“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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