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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Working with Older People, Volume 16, Issue 1
This is the first issue of a new volume of Working with Older People – it is also the European year for active ageing and intergenerational solidarity between generations. It is for this reason that I have written a longer editorial to give an overview of the opportunities and challenges presented by an ageing population in the UK and Europe. I have identified articles from past issues of the journal that address some of these issues, hopefully you will be prompted to identify gaps and offer your own contribution to future issues.
Older people are living longer in all European countries. Figure 1 shows that whilst the UK is predicted to experience considerable growth in the percentage of people aged 65 and over other European countries face a similar situation with Portugal predicted to experience the biggest growth. In the UK one in five of the UK’s population are of state pension age, 21 million and more people are aged 60 years and older than those under the age of 18. This information was shared by Richard Humphries, Senior Fellow, at the Kings Fund in a presentation to the LGA Ageing Well leadership academy on 12 December 2011.
Life expectancy and health inequalities
We are living longer as a result of better healthcare and this is a cause for celebration. In the UK in 1901 the average life expectancy at birth for men was 45 and for women 49. This has increased to an average of 78.4 years for men and 82.4 years for women. However, this varies across regions. The average life expectancy for men in the South East is 79.7 years and for women 83.5 years. In the North West it is just 77 years for men and 81.1 years for women (Office for National Statistics). Even within each local authority area there is a wide variation in life expectancy and health outcomes for people from different backgrounds with those from deprived communities experiencing poorer health and a shorter life span than those from more affluent communities.
It is important to older people that they remain in good health and are able to enjoy the later years of their life. A healthy life style that keeps us fit and active is important at all stages of life but it is not too late to start a healthier life style in later years. There is evidence to suggest reducing risk factors such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking and excessive drinking do have health benefits and can lead to greater independence, disease prevention and a sense of wellbeing (Department of Health, 2001). Public health messages such as sexual health and substance misuse are often aimed at the young but these messages are equally important to older people as two articles published in this journal have highlighted (Smith et al., 2010; Mortimer, 2011).
Older people also experience inequality in income with a three to four fold difference between the highest and lowest incomes of pensioners. Older pensioners receive a lower income than younger ones and male pensioners receive a higher income than female pensioners. Older women live longer than men, have a lower income and are often living alone. 61 percent of women aged 75 and over are widowed. In fact many older people live alone 60 percent of women aged 75 and over and 36 percent of men. Isolation and loneliness is an increasing problem in the UK and one that is being taken seriously by the campaign to end loneliness (Fergusson, 2011).
Access to information and the digital divide
The internet and social media networks are being used increasingly by younger people to share information and to extend their networks. However, many older people are being left behind. Although 58 percent of people aged 65 and over in the UK have never used the internet 3.2 million people aged 65 and over have used the internet in the past three months and half of these use it on a daily basis. There are many examples of initiatives to increase the use of the internet by older people (Redsell and Nycyk, 2010; Agnew and Ripper, 2011).
Hislop (2010) in volume 14 issue 4 of Working with Older People argues that improving access to information is a key requirement of reducing social isolation. It is interesting that research shows that 70 percent of older people say that if more services were provided on the internet they would still visit or phone their local council to receive services and only 15 percent of older people have used their local council web site to find information. It is not surprising though as older people prefer to receive information by word of mouth. Initiatives such as the Gloucestershire Village Agents, local people who share information in their communities through personal contact and networks have proved to be very successful for this reason (Link Age Plus).
Older people’s contribution
Another reason to celebrate an ageing population is for the tremendous contribution that older people make to society and the economy. In 2010 over 65s made a net contribution of £40 billion to the economy (Cook, 2011). Part of this contribution is through volunteering 4.9 million people aged over 65 and over in England (58 percent) take part in voluntary or civic engagement. The value of older people’s contribution through volunteering is estimated to be £10 billion.
Many older people are still working, 11.6 percent of men and 6.2 percent of women aged 65 and over are employed. It is important to consider the needs of older workers to help them to remain at work. Older people often need to continue to work as their pension is not sufficient to support them. A long life span and low pension makes work beyond 65 years a necessity for many people. Wilson (2010) wrote about making the most of opportunities for older workers. The success rate of new businesses set up by people over 50 years is high. Supporting older people as entrepreneurs is a topic that I hope will be covered in a future issue of Working with Older People.
Older people also contribute to the economy as carers of loved ones providing health and social care. It is estimated that older people provide as much as £34 billion in social care. They also provide child caring to grandchildren enabling their children to work full time.
There have been many examples of older people contributing to their local communities in past issues of Working with Older People, The Tell Me Project (Ritch, 2010), telephone befriending (Fitzsimmons, 2010), sharing lives (Fox, 2011), Vintage Radio (Farrell and Townsend, 2011) and in taking on roles in the planning and evaluation of services (Evans et al., 2011; Wood and Wright, 2011).
Older people also play an important role as consumers with 44 percent of the total family spend in the UK from people aged 50 plus. In fact over 50s spent £276 billion in 2008.
Staying independent and feeling safe is important to us all. Suitable housing and an age friendly neighbourhood contribute to this. The number of people aged 85 years in the UK has doubled in the past 20 years. With increasing age the risk of dementia increases. There are 750,000 people with dementia in the UK but this is predicted to rise to a million by 2021. It is important that the needs of people with dementia are considered in planning good places to grow old. Neighbourhoods that meet the needs of older people will also meet the needs of younger people for example, good street lighting, public transport, green spaces, leisure facilities, good pavements and local shops. McGarry (2011) explained how Manchester is developing a “good place to grow older”. In another article, Mapes (2010) wrote about the benefits of green and open spaces for people with dementia.
There are many other topics covered by Working with Older People; leisure activities, life-long learning, housing, transport, health and social care support. Some areas have been covered more than others and this review of past articles against the opportunities and challenges of an ageing population has highlighted them for me. I am hoping that it will prompt you to come forward and fill some of those gaps including: older people as entrepreneurs, housing, transport, life-long learning and dementia friendly environments.
Agnew, I. and Ripper, L. (2011), “Using embedded outreach to bridge the digital divide”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 127–34
Cook, J. (2011), “Socio-economic contribution of older people in the UK”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 4, pp. 141–6
Department of Health (2001), The National Service Framework for Older People, Department of Health, London
Evans, S., Corley, M., Corrie, M., Costley, K. and Donald, C. (2011), “Evaluating services in partnership with older people: exploring the role of community researchers”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 26–33
Farrell, L. and Townsend, K. (2011), “Vintage Radio: a media trust community voices project”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 3, pp. 123–6
Fergusson, L. (2011), “The campaign to end loneliness”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 66–70
Fitzsimmons, P. (2010), “Dialling up social care for older people”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 10–14
Fox, A. (2011), “Building community capacity”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 58–63
Hislop, C. (2010), “Improving access to information: a key requirement for reducing social exclusion”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 38–43
McGarry, P. (2011), “A great place to grow older: a case study of how Manchester is developing an age-friendly city”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 38–46
Mapes, N. (2010), “It’s a walk in the park: exploring the benefits of green exercise and open spaces for people living with dementia”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 4, pp. 25–31
Mortimer, J. (2011), “Never too late: older people and alcohol misuse”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 71–9
Redsell, M. and Nycyk, M. (2010), “Skilling seniors in computers: community training responses to the digital divide”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 38–42
Ritch, S. (2010), “The Tell Me Project… helping to create an age-friendly society”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 4–9
Smith, P., Cowell, J., McGarry, P. and Chandler, S. (2010), “No sex please! We’re over 50”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 40–3
Wilson, N. (2010), “Making the most of opportunities for older workers”, Working with Older People, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 29–39
Wood, C. and Wright, M. (2011), “Promoting involvement of older people in shaping policy and practice”, Working with Older People, Vol. 15 No. 2, pp. 80–6