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Will you still need me? Of course we do
The Beatles once sang “will you still need me when I’m 64”. The lyrics would need some very necessary upward revision nowadays. Yesterday’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures of population trends suggests that we are all expected to live longer than previously projected. Until now the projected age for a female was 83 and for a male 79. The ONS has looked at recent deaths trends and arrived at revised figures of 89 and 85 respectively. And this news should be a cause of celebration.
Last Friday’s debate on the Place and Contribution of older People in Society was led by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his last ever appearance in the Lords. His sense that society was becoming dangerously used to speaking and thinking of an ageing population as a problem, a burden on public purse and private resources alike. He was in no doubt that the dignity of older people in the UK should be recognised as they make a significant contribution with more than half the over-60 population are involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work. He asked what can be done by government and other agencies to harness most effectively this resource, not just as a way of solving problems that require such resources, but as an affirmation of positive models of living for older citizens.
Many other Peers referred to the Gold Age Pensioners report published by WRVS in 2011 which estimated that in 2010, over 65s, through taxes, spending power, provision of social care and the value of their volunteering, made an astonishing net contribution of £40 billion to the UK economy. Furthermore it was estimated that in 2030 the positive net contribution of over 65s will grow to £77 billion by 2030.
Aviva published its Recent Retirement report for Winter 2012 last week. This showed that 10.4 million over-65s typically give up 10 hours each week to volunteer and support their families. The combined efforts of this 'volunteer army' add up to 104 million hours of free support: worth £643.8 million per week at the national minimum wage. Some 8% of those over the age of 75 look after other older people.
During the debate Lord Wei highlighted in particular the opportunity to develop national service-type programmes, delivered by charities and social enterprises and targeted at people undergoing major transitions in life as a means of connecting them with each other to create social capital, providing useful information in a safe way, and of building resilience. He saw the biggest opportunity in retirement. He found that baby boomers nearing, or who had entered, retirement experienced a fundamental challenge. Retirement can often be a traumatic experience for some and bewildering for others and more could be done to develop ways led by retirees for retirees to help smooth this transition. Many, if encouraged in the first year or so of retirement, before long-term habits are formed, could be encouraged to enjoy a well earned rest but also be given the opportunity to work out how to make the best of the remaining decades of their lives in non-traditional ways.
Undoubtedly, older people do make a significant contribution both in economic and social terms to their communities. And with financial pressures on spending likely to continue for many years to come, the support this army of volunteers provides will only become more essential. But with a large group approaching retirement, society needs to think more creatively about how it can best ensure that these people remain a useful part of communities for as long as possible in a way that is mutually beneficial for all, but most of all to themselves.
Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00
Tuesday, 18 December 2012.
Families, loneliness and digital inclusion
A couple of weeks ago, there was a meeting at the Welsh Assembly of the Cross-Party Group on Older People & Ageing, where we spent a very interesting hour talking about older people’s access to technology, and the ways in which older people in Wales are increasingly using the internet to stay in touch with their families.
Some of the news is very good indeed – there are some great examples of older people being helped to learn new IT skills, and of software like Skype transforming older people’s ability to speak with – and see – their children and grandchildren on a regular basis. Meanwhile, at a Welsh Government level, support for the Communities 2.0 project has widened access exponentially.
All of this is very encouraging, but as new research launched today by WRVS reveals, the bigger picture is somewhat bleaker. For all the technological advances of the past 20 years, older people in Wales remain incredibly lonely, with nearly three-quarters of over 75s who live by themselves feeling isolated; worryingly, older people who live alone are actually LESS likely to be in contact with their children than older people who live with their husband or wife. This comes on top of previous findings which showed that older men in Wales are the loneliest group of people in the UK.
Moreover, the WRVS research found that older people in Wales are less likely to speak to their children every day than is the case for the UK as a whole, and that for 11% of Wales’ older people, their nearest child lives more than an hour’s drive away. Part of this can be explained by Wales’ rural geography, but economics and the harsh financial climate has also played a part; 82% of children who have moved away from their older parents have done so for work reasons.
The clear message from all of this is that more needs to be done to help older people to be connected with their families. With the Winter Break just round the corner, many of us will take the time to visit our families – but what about the 8,666 older people in Wales who WRVS estimate will spend Christmas Day alone this year?
Technology offers some hope for the future; the WRVS research showed that 85% of older people who use Skype say that it helps them feel more connected. However, this is simply not an option for some older people, with figures showing that 308,000 over-70s in Wales have never surfed the internet. Even those who do can often face confusing and conflicting messages – such as the list of websites blocked by local authorities to users of their computers in libraries (which includes a disproportionately high number of older people). Skype is a really good example, with many local authorities banning access to Skype over their computers because of a misguided ‘safety first’ attitude, which only serves to reinforce people’s concerns and prejudices about technology rather than challenging them. If we’re to help unfamiliar audiences to overcome their suspicion of technology, we need to start by getting public bodies to do the same.
We are at an interesting junction of age relations. We have a growing cohort of older people, and have a huge divide between the “digital haves” and the “digital have-nots”. For those older people who are able to exploit technology, there are huge opportunities to stay better-connected with friends and families, despite society becoming more disparate as people move further afield to find work. But we also have to cater for the large cohort who cannot (through lack of access or lack of expertise) use the technological corridors open to them. It is surely a sad state of affairs when half of our older people cite the television as their main source of company, particularly when more ‘active’ technologies could be transforming their lives by ensuring they can do the thing they value most – being able to see and hear their loved ones.
Autumn budget statement: difficult decisions lie ahead
Yesterday’s Autumn Budget Statement was quiet on the future financing of social care. I doubt whether anyone expected anything different. NHS funding remains ring fenced, although there was a reported dispute between UK Statistics Agency chair Andrew Dilnot who is seeking clarification from Jeremy Hunt on claims that NHS spending has increased. An investigation from the watchdog concluded that in real terms it was lower in 2011-12 than it was in 2009-10.
There is little doubt that local services are under immense strain. We know from the figures released by the Health and Social Care Information Centre just last week that real-terms spending by councils on adult social care fell by between 2% and 7% from 2010-11 and 2011-12. There are fewer older people receiving social care now then there were in 2001-2 despite the growth in their numbers.
The voluntary sector is, therefore, in a position to bridge this gap and provide help and support at times when it is most needed. However, earlier in the day Compact Voice published its report which investigated funding and engagement between Government and the voluntary sector. It rather worryingly found that around half of local authorities are continuing to see the voluntary sector as a soft target for spending cuts, with disproportionate cuts common and a worrying lack of impact assessment and engagement. It reported that 56% local authorities reported reducing the amount of grant funding between 2011-12 and 2012-13.
It is therefore something of a conciliation that local government is not having to make a further 1% cut next year in line with the majority of Whitehall departments. Less welcome is the fact that local government funding will be cut the year after - 2014 - by 2%, in line with Whitehall departments.
On the benefits side, carers will receive an increase in line with inflation which is better than the freeze or 1% increase for most other benefits recipients.
The Chancellor did announce that in the first half of next year there will be a Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). This will budget government spending through 2015-16. This is necessary as, with fixed term parliaments now in situ, an election won’t take place until May 2015, a month into the 2015-16 financial year. Ministers have repeatedly said that they agree with the principles of the Dilnot recommendations and intend to base a new funding model on these principles if a way to pay for it can be found. They have added that given the size of the structural deficit and the economic situation the UK faces it is right that the final decision is considered alongside other priorities at the Spending Review. This CSR then provides the opportunity to take a detailed look at the future funding of adult social care, not just for the CSR period but for the long term. This means getting to grips with the recommendations contained within the Dilnot report. More difficult decisions lie ahead.