15 Mar 2013

Meeting the challenge of an ageing population – debate

Chief Correspondent

In the week a Lords report warns that the country is “woefully unprepared” to cater for its growing population of over-65s, our Google Hangout asks how we can tackle the issue.

With the number of over-65s in England set to increase by 50 per cent by 2030, and over-85s by 100 per cent, the report, entitled “Ready for Ageing?” (see graphic below), says the country must act quickly to guarantee adequate health and social care for these people and to ensure they are properly provided for financially.

It calls on private sector employers, government and the financial services industry to work together to tackle defects in defined contributions so people have a clearer idea of what they get from their pension savings.

The report recommends the establishment of two cross-party commissions. One would focus on ways to secure the financial security of people over 65. The other would analyse how health and social care funding needs to change to serve the ageing population.

Ready for ageing – the debate

Channel 4 News brought together a panel of experts and elderly people to discuss the findings of the Lords report. They included

– Lord Filkin, who chaired the Lords committee which published the report
– Carol Holland, director of Aston University’s research centre for healthy ageing
– Caroline Abrahams, director of external affairs at Age UK
– Richard Hannam, 65, Age UK Internet Champion finalist 2012
– Keith Paterson, 81, who set up and runs the Silverhairs website

Lord Filkin said there were three main points to emerge from his report: that the implications of an ageing population had not been properly taken on board, that the ageing population placed a huge demand on health and social care services, and that the challenge of an ageing population was not being addressed “holistically”.

As far as individuals were concerned, he suggested we should adopt a more flexible attitude towards retirement. And he called on the government urgently to assess the cost of the increased demand that an ageing population creates.

There’s lots of money to be made from older people, but the private sector is stereotyped in how it sees what older people want. Caroline Abrahams, Age UK

Keith Paterson and Richard Hannam both have active lives, and Keith stressed the importance of continuing to be active – both physically and mentally – beyond retirement. He said people should be encouraged to adopt “anti-Alzheimer’s projects”.

Keith also warned that the country is “sleepwalking” into a serious problem – “It all comes down to money in the end.”

Richard – who is a piano teacher, photographer, and business consultant – thought financial products had to be simplified for older people. He agreed on the importance of a healthy lifestyle, noting that it is easier to maintain a healthy lifestyle if you are financially secure.

Lack of joined-up thinking

Caroline Holland endorsed the importance of physical and intellectual engagement when you are old, but she regretted the lack of joined-up thinking where healthcare and social care are concerned. She said a joined-up system would make an enormous impact in addressing the problems identified by the report.

She also emphasised the need a strategy of prevention in healthcare: “If people are given that very easily accessible prevention strategy, then we could actually avoid an awful lot of the need for formal care, people having to go to nursing homes, people going into hospital.”

She said an appointment twice a year to review a person’s chronic disease “is not really doing enough to prevent that person having crises”.

Age UK’s Caroline Abrahams pointed out that the private sector is missing a trick with regard to provision for the elderly.

“There’s lots of money to be made from older people, but the private sector is incredibly stereotyped in how it sees what older people want and need,” she said, citing housing, leisure and travel as areas in which business could be more responsive.

And she called for more flexible working practices to enable older people to remain in the workforce without necessarily being in full-time employment.

“The government’s moving in the right direction,” she told Alex Thomson. “All the political parties are on this agenda, but we just need them to push it a bit further.”