Doing the maths on Scotland’s ageing population

This week Age Scotland Chief Executive Brian Sloan joined the debate on the cost of our ageing population.

Brian Sloan

Brian Sloan

I attended a very interesting debate on Wednesday 20th February on the topic of ‘The Cost of our Ageing Society.’ Taking place at the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, it was jointly hosted by The International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) and the actuarial profession, with sponsorship from Milliman; a large independent actuarial and consulting firm. The majority of the hundred or so attendees were actuaries – experts in risk management who use mathematical skills to help measure the probability and risk of future events.

The cost of ageing on society today is very significant, and many actuary based figures presented showed that Scotland will be particularly affected by this in the future. A recent survey of older people views by Milliman asked ‘What should be used to address the costs of an ageing society?’ The top two responses were first; to encourage phased retirement and part time work, and second; to improve the employability of older people.

Clearly older people still feel they have a great contribution to make in the work place, and are very mindful about all the health and well-being issues that can be addressed by keeping the mind active – not to mention the social interaction being employed brings. This would also help challenge the common perception that older people are a financial burden on the state, as currently the number of working age people is decreasing, whilst in total pensions pay-outs are increasing. Quite a challenge, as currently there are very few initiatives to support people in working longer.

The value of older people in our society was also debated. We heard that a recent WRVS study shows that their UK net contribution to the economy is £40 billion, yet society seems to have a hang up about chronological age. Far better surely to look at the capacity of individuals. As one contributor succinctly put it “see the person – not the age.” There was a universal message from those speaking that there needs to be far more focus on the added value that older people can bring to society.

It was rather distressing, although not surprising, to learn that life expectancy in Scotland is low compared to the rest of the UK, particularly in our areas of deprivation, and that projected health care spending for the Scottish Government is a real and pressing issue. Kenneth Gibson MSP called for more effective collaborative working across all sectors to find solutions.

For me, the debate highlighted that the cost of our ageing society is a challenge that needs to be met now. Amongst a range of potential solutions, I would like to see more encouragement and support for active ageing, as this in turn leads to better quality of life and well-being, less illness and disease, and more sustainable health and social care services.

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