We all know how frustrating it is to be left marooned when the car is off the road for repairs, or the buses are unreliable in bad weather – but for over 18,000 older people in Wales, this isolation through lack of decent transport is a daily reality. New WRVS research released today has found that 17% of older people in Wales have been hit by a reduction in public transport services, with many being left trapped at home through poor access to public or community transport.
Whilst the narrative of cuts in transport services is not new, it is about to get a whole lot more severe. The recent Welsh Government announcement of the merging of different funding streams for transport services has signalled a massive 26% reduction in subsidies for local transport services – and across Wales, the impact is already being felt as vital local services are withdrawn or cut to the bone.
Frustratingly, this is happening at exactly the time when those services are needed the most. Figures indicate that 66% of Welsh single pensioners do not have a car, and it has also been shown that 40% of households without a car feel that local bus services fail to meet their travelling needs to the local town or shops, and 65% believe services are inadequate for travel to their local hospital. Further cutbacks will make a bad situation worse, especially for older people – reliable local transport networks become increasingly significant as people get older, with journeys for essential items and social activities sometimes becoming more of a challenge.
At the heart of this is the extent to which transport planning takes account of the voices of older people. Today’s WRVS research indicates that older people feel dis-empowered and disenfranchised; 23% of respondents did not feel able to make comments or complaints about local transport services, and this clearly has an impact when services fail to meet their needs. It should shame us as a nation that nearly 20% of older people are unable manage the walk to/from their nearest public transport, and that many of that same group feel unable to do anything to challenge the system.
This is not, however, simply another request for more money. What today’s research underlines is that we can spend existing resources more shrewdly on services which protect the most vulnerable. Community transport (such as Bwcabus or WRVS services) is a great example, with schemes being viewed much more positively than regular public transport, and rural areas in particular benefiting from such services. Community transport is also rated extremely highly by users in terms of its social impact and for its social return on investment.
We need to help promote community transport, and ensure that funding is there for schemes to become sustainable in the longer-term. We should start by increasing the proportion of transport funding which has to be spent on community transport – realigning spending priorities to ensure that we keep vulnerable older people connected and independent. We also need to ensure that older people have an outlet to express formally their concerns about transport, so that their voice is not marginalised or ignored. Without these sorts of fundamental changes, we may find ourselves waiting for a bus that simply never comes.
A year ago the House of Lords decided that the social changes that were being experienced with many more people living longer needed investigating as they couldn’t find evidence that it had been looked at comprehensively by Government before. Today the Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change published its highly anticipated report. The key message is that are as a nation we are “woefully underprepared for ageing”.
Many of us will be living 10 years longer than we were expected to when we were born. Whilst there is a very real issue now, we don't have to look that far forward to the change accelerates. For example, by 2030 the number of people aged over 85 will have doubled.
The key message from
the report is that are
as a nation we are
We know that this creates opportunities. WRVS' own research shows that older people generate some £40billion to the UK economy, and this will rise
. But at the same time this brings about its own challenges.
The Committee is concerned about how older people will support themselves and has highlighted three key areas that need addressing. The first is around pensions and encouraging saving, the second around working past traditional retirement age and lastly around unlocking assets within their own homes.
On health and social care the Committee believes that the system is not designed to deal with long term chronic conditions, but more acute conditions and therefore it will need radical change. It argues that there needs to be a shift in focus and vision in England to improve integration and prevention, with an aim of keeping older people safe in their own homes rather than in hospitals. It suggests looking at merging health and social care budgets and providing care 24hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days of the year. The Committee recognises the valuable contribution that voluntary organisations such as WRVS already make, but recommends that central and local government work with the third sector to increase volunteering especially by older people to support older people.
Ageing is a huge social change that will impact on everyone. Government therefore needs to have a firm understanding of what this means in terms of the UK’s population, society and public policies and develop a coherent strategy going forward. The Committee is critical of the current and previous Governments over many years that have failed the grasp the enormity and urgency of the situation. The Committee calls for the issuing of a White Paper before the next general election setting out the issues and how we should prepare for longer life. All parties should consider an ageing society in their manifestos for the next election.
The Committee also recommends that whoever is successful after the election should establish two cross party commissions to respond to the ageing society; one would look at finance and the other health and social care.
This report offers a unique opportunity to tackle some difficult issues and to bring about real change. Let us hope that this opportunity is grasped by all parties as we head towards the next election. Read the full Ready for Ageing report.