Ready for Ageing? - Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change Contents

Annex 3: Attitudes to ageing (see paragraph 8 of the report)

82.  For most people, living longer is to be celebrated. Many people now enjoy fuller retirements than ever before, or continue to work well into their later life. Older people make a considerable contribution to society, bringing maturity and varied life experiences to bear.[57]

83.  People's definitions of what it means to be 'old' have changed, along with ideas about how dependent older people are. For a lot of people, being 'old' is a state of mind related to health and the ability to remain independent. The public does not necessarily associate being 'old' with retirement or the earlier 60s. Yet this is the age at which many public services, such as the free bus pass and winter fuel payments, are automatically handed out. Britons do not see themselves as elderly until they are approaching 70, and many in their 70s and beyond continue to be active and engaged in society.[58]

84.  If being 'old' does not begin at an arbitrary age, perhaps it should not be associated with birthdays at all.[59] Society should move away from thinking about chronological age. Baroness Greengross, Chief Executive, International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK), told us that society should "stop thinking about age itself as some sort of disease or handicap".[60]

85.  Employers often equate older age with retirement, and policy-makers tend to assume that when people reach traditional retirement age, they will need to be supported by younger taxpayers (see Annex 4). Age UK considered that there is "a tendency for people, including politicians and policy makers, to frame the debate on ageing within a dependency narrative which sees older people as a 'burden' and a 'drain on the public purse'".[61] Yet there is no reason why retirement and dependency should relate to a specific age. Much employment is physically less demanding than it traditionally was for many, and fewer people are incapacitated by diseases in later life. Society, the media, and policy-makers should continue to rethink what they mean when they refer to 'old age'. Older age should be viewed as a spectrum, involving a smooth transition through different stages of life.

86.  The Government have acted to legislate against age discrimination, through the Equality Act 2010 and the public sector equality duty which require equal treatment in access to employment and public and private services regardless of age. They have also abolished the default retirement age, so that retirement ages can only be set where they can be justified objectively.[62] We welcome these positive steps, but we also heard that negative attitudes and discrimination towards older age still abound.[63] Baroness Greengross told us that the "stigma" associated with older age results in age discrimination. Though the law has changed, attitudes will take time to catch up, as happened with previous anti-discrimination legislation.[64]

87.  Rather than viewing ageing with horror, society should pay more attention to the large social and economic contributions that older people make, in areas such as volunteering, childcare, care of other adults, charitable giving, and support for younger generations (see Annex 15).[65] We heard that:

·  30% of people over 60 volunteer regularly through formal organisations

·  65% of volunteers are aged 50 or over

·  65% of those over 65 regularly help older neighbours, and

·  one in three working mothers rely on grandparents for childcare.[66]

88.  Age UK have estimated that people aged 50 and over make an unpaid contribution to the economy of £15.2 billion per year as carers, £3.9 billion in childcare as grandparents and £5 billion as volunteers.[67] These unpaid inputs reduce public expenditure, enable other people to work, and help to make our society more cohesive. They remind us that many older people are anything but dependent (see Annexes 4 and 5).[68]

89.  Many of our growing older population are in good health, will retire with a decent income and a strong social network, have much to offer society, and will want to combine work with new activities, volunteering and caring.[69] One way to promote public understanding that ageing will be a positive experience for most might be for the Government to produce a clear guide to the key facts and trends about living longer. There also needs to be a stronger recognition that older age, which can be conceived as including everyone from 60 to 120, covers a huge diversity of ages, levels of health and wealth, and economic and social activity.[70] The Government should help people be better informed about how long they are likely to live in good health, the size of the pension that they are likely to receive, the likelihood of needing social care and its cost, and how best to use their own assets. By helping individuals and families analyse their own situation and make informed choices, the Government can give people some of the tools they will need to plan ahead.

90.  Providers of both public and private services need to meet the challenge of the ageing population. But acknowledging the changing role and diversity of older people puts new responsibilities on older people themselves: "We could start looking at older people as the same as everybody else. If they are wealthy, tax them; if they are frail, they should be able to access services that support them just like anybody else at any age", John Kennedy, Director of Care Services, Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust, told us.[71]

91.  It is not always helpful or correct to consider older people as a homogenous group defined by chronological age. Age alone is no longer a good predictor of health, wealth, employment status or activity in society. The Government need to recognise this when considering how to design public services. The Government should also work to make society as a whole more aware of the truth about ageing. A better understanding of the needs and abilities of the older population should lead not only to better-targeted public services but also to a private sector that benefits from a growing market by producing goods and products that the older population really needs (see Annex 17).

57   National Housing Federation. Back

58   Ipsos MORI.  Back

59   Q 72 Back

60   Q 72; International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK); The Saga Group; Q 639. Back

61   Age UK written evidence; Q 72 (Professor Pat Thane, Research Professor, KCL and Fellow of the British Academy). Back

62   Central Government (DoH, DWP and DCLG), written evidence. Back

63   Q 72, Q 75 Back

64   Q 78; at Q78 see also Professor Thane. Back

65   Q 75 (Caroline Abrahams, Director of External Affairs, Age UK); Q 100 (Professor Sarah Harper); Third Sector Research Centre. Back

66   Q 72 (Professor Thane); Local Government Association, Association of Directors of Adult Social Services and Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (LGA/ADASS/SOLACE). Back

67   Age UK. Back

68   Age UK. Back

69   Age UK. Back

70   Fabian Society; Q 72 (Professor Thane); Age UK. Back

71   Q 73 Back

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