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Later life matters: The case for an Older People’s Commissioner for England

Credit: Centre for Ageing Better

Sarah Wilkinson, Evidence Officer, and Aideen Young, Senior Evidence Manager | Centre for Ageing Better

4 min read Partner content

The State of Ageing 2022, a new comprehensive review of public data by the Centre for Ageing Better, shines a light on people’s worsening experiences of growing older in England and strengthens calls for an Older People’s Commissioner.

The State of Ageing 2022, a new review of national data on ageing by the Centre for Ageing Better, finds that the prospect of a healthy and financially secure later life is becoming increasingly unlikely for millions of people in the UK.

Data shows that women in the poorest areas of England can now expect to live 16 fewer years free of a disability or limiting illness than those in the richest areas, and the gap for men is even greater at 17 years.

The drop in the employment rate of people aged 50-64 over the last year, and the increase in older people privately renting in the last decade, both signify increasing financial insecurity for many. And this in a country that has one of the worst state pensions in Europe, providing just 58% of previous earnings from work. Meanwhile, the net non-pension wealth of the richest 20% of people in their fifties and sixties doubled between 2002 and 2018, while that of the poorest 20% fell by a staggering 30%.

This is happening in the context of a rapidly ageing population. Today there are almost 11 million people in England aged 65 and over – 19% of the total population. In 10 years’ time, this will have increased to almost 13 million people, or 22% of the population.

The older population is also set to become more diverse. Currently only 5% of people aged 70 and over in England and Wales are from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds. But in 30 years' time 1 in 3 people in their sixties are predicted to be from a BAME background – and the inequality that they already experience will be magnified as they grow older. Currently Bangladeshi and Pakistani people aged 55-74 are most likely in this age group to have long term conditions that limit their lives. Over half of Black people in their fifties and sixties say they are not managing financially, compared to only a quarter of their White peers.

The fact that many of us are living longer is a great achievement, and everyone should have the right to have a good life as they get older.

Our report analyses data on key aspects of ageing – our health, housing, work and communities. This data demonstrates the huge challenges facing the government’s levelling up ambitions to reduce inequalities across England, as well as its stated commitment to increase healthy life expectancy by five years. While the pandemic has of course contributed to some of the concerns raised, many are ultimately longer-term issues that have been developing for some time.

Only 19% of people in a YouGov poll commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better said the government is currently doing enough to support our ageing population.

That is why we recommend that the government appoints an Older People’s Commissioner for England to protect and promote the rights of older people, and to help make England a better place to grow old in. In line with the existing Older People’s Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland, this role would champion the needs of older people, particularly those at greatest risk of missing out in later life. More than two thirds of the public across the political spectrum support this proposal, according to our poll, including over half of people aged 18-24 years and two thirds or more of other age groups.

The fact that many of us are living longer is a great achievement, and everyone should have the right to have a good life as they get older. But currently far too many people face huge barriers that prevent them from doing so. Appointing an Older People’s Commissioner for England would help to ensure more of us can experience good health, financial security and be treated fairly and with respect as we grow older.  

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