Tackling outdated attitudes to ageing is the first step in levelling up later life
More and more of us are facing a lower quality of life in our later years. As our population continues to age, it's high time that policymakers looked beyond stereotypes and focused on 'levelling up' later life.
The experience of ageing in England is getting worse. Our report ‘Boom and Bust’ shows that circumstances for people currently in their 50s and 60s – the youngest of the baby boomers – are significantly worse than for the previous generation. 20% in this age group are on course to experience multiple, long-term problems such as poor health and poverty in old age.
Despite the need to prepare for the growing numbers of older people, we have never had a strategic, cross-government approach which will ensure that we can all be optimistic that we will have the opportunity to age well.
The current government pledged in their manifesto to increase healthy life expectancy by five years.
This is a laudable aspiration but there is a great deal to be done to level up the experience of later life: we must support people to stay in good work for as long as they want to, encourage healthy behaviours, ensure that our housing stock is suitable for people of all ages, and transform our local communities so that they become places where people can age well.
We are not moving quickly enough for the Government to be able to keep its election promise.
Part of the reason that the response to our ageing population has been inadequate is that thinking on this issue is clouded by stereotypes and assumptions. The Centre for Ageing Better report ‘Reframing Ageing’ highlighted the contradictory attitudes to ageing and older people: on the one hand, older people are seen as frail and dependent; on the other, we hear no end of stereotypes about ‘wealthy boomers’ with their huge housing wealth and gold-plated pensions.
Part of the reason that the response to our ageing population has been inadequate is that thinking on this issue is clouded by stereotypes and assumptions
Of course, neither is right. Inequalities are widening amongst the older generations. They are becoming more diverse, both in terms of demographics and circumstances. We also know that older people make a vital and often overlooked contribution to our society and economy. With the right support, getting older can be just as fulfilling and enriching as any other stage of life.
Too many people are being left behind – particularly those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds. In ‘Boom and Bust,’ survey analysis suggests that that 17% of people from BAME groups in their 50s and 60s are unable to meet their current financial needs, compared to 5% for those from White backgrounds. If they cannot meet their needs now, their prospects for later years are very grim.
In less than 20 years, one in four of us will be aged over 65, but we need urgent action now if we are all to benefit from longer lives. This will require greater leadership and direction from government. A strategy around ageing needs to work across departments and be informed, not by stereotypes, but by an understanding of the reality of later life today – and a real ambition to level up ageing.
You can read more about our work at ageing-better.org.uk
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