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

How can the right local leadership make the changes urgently needed for better later lives?

We put this question to our expert panel at a breakfast debate, hosted by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and in partnership with the Local Government Association.

Watch the highlights

Breakfast debate local leadership thumbnail
Living well in later life

While we’re lucky to be living longer than ever before, sadly, there are huge inequalities in the amount of years that people are expected to live in good health, depending on where they are living across the country. To illustrate what data is telling us: we can predict that a boy born in Richmond-upon-Thames is likely to live two decades longer than a boy born in Blackpool. In light of this, we asked how the right local leadership can create the changes urgently needed for better later lives.

Meet the panel

Paul McGarry is Assistant Director of the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub and has a wealth of knowledge from his research and work on this issue over the last 20 years. Paul is also a founding member of the World Health Organisation Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities, as well as the UK Network.

Cllr Richard Kemp CBE is the leader of the Liberal Democrats on the Liverpool Council, where he has served for more than 37 years. He is also deputy chair for the Local Government Association Community Wellbeing Board, where he leads on community health activities.

Pam Smith is Chief Executive of Stockport Council and Executive Lead for Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) on Ageing and Equalities. She is passionate about building strong teams comprising residents of all ages.

Matthew Ainsworth is Assistant Director for Employment (Strategy, Policy and Delivery) GMCA. He is responsible for the delivery of the employment elements of Greater Manchester’s ground-breaking Devolution Agreement and also GM strategy/priority around good jobs for people to progress and develop.

There was synergy in the room as our panel of experts shared their views on the role local leadership plays in helping people live healthy and fulfilled later lives. Here are some of the key messages:

1. We're already behind

Since 2010/11, austerity has played a significant role in slowing down, if not completely stopping, progress in improving the lives of people aged over 50. Councillor Kemp referenced the fact that for the past three decades we’ve known an older population was coming, and warned that politicians can’t afford to only look four years ahead. He encouraged politicians to put their party agendas to one side and find real solutions together.

2. The role of the local government shouldn't be underestimated

Every speaker agreed that local government should play a convening role, taking the lead in bringing a number of stakeholders together including researchers, policy makers, members of the private sector and citizens. It is crucial that local authority listens to the people they serve at a neighbourhood level, as a global approach will not bring the same results in areas of differing needs.

3. Prevention has to be priority

Resources are being almost wholly spent on dealing with the problems now, but we need to invest resources into prevention. How can we future proof the children of today? Pam Smith shared highlights coming out of Stockport’s ‘All Age Living Strategy’, which focuses on helping all ages live their best life and has inspired inter-generational housing developments in the city centre.

4. Partnerships are crucial

Cllr Kemp reiterated that the role of elected leaders was to make themselves available to listen to the needs of people in their constituency and to respond with solutions that fit those needs. He finished by saying: “It’s the partnerships that will enable us to make a real difference in our communities.” 

5. Work - the business case for age-friendly employment

Both research and regional economic plans are highlighting that our economy will not grow unless the private sector is proactive in increasing the longevity of its existing workforce. The current focus on education and skills for young people entering the workforce is not enough and should go hand-in-hand with plans to train and upskill people at all stages of their careers. 

Mat Ainsworth talked about strategies for this: 

  • training and apprenticeships for older people
  • careers advice given throughout our careers
  • allowing people to work flexibly, to fit with later life responsibilities 
  • supporting people back into work

Perhaps the boldest answer to the question of what government should do to help people lead better lives was Paul McGarry’s, when he suggested leaders need to be open to being wrong, so that they can learn and adapt.

Once again, we received insightful questions from debate attendees both in the room and online:

  • How should we adapt our strategies to help the ageing population when people’s economic situations are very different?
  • Should we expect our parish, district or county councils to take a lead in making rural villages “age-friendly” or are we expected to fend for ourselves individually?
  • In the fight against ageism, how can we educate young people not to think of old age as being a problem?

Catch up: watch the whole event on our YouTube channel

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Ellie Gotay
Events Officer