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Healthy ageing

Whatever the result of the local elections, councils can play their part in giving everyone a good later life

The local elections are an opportunity for local leaders to consider how they can create and enable more age-friendly communities

Natalie Turner, our Head of Localities, writes that the elections are an opportunity to start a conversation with older residents about what matters to them, giving everyone a voice in transforming later life.

This May’s local elections are an ideal opportunity for local politicians and leaders to consider how their communities are supporting people to age well. They’re also an opportunity to start a conversation with older residents about what matters to them and in the process offer up another narrative on ageing to the national one which often focuses on the big policy and spending preoccupations with health, social care and pensions.

Although these things matter, local people are also interested in everyday, practical issues that make their lives better, on work, transport, housing and having a social life. People want to know where to find out about their options if the house they live in no longer suits their needs, or they want to head off a future crisis. The poor state of the pavements, losing shops in the high street and seeing closures of post offices, banks and libraries can be deeply disruptive.

A holistic and local response can ensure more people are able to live good later lives. Councillors need to be driving an “age in all policies” approach, asking how all strategies impact on different age groups, and for all data to be disaggregated by age. No other group is as large or varied as the one we call ‘older people’.

Only by talking to older people and seeing the local context through their eyes will real solutions be found.
Our communities are ageing, so they need to be age-friendly

With over-50s making up 40% of the population, how can we possibly make good local decisions without knowing more about them. Are more older people living alone in particular areas, what kinds of housing do they live in and how will that affect the local housing market in the future? How many people are approaching later life out of work involuntarily? In some local areas, the proportion of older people might be small, but that can hide a wealth of inequality and unmet needs which aren’t acknowledged or prioritised in local policies.

The best way to understand the issues is to set up a consultative group to ensure older people’s voices are heard. Councillors should take every opportunity to speak with older residents to understand the unique problems and opportunities in their area. Performing a walking audit with older residents in local high streets is a good way of understanding the built environment. Are shops accessible? Are there enough benches? Are crossing times at traffic lights too quick?

Only by talking to older people and seeing the local context through their eyes will real solutions be found.

One thing councillors can all do is support their local authority to join the UK Network of Age-friendly Communities. This shows their commitment to addressing the concerns of older residents and celebrating their local achievements. In an Age-friendly Community, services, local groups, businesses and residents all work together to identify and make the changes in both the physical environment (e.g. transport, outdoor spaces) and social environment (e.g. volunteering, employment) that are relevant to their own local context and enable people to lead healthy and active later lives.

The eight domains of age-friendly provide a framework for understanding needs and preferences as well as barriers, local priorities, and opportunities for healthy, active ageing. Local Industrial Strategies also provide a great opportunity to responding to the Ageing Grand Challenge and drive real change for older people now and in the future.

Every community can be one that gives every citizen a good later life

In the wake of the local elections, councillors can make a commitment to better, joined-up working with the aim of improving things for people in later life. There are many ways councillors can ensure more people are in fulfilling work, in good health, living in safe, accessible homes and in connected communities, for example:

Safe, accessible homes

  1. Develop local plans and spatial frameworks that set minimum targets for new builds to meet Part M(4) Category 2 standard of the government’s national technical housing standards and a proportion that meets the higher wheelchair accessible standard Part M(4) Category 3
  2. Make use of the flexibility in the Disabled Facilities Grant to fund both major and minor adaptations

Work

  1. Commit to the council becoming an age-friendly employer to lead by example and campaign for local employers to commit to becoming age-friendly.
  2. Campaign to tackle age-discrimination in recruitment of older workers to ensure people of all ages have equal access to employment

Health

  1. Embed strength and balance in local programmes and map the activities that are available locally
  2. Focus on healthy ageing as a key population health outcome

Communities

  1. Commit to sign up as an Age-friendly Community and drive forward the agenda in your local area
  2. Prioritise improving local transport so that it is affordable and accessible for older people and runs suitable routes.

Delivering an authentically local response to the issues facing our communities can help more people enjoy good later lives.

The State of Ageing in 2019: Adding life to our years

Read more
Natalie Turner
Head of Localities