Age UK’s “blueprint for older people” prioritises pension security and health

Age UK’s new report, drawn from nationwide polling, comes in time for the coming UK General Election. It contains 52 separate policy recommendations covering many different aspects of later life.

65 per cent of over-65s (over eight million) put maintaining the Triple Lock in their top three priorities while 54 per cent (almost seven million) said improving GP access and reducing hospital waiting lists were also in their top three.

The nationally representative polling that informs the report shows keeping the Triple Lock on the State Pension, improving GP access and reducing hospital waiting lists were top priorities for older people aged 65 and above. The equivalent of more than eight million people in this age group put the Triple Lock in their top three calls, with only slightly fewer – approaching seven million – putting each of improvements to GP access and reduced hospital waiting lists in their top three personal priorities.

Both the over 65s and those aged 50 to 64 thought that “help to cut the cost of energy bills by making my home more energy efficient” was extremely important: this was the call fourth most commonly ranked in the 65+ age group’s top priorities and, even higher, the third most commonly picked by the pre-retirement group. 

The Charity believes this is a ringing endorsement from older generations for an ambitious home insulation programme as a central plank in any political party’s plans to progress towards net zero.

Age differences in priorities

The subtle variations in priority between the older and younger age groups probably reflect the different situations of people before and after they retire. For example, once you become eligible for your State Pension and usually, if by no means always, stop working, you really appreciate how crucial it is that its value is sustained, especially if it’s your sole or main source of income – as is the case for about half the UK pensioner population and significantly more women pensioners.

Both age groups also placed importance on the next Government sustaining the free bus pass; improving access to social care and support to stay independent at home for longer; the choice to access public services offline; and better protection from scams, with between 1 in 8 and 1 in 4 people in each age group putting each call in their top three priorities.

In its commentary in the report Age UK recognises that public funds will be tight and that the incoming Government will have to make some difficult choices. However, the Charity points out that many of its policy recommendations do not cost very much public money and that some do not cost anything at all. 

For example, establishing a Commissioner for Older People in England and appointing a Minister for Older People, would cost relatively little but vastly improve the extent to which the views and interests of older people are heard in Government, and how joined up policymaking within Whitehall is in response. 

Age UK also draws attention to the pressing need for the next Government to grasp the challenges and opportunities of our rapidly ageing population after what has essentially been a wasted decade since the Government in 2012 commissioned a House of Lords select committee to report on how we need to prepare for ageing – but then did relatively little to act on its conclusions. 

Social care

On the important topic of social care the report calls for immediate action from the incoming Government to improve the pay and conditions of staff, and a commitment to identify a sustainable income stream to fund a process of thoroughgoing reform, with a fully fleshed out plan published to that end so that change happens within the next five years, rather than the ten year timescale to which both the major parties tend to refer. Social care also needs its own workforce plan, the Charity says – joined up with the NHS workforce plan that is already in place. Age UK also asks for considerably more support for unpaid carers, many of whom are older people themselves.  

Most of the report is devoted to domestic policy issues but there is also a section on the UK’s leadership within the international community to improve the lives of older people around the world, particularly in low and middle-income countries. Among the recommendations are a call for the UK Government to champion the development of a UN Human Rights Convention for Older Persons to benefit older people everywhere, including here. This is another important part of the policy infrastructure for older people that is sorely lacking. 

Caroline Abrahams CBE, Charity Director at Age UK said: “We found a clear consensus among older people that their top priorities at this Election are maintaining the Triple Lock and improving the NHS. This is all the more understandable when you consider the impact of the two major shocks we’ve experienced in recent years: the cost-of-living crisis and the pandemic. These were tumultuous events whose after-effects endure to this day, and I am sure they have shaken public confidence in different but important ways.

“Older people prize the Triple Lock because it gives them precious reassurance that their State Pension will retain its value, come what may. In a similar way, the high priority placed by people both pre and post-retirement on support to insulate their homes, to help keep their energy bills down, probably reflects the frightening impact of seeing the costs of this essential spiral through the roof in a totally unanticipated way.

“As we age the NHS becomes more important than ever and it’s no surprise that older people are one of its principal user groups. Knowing they can see their GP relatively quickly if something seems amiss, get that hospital test done or have a cataract operation without undue delay, are vital in enabling older people to continue to live confidently and independently in their own homes. Unfortunately, the problems affecting the NHS are extremely destabilising for many older people, especially those living alone or without the support of family and friends. Quite simply, they make later life a lot scarier than it should be.

“Improving social care featured lower on older people’s list of priorities than might have been expected, but I think this is because there is such great concern about the volatility of prices, following a period of high inflation, and about the state of the NHS. It would be a mistake for policymakers to conclude from this that they can ‘get away’ with doing little if anything to reform and refinance our struggling care services, not least because unless and until they do they will find it impossible to radically improve NHS performance, something that people of all ages clearly prize high.”

Photo by Sarah Agnew on Unsplash

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