Those in their 50s and 60s must be part of the road to recovery. Here’s how the government can support them
A recent report by Ipsos MORI revealed what life has been like for those in their 50s and 60s during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Our Chief Executive, Anna Dixon, suggests five ways in which the government can ensure those in their 50s and 60s are not forgotten about in the road to recovery.
As we move out of lockdown, many of us are trying to regain a sense of normality and get back to the things and people we love, albeit often with a tentativeness that did not exist before.
The government and others meanwhile continue to fight the short-term fallout from COVID-19: how to keep people safe and prevent a reoccurrence of the virus, how to secure jobs, and quick ways to stimulate our flatlining economy.
But the bigger picture on COVID-19, how it has impacted and will continue to impact our lives now and in the coming years, is still unknown. Helping to shed light on this, Ipsos MORI published a large-scale study, perhaps the first of its kind, on how lockdown has affected the lives of people in their 50s and 60s across England - and how it might change their futures.
This age group have so far been overlooked in the big discussions on recovery and getting the country back on track. But lockdown has left them in particularly precarious circumstances in the run up to retirement.
They represent an experienced and vital part of our workforce – Ipsos MORI reports more than a third are key workers – but many are now worried about their financial situation and their ability to stay in work until they can draw down their pension.
A quarter of those in their 50s and 60s have been eating more healthily in this period, and almost one in three have been exercising more.
Many in this age group are also reporting a deterioration in their physical and mental health. A significant number have missed operations and treatments, and are anxious about getting treatment as an inevitable backlog builds. One in five report worsening physical health in lockdown; 32% of smokers have been smoking more, and 36% have been drinking more alcohol.
This period has also highlighted to all of us just how important our homes are, and the impact on our wellbeing if our home doesn’t meet our needs. The new report found that two in five people in their 50s and 60s have at least one issue with their home – most commonly noise, cold in winter, and a shortage of space. Renters are more likely to experience issues with their home, and as we see more people renting in later life it’s increasingly important to ensure our housing stock meets people’s needs.
Despite all these issues, the report reveals some positive changes for this group under lockdown. They have been enjoying the flexibility to work from home, and the greater work-life balance this has afforded them. No surprise that many reported missing family members, but they also enjoyed spending more time with their children and partners. Some, too, have developed healthier habits during lockdown – a quarter of those in their 50s and 60s have been eating more healthily in this period, and almost one in three have been exercising more.
This group also provided a significant part of the lockdown community effort, helping out neighbours and those who were shielding. This has provided a sense of satisfaction and community for many, who say they want to continue helping out in their communities in future.
People in this age group don’t feel that all ages have been considered equally in the government’s response to the pandemic. There is now an opportunity to redress this. Government can seize the window of opportunity to sustain the positive changes this group has experienced and prevent long-term negative consequences of lockdown by:
Preventing ill-health and promoting physical activity - building the health and resilience of this group must be at the heart of the government’s recovery plans. This includes addressing the social determinants of health and inequalities and putting a much greater focus on preventing obesity and the onset of conditions that leave people vulnerable to future health crises. It also means encouraging people to get physically active by investing in active travel such as walking and cycling.
Supporting over 50s to remain in work – offering tailored employment support to over 50s and opportunities to retrain, with a specific focus on people who face barriers to finding and getting work, including carers and people with long-term health conditions. The government must send a clear message to employers, job coaches and jobseekers that people over 50 are as entitled to support as younger workers.
Taking action to improve the poor condition of homes - supporting people to make home repairs and improvements for better health and quality of life, including adapting homes to manage changing needs as they get older. The government should also ensure all new homes are built to basic accessibility standards so they are fit for the future
Helping people maintain a better work-life balance – government and employers need to commit to enabling people who want to, to work flexibly. This is particularly important to enable older workers who are managing health issues and caring responsibilities to remain working.
Encouraging people to continue to help out in their communities – National and local government can play an important role, working with the voluntary and community organisations and employers, to sustain the growth in volunteering and community action. There is an opportunity to harness the sense of community and enthusiasm to help each other that the lockdown unlocked, with 87% of 50-70 year-olds wanting to continue their volunteering and neighbourly activity.
The government faces difficult decisions about how to steer the country through recovery, but they must make sure that the lockdown legacy is not a generation of retirees that are poorer and sicker than those that have gone before. Overlooking this group will simply store up problems for the future - for these individuals but also for our communities, our public finances and our health and care system.
Instead, let’s make sure that people approaching later life are part of the recovery success story: contributing to their communities, enjoying better health, in homes that keep them safe, and in fulfilling and flexible work.
The experience of people approaching later life in lockdown: The impact of COVID-19 on 50-70-year olds in England