The future of ageing: Ageing better / Ageing badly?
We're all living longer than ever before. A person aged 65 today can expect to live to 85, nearly ten years longer than their parents' generation. Medical advances combined with better public health and living standards have given us extra years of life. These advances offer a great opportunity for the economy, for society and for us as individuals.
Imagine two possible future scenarios: the world in which everyone ages better, and the world in which all inhabitants age badly. On one side is the utopia where we all live in good homes, which are in solid communities with great social connections, have a fulfilling job that gives us the means to live, and have taken steps to stay healthy. On the other side is a dystopian future in which everyone dreads their next birthday. Which would you rather live in?
Watch our panellists' introductions:
Chair: Anna Dixon, Chief Executive, Centre for Ageing Better
Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice, London Business School
Tom Wells, Government Office for Science
Rose Gilroy, Professor of Ageing, Policy & Planning, Newcastle University
Niall Dickson, Chief Executive, NHS Confederation
The world of ageing better and the world of ageing badly
In this breakfast debate we explored different scenarios in each world: the homes we live in, the work we do, our mobility, and our health and social care.
We talked about these four areas:
Work: Lynda Gratton said we need to embrace the idea of a multi-stage life. If we define our lives by three stages (school, work, retirement) we restrict ourselves. The future should see huge investment in life-long learning to reflect the many different stages of our lives. The main investors in this are corporations – so this should help people to enhance and develop the skills they need and want for their careers at any age. However, ageism in the workplace is an issue – from recruitment right through to retirement (at whatever age that might be). Corporations are too slow to address ageism and this might need government intervention unless things speed up. If we start to think about the average life being 100 years, in the future we might typically be working into our 80s… which is why we’re working with employers to promote age-friendly workplaces and supporting more older workers to remain in fulfilling work for longer.
Mobility: We need to make sure service provision meets people’s wants and needs as they approach - and when they are in - later life so they can live the lives they want. Tom Wells explored the topic of mobility – physical mobility and the mobility of data – and presented two scenarios that he imagined for his future self: one where he lived in a rural area, and the other where he lived in an urban area. The rural setting he imagined relied on technology to keep him connected to his friends and family, like automated cars to get around – which was fine until he had to give up driving due to a health condition. There aren’t any public transport options as his village is too remote, so suddenly he’s stuck at home. Delivery drones for shopping are great – unless you can’t use the tech to get the item delivered in the first place (read more about our work on digital inclusion). The urban area is a smart city that keeps itself automatically updated with the latest tech. It’s fast paced, permanently refreshing and always feels new. All the amenities and services he needs are to hand – trouble is, everyone’s younger than him and he feels out of place. It’s not a city that’s got much of an age friendly attitude. And what about all that data that’s being collected about us? We need transparency on how our data is used by technologies and moved around by organisations.
Housing: Echoing Lynda’s criticism of segmenting our lives into three stages, Rose Gilroy felt the same of housebuilders. Newbuilds are targeted at three stereotyped consumers: the young professionals who want to live in the city centre; the couple with young kids who want lots of space in a semi-detached or terraced house with garden; the sheltered house or retired living estate, which is for the old and frail and therefore must be small. We shouldn’t be so obsessed with people’s current age when it comes to designing housing; instead we should make sure every new home is built to be accessible and adaptable across the life course. We need investment in our existing homes – the UK has some of the oldest housing stock in Europe – investment in adaptations are highly cost-effective, helping to improve wellbeing, keep people out of hospital, prevent or delay moves into residential care, reduce burdens on carers and support social connections.
Health and social care: After a quick glance at any media outlet you might be forgiven for thinking we’re already living in the dystopian world for health. Niall Dickson said reports of the current health and social care status constantly redefines what a ‘crisis’ is – can things really get any worse? The future needs to have had careful consideration of the practical policies of living longer; the challenges for government include ensuring we all have more healthy years in later life (the goal is for people to have five more years free of preventable disability, and to reduce the gap between the richest and poorest people in disability-free life expectancy by 2035). The right care and treatment for one person also needs to be part of a sustainable solution for everyone, and access should not be a barrier to people for safe and effective healthcare.
To make the steps needed to ensure that we don’t end up in a world where we all age badly, we need to bring about lasting changes in society that make a difference to peoples' experiences of later life, now and in the future. This means more people in fulfilling work, in good health, living in safe, accessible homes and connected communities. We must act now to secure a better future for everyone.