirement and a host of others – directly involve older people. We want to be part of the solution, not just to be seen as the ‘problem’.

“We are in an ideal position to harness the views, ideas and experiences of older people to inform the decision making process and make that happen.

“We are non political, we are run by and for older people and our members go right across the demographic spectrum.

“Our long-term relationships with local groups, forums and affiliates allow us to function differently from any other representative body to reach those whose voices are often ignored,” Marjory Broughton says. We can access the views and input of people across society with direct experience of ageing… of all political persuasions and from diverse ethnic, religious and socio-economic groups.

“This includes ‘hard to reach’ individuals and those not online.

“Moreover, we have a long history of providing constructive input into local and national government, as well as health and third sector bodies.”

While EngAgeNet is currently built on seven English Forms on Ageing, their ambition is to expand this substantially by welcoming other groups, forums and individuals who share their aims.

As well as enabling all levels of Government and public services to fulfil their equality obligations when developing policies in areas such as health, social care, transport, employment, benefits, housing and digital inclusion, EngAgeNet will help the business community address both “ageing workforce” issues and the needs and aspirations of older consumers.

There is also an opportunity for academic and think-tank researchers to access the diverse expertise, experiences, opinions and concerns of older people.

 Says Marjory Broughton: “We believe that if society is better informed about the value and contribution of older people, and more willing to draw on their experience and wisdom, there is a greater likelihood of much needed change in social policy and of a more ‘age friendly’ approach on the part of the business community.

“To achieve this, the way older people are represented and portrayed needs to be corrected – not least in some media which continue to oversimplify the issues facing an ageing society. We are committed to driving a narrative that will challenge the perception that ageing and longevity is a socio-economic problem and that people in later life are a burden on the rest of society.

“We believe EngAgeNet can contribute to a better understanding of the real implications of an ageing population in a changing society, recognising that ageing and longevity are intergenerational issues – offering opportunities as well as challenges.”

Press contact: Tony Watts 07738 167788 / tony@hartleywatts.co.uk

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