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Local leadership can create better later lives for us all

Leadership is needed locally as well as nationally if we’re all going to benefit equally from our longer lives. A key source of that leadership must be local government.  

We held a breakfast debate on 'How can local leadership deliver better later lives for us all' back in February, here event Chair, Natalie Turner, explores some of the key characteristics of good local government leadership.

We are all living longer. By 2040 more than 40% of us will be aged over 50 for the first time. However, our recent analysis showed that a boy born in Blackpool is set to live nine years less than a boy born in Westminster; a girl born in Camden can expect to live almost eight years longer than one born in Blackpool. And these are averages at the local authority level. A Greater Manchester metrolink map has a gap of twelve years in life expectancy along its stops. Inequalities between wards across the country are even starker. ONS analysis in 2018 showed that for males, the healthy life expectancy (years spent in ‘good’ health) for those born in Knightsbridge and Belgravia was 32 years longer than those in a similarly sized area of Blackpool.

Leadership is needed locally as well as nationally if we’re all going to benefit equally from our longer lives. A key source of that leadership must be local government.

Local authorities have powers and responsibility for many of the big infrastructure investments that will make a long-term, sustainable difference. Like building more suitable homes, prioritising safe and walkable communities, or shaping back-to-work programmes to do better for the over 50s. But good local leadership does way more than that. It identifies trends, sets goals, brings people together for common purpose and acts as an example. The nature of local democracies makes for closer links and understanding between statutory services and the people that live and work in a place. They are often one and the same.

Budgets have been hammered in local government over the past decade, but excellence and leadership are still widespread.

One of our distinct characteristics as a ‘What Works Centre' is our partnerships with local places. We work together to test and learn what works in real life settings, and to have a positive impact on the lives of local people.

We have strategic locality partnerships with Greater ManchesterLeeds and a soon to be announced rural partner. We also support the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities. Currently 38 cities, towns and counties, covering almost 21 million people, are signed up to become better places to grow older, the aim of this World Health Organisation initiative.

Budgets have been hammered in local government over the past decade, but excellence and leadership are still widespread. We have learnt a lot from our work and have identified a few characteristics of good local government leadership on these issues: 

  1. Thinking beyond the immediate pressure of health and social care. We will never get ahead of the curve without addressing the impact on a good later life of wider determinants such as homes, jobs, community infrastructure and transport.

  1. Collaboration, across all sectors and departments, not just those seen as ‘responsible for older people’. A life-course approach and starting with the person can help cut across boundaries, which are irrelevant and confusing to most people.

  1. Involve older people and those affected by these issues. They are powerful activists, and advocates, with skills and insights that can make the difference between success and failure.   

  1. Create a positive, compelling and simple vision for people to get behind. Leeds has set a goal to become ‘the Best City to Grow Old in’ and Andy Burnham’s vision for Greater Manchester as ‘one of the best places in the world to grow up, get on and grow old.’

  1. Challenge ageist language. Framing increasing numbers of people living longer as a burden, a challenge or a ‘bomb’ affects how we feel as we age. It can also lead to skewed and misguided decisions on ageing-related issues, being rooted in stereotypes rather than real people and experiences. 

  1. Look down as well as ahead. Focusing on future growth in numbers of people aged over 65 can distract from the fact that those people are currently in their 50s and 60s. We can act now to make a difference to their later lives.

  1. Act as an example. Alongside other anchor institutions, such as universities and hospitals, local authorities can create lasting legacies for the places they serve. For example, by becoming an age-friendly employer and pushing their supply chain to do the same.  

 

How can local leadership deliver better later lives for us all?

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Natalie Turner
Head of Localities