Following a new report on demographic change by the House of Lords, Age Scotland’s Lindsay Scott asks if the nation is ready for an ageing population.
The UK government is ignoring the social and economic challenges presented by an ageing society, a Lords committee has warned, stating that the fact that people are living longer, whilst offering benefits for many, also threatens a series of crises unless action is taken to mitigate the impact on public services.
Ready for Ageing?, a ground-breaking report by the House of Lords select committee on public service and demographic change, is the first coherent attempt to provide a passport for older life that treats the over-60s as active citizens, and not as passive recipients of government largesse and a looming threat to anyone younger.
It points out in stark terms what Age Scotland has been arguing for over many years, namely that big changes in pensions, health care and employment practices are urgently needed if people are to be able to sustain a good quality of life as they age, and is the first time a group of senior UK policymakers has shown a grasp of the scale and nature of change needed across our society in response to the gift of longer lives, from which everyone will benefit.
The report argues forcefully that the status quo has to change. Among the measures it suggests are a White Paper, cross-party commissions, changes to employment, pensions, housing and financial preparation for old age and, crucially, a “remarkable shift” in the NHS, to properly join up health and social care (and hopefully put a fair value on care itself – as older people need to be cared about, not just cared for).
The committee is calling on Westminster to set out its thinking on the UK’s ageing population before the next election and for all parties to consider the implications for public spending, in their next election manifestos. Whoever is in power after the next election, the committee said, should establish independent commissions to examine how pension and savings provisions could be increased, how equity release could be better exploited and how funding for social care could be improved.
Whilst some of the major policy areas covered in the report, such as health & social care and housing are devolved to Holyrood, pensions, benefits and employment are not. Reminding us that the generations are inextricably bound together, not citizens of hostile nations, the report concludes by calling for leadership, vision and new initiatives.
Whether these will be forthcoming of course remains to be seen.