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The UK is unready for ageing - urgent action needed by government

The House of Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change today warned that the Government is woefully underprepared for ageing. The Committee says that our rapidly ageing population will have a huge impact on our society and public services and unless Government and all political parties address this, the gift of longer life could lead to a series of crises.

The report identifies how England will see a 50% rise in the number of those aged 65 and a 100% increase in those aged 85 between 2010 and 2030 (for local authority-level figures, see note 3).

A longer life offers benefits for many, but to help people sustain a good quality of life over more years will require big changes in employment practices, pensions, health and social care services. An ageing society will greatly increase the number of people with long-term health conditions, and health and social care services will need a radically different model of care to support such people in their own homes and in the community, and so avoid needless admissions to hospital.

For a major social change affecting everyone in England the Committee was concerned that the Government had not properly addressed this. It calls on the Government to publish a White Paper before the next general election setting out how our society needs to prepare for a longer life and calls on all parties, in working on their manifestos for the next general election, to consider the wider implications of the ageing society .

The Committee recommends that whichever party is in Government after the election should, within six months, establish two cross-party commissions to respond to the ageing society. One would work with employers and financial services providers to improve pensions, savings and equity release; the other would analyse how the health and social care system and its funding should change to serve the needs of our ageing population. Both should report in 12 months.

Suitable health and social care for an ageing society

The Committee has concluded that our current model of health and social care provision is failing older people now and is inappropriate to care well for the many more older people there will be with chronic health conditions. This will require a fundamental change to healthcare provision and the integration of health and social care systems and their funding.

The National Health Service will have to transform to deal with the very large increases in demand for and costs of health and social care. England has an inappropriate model of health and social care to cope with the changed pattern of ill health from an ageing population.

The report explains how radical changes to health and social care are needed and the Committee calls on the Government to set out a vision and framework so health and social care services progressively change to become much better fitted to meet the needs of an ageing society.

Supporting ourselves through later life

For many people there is a risk that a longer life could worsen the existing problem of insufficient savings and pensions. To help address this, people should be able to work later, if they wish to, often in part-time work.  Also private sector employers, Government and the financial services industry must together tackle the serious defects in defined contribution pensions so people get a clearer idea of what they can expect to get from their pension savings.

The Committee suggests that people may need to use their housing assets to support their longer lives and urges Government to work with the financial sector to support the growth of a safe, easy-to-understand equity release market, with low fees and high quality standards.

Attitudes to ageing

The Committee argues that with increasing longevity, our view of old age will have to change, for example: Government and employers should work to end ‘cliff-edge' retirement.

Commenting, Lord Filkin, Chairman of the Committee, said:

“As a country we are not ready for the rapid ageing of our population. By 2030, England will have double the number of people aged 85 and over than it had in 2010, and the large increase in our older population will have profound effects. The amazing gift of longer life is to be welcomed, but our society and politicians need to address the implications, and the changes needed to attitudes, policies and services so people are best able to benefit from it.

“Health and social care need to be radically reformed; both are failing older people now. A big shift in services is essential so that the many more older people with long-term conditions can be well cared for and supported in their own homes and in the community and not needlessly end up in hospital. All health services and social care must be integrated to help achieve this. 

“We need Government to support the choices each of us makes for our longer lives: people must be better informed and enabled to get a better idea of the income they may get in retirement from their pension savings; they should be able to work later if they wish to do so.

“The Government must set out in a White Paper the implications of an ageing society with a vision for living well and independently. It should set out how our health and social care services, our pension arrangements and our practices must change to achieve this. All political parties should be expected to consider the wider implications of the ageing society in their manifestos for the 2015 election.

“This is not a distant issue; our population is older now and will get more so over the next decade. The public are entitled to an honest conversation about the implications.”

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