24 Dec 2019
Anna says as well as inequalities in our experience of ageing, a lack of accessible housing and support to manage health conditions in the workplace are key issues outlined in the report.
A far cry from the stereotypical rich baby boomer, Britain’s least well-off over-50s die younger and get sicker earlier than their wealthier peers. Those worst-off are at much greater risk of spending later life in ill-health and poverty.
That’s the harsh truth our analysis, published today, reveals.
The poorest men aged 50 and over are three times more likely than the wealthiest to have chronic heart disease, twice as likely to have type 2 diabetes or arthritis, and almost four times more likely to need help with activities like washing and dressing. 1.3m over-55s live in homes in such poor condition and disrepair they pose a serious health hazard. Nearly one in four 50-64 year olds manages three or more long-term health conditions.
We can’t go on like this. Ill-health and disability are two major drivers behind people exiting the workforce early. Inequalities in our experience of ageing will lead to untenable pressures on our public services, businesses and employers.
Figures published last week showed public satisfaction with the NHS fall to its lowest level in ten years. Pressure on the NHS and social care will only increase unless we tackle the causes of preventable ill-health and disability.
A lack of support to manage health conditions in the workplace could see more people exiting the labour market early, exacerbating the skills and labour shortages facing many sectors. As the age at which people are eligible for the state pension rises, those that can’t work will have to rely on benefits for longer. Poorer people are three times more likely to fall out of work due to ill-health and around a million people between 50 and state pension age are out of work involuntarily.
Our woeful housing stock compounds problems. Just 7% of homes in England meet basic accessibility standards to enable people to live well in old age. We assume people will move into specialist retirement homes, but the reality is 90% of over-65s live in ordinary flats and houses. The media obsesses about downsizing, but very few affordable options exist which can accommodate people of all ages and abilities.
We need to radically rethink our approach to ageing. The time for dither and delay is over. The great achievement of longevity could be overshadowed by shameful levels of ill-health, poverty and isolation.
Being ill and frail in old age is not inevitable. The NHS needs to put prevention at its heart, helping people to age healthily.
Our environment can help us to live well despite ill-health. Government must mandate that new homes are accessible, and builders, planners and councils must do their part to deliver them in every community.
Employers must do more to make workplaces age-friendly, with flexible working policies and equal opportunities for older workers and carers to work for as long as they want and need.
Society must work together to help communities be more age-friendly and inclusive, including better transport options and local services.
We mustn’t let the huge numbers of people currently in their 50s and 60s miss out on the wonderful extra years of life that their better-off peers will enjoy.
Right now, it’s the poorest who are hit the hardest. A failure to respond could have grave consequences for us all.
This article was first published on The Times Red Box.