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

Annex 18: Strategic planning, Key choices and political leadership (see paragraphs 44 to 46 of the report)

284.  Given the short-term nature of electoral and budgetary cycles, there are very weak political incentives for long-term thinking in the formulation of government policy.[517] Governments have been better at acting to limit their exposure to increasing costs as a result of ageing, such as in the field of pensions, than planning for improvements in the quality of the services that they deliver, commission or support. Although the Government have acted to reduce the amount that they will have to spend on state and public sector pensions (see Annex 8), they have been less successful at changing the quality of healthcare provision for older people (see Annex 12), ensuring the development of better private sector pensions (see Annex 8), or transforming the funding of high-quality social care (see Annex 11).[518]

285.  Even where the Government have made progress in these areas, this progress has often been patchy, and the implementation of improvements dilatory. The problems for the future that the Turner Commission identified, such as a fall in the relative value of the state pension and the end of defined benefit pension schemes, were evident in the 1990s or earlier.[519]

286.  The Committee was disappointed to find how little the Government have done to initiate a long-term, coherent strategy to deal with the consequences of population ageing. We heard little evidence that the Government have the capacity, inclination or incentives to do the sort of planning that this issue requires. The collapse of cross-party talks on social care before the last general election serves as confirmation that it is politically difficult for political parties to discuss the long-term implications of an ageing population, and the public spending choices that this demographic change might entail. In fact, electoral pressures tend to incentivise parties to avoid discussing long-term issues, which might involve confronting voters with unpalatable truths.[520] There are a few mechanisms in place to encourage the Government to think about the long term, such as the fiscal sustainability reports published by the OBR. While these reports are a welcome innovation, we are concerned that they have tended to have little impact on policy. The Government are not obliged to respond, there are no associated targets for the Government to meet, and the reports themselves receive far less attention in media and policy circles than the OBR's short-term economic and fiscal forecasts.

Important choices

287.  The ageing of the country's population means that the Government and all political parties may need to consider choices about the welfare state and what we want from our social settlement for the future, in the face of the rising demands that an ageing population and other pressures will bring.

288.  The Government need to expose the options and communicate the choices to the public.

The current state of Government planning

289.  The Cabinet has not initiated a process to assess the implications of an ageing society but has left the various relevant departments to lead. Caroline Abrahams, Director of External Affairs, Age UK, argued that "there is not an overall vision" and the response to ageing was "all fairly piecemeal".[521] While we acknowledge that the Government are doing some high-level thinking about the implications of an ageing society and some effective cross-departmental work, we feel that the Government have not looked at ageing from the point of view of the public nor considered how policies might need to change to ensure that people are better equipped to address their longer lives.[522]

290.  Without a collective understanding of the implications of ageing, and commitment to key Government actions, responses by individual departments will be insufficient—especially as responding to ageing requires services to work well together. This Report has suggested a number of major changes that are needed. These new approaches—such as those that we have argued for in health and social care—may take a decade to bring about, and should inform the priorities for the next spending review, which will need to support the investment that some changes will require. Ministers must take the lead, and make clear to the civil service that inertia in planning for long-term issues such as demographic change is not acceptable.

291.  The Government also need to make the case to the public for why any changes are needed. If a government tries to move some age-related benefits onto different eligibility criteria without setting out a comprehensive vision for older age, explaining why changes are necessary, and committing to make major improvements to services in some areas such as healthcare, significant opposition would be inevitable. Our society tends to be pragmatic—there was little opposition to raising the state pension age—but the Government do need to treat people as capable of understanding the issues and the arguments for change.


292.  Politicians in all parties need to face up to these issues, and ageing is not only a matter for those in Government. Governing parties are also not sufficiently incentivised to address the long-term decisions necessary unless all parties face up to these difficult choices. The Committee considers that a vision is needed for the long term, with a broad approach to the public policy response to ageing to which all major parties should ideally subscribe. We conclude that when political parties are working on their manifestos, they ought to consider the wider implications of the ageing society for the balance of responsibilities between individuals and the Government.

293.  The ageing population will introduce further significant resource pressures at local government level, too. Local councils currently are not required to produce medium to long-term plans about how they will cope with increasing numbers of older residents in their area but need to do so nevertheless. The impact of ageing at the local level can be even more dramatic.[523] Each local authority should look at ONS projections for the number of people in their areas who will be 65 and over and 85 and over in 2020 and 2030. They should then consider what action they need to take through their housing, planning, social care and wider services provision, and through their joint planning for health and wellbeing. Each local authority should assess thoroughly the implications of their forecast population. Joint planning for these changes will be needed from local authorities, health providers and civil society, and public health strategies will be crucial.


294.  The Government should address urgently the implications of an ageing population for public policy and services in a White Paper to be published well before the next general election. This White Paper would analyse the issues and challenges laid out in this Report. It would set out their vision for future public service delivery against the background of the ageing population.

295.  It will also be crucial for all political parties to signal to the electorate that they are taking demographic change seriously. There needs to be cross-party understanding of the importance of the challenges that the ageing society poses and the choices involved, and an effort to seek as much consensus as possible. Progress will not be made if the solutions chosen by the Government change with each administration. The Committee therefore proposes that the Government elected in 2015 should, within six months, establish two commissions based on cross-party consultations:

1.  A commission to work with employers and financial services providers to examine how to ensure adequate pensions and savings for our society's older people, and to improve equity release, and

2.  A commission to analyse how the health and social care system and its funding should be changed to serve the needs of our ageing society.

296.  Both commissions should be required to report within 12 months and to make clear recommendations for urgent implementation.

517   Q 656. See also HM Government, The Civil Service reform plan, June 2012. Back

518   Central Government (DoH and DWP), further supplementary written evidence. Back

519   Government Actuary's Department, Occupational pension schemes 1991, ninth survey by the Government actuary, 1994. Back

520   Q 62  Back

521   Age UK. Back

522   Sir Bob Kerslake supplementary written evidence; Central Government (DoH and DWP), further supplementary written evidence; Q 649; Q 61 (Trevor Huddleston, Chief Analyst, DWP). Back

523   The Saga Group. Back

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