29 Dec 2011

Society must not ignore the old’

Amid growing fears of intergenerational conflict in difficult economic times, Saga’s Ros Altmann writes for Channel 4 News on why the needs, rights and talents of our ageing population matter.

'Society must not ignore the old' (Getty)

Society must not ignore the value of older citizens, writes Ros Altmann of Saga.

Everyone is struggling in the current economic slowdown, but increasingly strident calls for policymakers to focus primarily on the young are misguided.

Recent policies producing ultra-low interest rates and high inflation have already stealthily transferred wealth away from older savers and pensioners, to younger borrowers and banks.

Many older people started working at 15. Yes, some received free university tuition, but most had no higher education. They built up our country through hard work, self-reliance, saving for their future and only buying what they felt they could afford. Such values should be celebrated, rather than envying the outcomes. Younger generations sometimes blinded by a sense of entitlement, misguidedly attribute the wealth of a minority of older citizens to all older people.

They built up our country through hard work, self-reliance, saving for their future…such values should be celebrated.

Yes, UK pensioners do have houses, but over half have incomes under £9,940 and nearly half need means-tested benefits – how many younger people would accept that for the rest of their lives?

So what policies are required?

Pensions

Firstly, government should radically reform our ludicrously low, overly-complex state pension, which relies on mass-means testing that penalises private pensions or earnings and leaves most women without a decent pension. A single, decent basic minimum state pension, without means-testing, would make it safe to save or work longer.

Employment

Secondly, government should encourage more flexible later life working. Long-term unemployment among the over 50s is higher than other age groups, with job loss often meaning their working life is finished. What a waste of resources!

Of course the government must help unemployed youngsters, but don’t forget older generations’ skills. Abolishing the Default Retirement Age is brilliant, but we also need programmes to enable older workers to work part-time, easing gradually into full retirement. Having more baby-boomers working longer will boost the economy, create more jobs for the young and improve quality of life the majority of people who are not “old” in their sixties nowadays and often want to stay engaged with the world of work.

Care

Inadequate resourcing of the UK care system amid council cutbacks could bankrupt the NHS. Increasing numbers of frail elderly people, denied decent care, will end up in acute hospitals, draining health resources. Retirement income is about more than just pensions! Care costs should be factored into later-life financial planning. Radical reform of care funding and delivery, integrating elderly health and social care services is essential to avoid further scandals and crises.

our outdated housing stock often leaves pensioners freezing in inadequately heated houses (Getty)

The government should adopt Dilnot’s capped partnership framework and incentivise care savings plans, including tax relief or additional ISA allowances if saving for later life care and encouraging more people to have earlier help at home. Handrails, alarms, telehealth, telecare are investments that can keep older people well in their homes for longer.

Heating help

Older generations have benefited from rising house prices, but we shouldn’t penalise them for that. Do we penalise shareholders if stock markets boom? In any event, our outdated housing stock often leaves pensioners freezing in inadequately heated houses.

Last winter, 25,000 older people died of cold. Government should help improve insulation and fuel-efficiency or maybe encourage moving to more appropriate accommodation, but the family home is more than just bricks and mortar. If we want people to move we must kick-start construction of age-friendly housing to provide attractive, appropriate alternative homes. This could stimulate the economy too.

10-year plans

Councils should be required to produce ten-year plans detailing how they will cope with their ageing population. Currently, there is no long-term planning for increasing numbers of older people. Policy must think ahead for the old as well as the young!

But are the young getting a raw deal? Read more from the Intergenerational Foundation on behalf of the younger generation