This was, we were told, a Budget aimed at achieving growth and getting older people back to work. Will it succeed? And, as well as what was IN the Budget, what was left out? The votes are in from AAA members Age UK, Independent Age, Anchor Housing and The Centre for Ageing Better.
The cost of living
The cost of living crisis had left large swathes of the country poorer – and the OBR is predicting that living standards across the population are set to fall by a further 6% over the next two years as inflation outstrips incomes – the steepest fall since records began in the 1950s. But how will older people fare?
According to John Palmer, Director of Policy and Communications at Independent Age: “Today’s Budget may have given the impression that all older people are financially secure. This is simply not true. We speak to older people every day who are skipping meals and are terrified to turn on their heating. They need reassurance beyond the next three months.
“The continuation of the Energy Price Guarantee will come as a temporary relief for some, however even if energy prices fall as forecast in the summer, they are still predicted to be almost 70% more than winter last year. This is unmanageably expensive for many and the Government must prioritise a long-term solution to poverty in later life.
“We know that the 2.1 million older people in poverty will still be forced to make dangerous choices to pay for their soaring energy, food and housing costs. According to the latest reliable statistics, up to 850,000 of the poorest older households are still missing out on the Pension Credit they’re entitled to.
“The Government should act now to create an uptake strategy for this vital benefit. On top of an extra weekly income, older people who are entitled to, but don’t receive Pension Credit, have already missed out on the £650 Cost of Living payment last year, and stand to miss out on an extra £900 in the coming year. Older people in financial hardship need solutions to help them, because no one should have to face a later life in poverty in today’s society.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, echoed that relief for the continuation of energy support, but long-term concerns remain: “The standout measure for older people in the Budget was the thoroughly welcome decision to extend energy bill support to June, which Age UK and many others have been campaigning for. This allays older people’s fears about their fuel costs going even higher, but of course it does not bring them down from their current unprecedented high, leaving many on low incomes in an extremely difficult position.
“When the triple lock kicks in this April it will be of enormous help, but we remain deeply concerned about how some older people will manage financially as they simply can’t tighten their belts any further. They will need further support.
“Looking beyond June, there is a pressing need for a lasting solution for the wild fluctuations in energy bills we’ve seen, that have made it impossible for any older person to budget on a meagre fixed income. At Age UK we are convinced that the right approach is a properly funded energy social tariff and we are disappointed that there was no announcement formally committing the Government to this today. People of all ages on low incomes desperately need the certainty an energy social tariff would bring.
“We are pleased that the cost of energy bought via a pre-payment meter is coming into line with what everyone else pays – about time too, as it’s outrageous that some of the poorest people in our society have been charged more. This will benefit around 600,000 older households and we hope is just the first step in the fundamental reform of the pre-payment regime. Next, Age UK would like to see a permanent ban on the forced installation of these meters, and an amnesty whereby anyone who has one at the moment can have it removed if they wish, at zero cost to themselves.”
Health & Social Care
Campaigners have pointed out that measures to address the crisis in social care were singularly absent:
In Caroline Abrahams words: “We are deeply frustrated that the Chancellor spurned the opportunity to invest more in social care, especially given his avowed aim of removing the barriers to work among those who are economically inactive. Every year many thousands of women and men of working age have to ditch their jobs to care for loved ones, in the absence of a good, reliable and affordable care service being available.
“Unless and until the Government acts on social care the numbers of people in their fifties and sixties leaving the workforce to care are certain to grow. It’s true that the Chancellor directed more funding to social care in his Autumn Statement but it was only a downpayment on the greatly increased investment this essential service needs for the foreseeable future, given our growing ageing population.
“If we at Age UK are profoundly disappointed about the way social care has been ignored in this Budget, the NHS must be more disappointed still, since our health services simply cannot function effectively for as long as our social care services are falling so short of the mark.”
Later life employment
The Budget was forecast to be one where some of the barriers to later life employment were to be dismantled. How far was that promise fulfilled?
While the Centre for Ageing Better believes there is some promise in the measures – including scrapping the Work Capability Assessment, an extra £70m over the next five years for mid-life MOTs to increase participation eight-fold and £63m on Returnerships designed to provide skills training for older workers – it is calling for more policies specifically tailored to the needs of older workers.
Dr Carole Easton OBE, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, said: “This Budget is a missed opportunity to adequately support workers aged 50 and above with specific policies but we commend the Chancellor for attempting to overhaul parts of the employment system that are seriously failing millions of people. There are measures here that create opportunities to break down the barriers for older workers that have been overlooked for so long.
“The government is right to identify older workers’ employment as a high priority. We have an ageing workforce and a labour market that doesn’t work for older workers. The government should not be distracted by talk of wealthy retirees. There are nearly a million older workers in this country who want to work but currently can’t because of ageism in the workplace, ill-health, caring responsibilities and a lack of targeted employment support.
“The consequences of failing to give people in their 50s and 60s access to the work they need are dire – it consigns people to a retirement of hardship and penury and stunts economic growth. Plans to bring forward the timetable to raise the state pension age will not be possible unless this changes.
“The policies outlined by the Chancellor are very light on specific support tailored for the needs of 50+ workers. If we are going to see meaningful change for older workers, then we need to ensure these new programmes have strategies to improve outcomes for older workers built in. They cannot be allowed to replicate the failings of initiatives which deliver poorer outcomes the older people are, such as the Work and Health Programme which is helping just 15% of people aged 60+ to find work.
“The scrapping of the Work Capability Assessment creates opportunities for more people to get help and access work. But the reformed service has to connect with individuals who are not currently engaged with employment support – offering an incentive to engage, not pushing more people into a punitive regime.
“If the government is serious about delivering truly transformative change for the economy and older workers, helping us all to live longer working lives in the future, we need programmes that specifically address the barriers currently locking many out from employment such as rigid working practices and negative attitudes towards older workers.
“We would like to see the new Universal Support Scheme incorporating a national programme of employment support tailored for older workers. Only then will the Chancellor create the back-to-work movement for older workers.”
“The measures the Chancellor announced to encourage more over-50s to stay in employment are welcome, but mostly small-scale. The roll-out of Mid Life MOTs on its own will not go far enough to helping people stay in work for another 15-20 years, it needs to be coupled with a greater investment in skills and re-training opportunities, more flexible working, as well as improved support for everyone looking for work, whether they are benefit claimants or economically inactive.”
What was there in the Budget to support older people to “rightsize” and so help the housing crisis? Not a lot, was the general conclusion.
Oliver Boundy, Executive Director of Development for Anchor says: “It’s disappointing that housing was glaringly absent from the budget today when, as many will agree, it really should be a priority.
“There is a considerable undersupply of suitable homes for older people. With an ageing population that gap will only widen, and our research shows that interest is increasing – 35% of over-55s say they are likely to consider moving into specialist retirement housing.
“We’ve seen that economic uncertainty and the rising cost of living have also led to a rise in enquiries about downsizing. As ever, it’s important to consider downsizing as ‘rightsizing’, finding the right sized property which fits both physical and financial needs.
“To meet the pent-up demand and deliver the homes our aging society needs, the government must ensure that planning reforms support the development of older people’s housing through a new planning classification for retirement communities, to help unlock the pending investment in the market and incentivising downsizing by introducing Stamp Duty Land Tax relief for older people.”
Support for charities
Finally, the extra £100 million for local charities was welcomed by Age UK. “With rising costs and growing demands on their support, these crucial community resources are really up against it so it is important that the money gets out to them quickly, with minimal red tape.”
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