What our ageing society needs from the next Prime Minister 

Do you think the UK is governed largely by and benefits older people? Some people have suggested that this is the case over the past year.

And yet during the current battle between Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to become the next Prime Minister, we’ve heard very little reference to policies that would help address the fact that millions of us are on course to have a pretty dire old age.

This is even more surprising considering that many of the Conservative Party members both PM-hopefuls and PM-hopefuls are older. According to estimates, the average age of this group is between 57 years and 72 years.

The number of people 65 years old and older in England is expected to rise by more than 20% over the next ten years. One in five people in their 50s or 60s will face old age with poor health, poor finances and loneliness. Despite all this, very few discussions have been held on the immediate issues surrounding ageing. For example, how to stop rising pensioner poverty that is being exacerbated by the rising cost-of-living crisis.


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One in seven pensioners is living in poverty. IFS research has shown that the rising state pension age has doubled the poverty rates of those on the edge of retirement and forced 100,000 more people into poverty. This is not something any government should leave behind.

How can we encourage the return to work of the more than 200,000 older workers who have been out of work since the pandemic? John Lewis chair stated earlier this month that the issue of older workers leaving the job market has not been given enough attention. The government must look seriously at how to reverse this trend. Even though Liz Truss made the most modest reference to the possibility that older workers could continue to work if they so desire, she did not specify what the policy levers would be. It is not possible to wish it so.

The next PM needs to prove they are serious about improving access to work for people in their 50s and 60s by investing in tailored employment support for those out of work, expanding access to occupational health support, and delivering on their predecessor’s manifesto promises around flexible work and carer’s leave proposals.

How will the next government make sure that more homes are built to meet the needs both of renters and homeowners now, and for the future? Candidates have not celebrated the recent announcement by the government that it will raise the minimum accessibility standard for new houses. But why? This could be a major win for the next PM and transform the lives millions of people who are elderly, disabled, or simply want homes that are easy to move around in with pushchairs or buggies. The next PM should also prioritize the advancement of the Renters Reform Bill whitepaper, which will include a range of measures to improve and standardize private rental.

There are many other pressing issues. What are either politician’s big plans on that greatest of electioneering taboos, social care? Warning signs are flashing red about a system that is constantly under immense strain. Among the many voices calling for urgent action, Dr Adrian Boyle of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine said recently: ““We are seeing the sharp demise of the health service and we are seeing little to no political will to act on or acknowledge the crisis – neither of the leadership candidates seem to recognise the scale of the crisis at hand.” And yet both candidates seem extremely reticent to reveal any major reforms, mindful no doubt of the hostile reception to Theresa May’s planned reforms which were quickly shelved ahead of the 2017 General Election.

In truth we don’t know much about either candidate’s position on a number of really significant issues around our ageing population because none of these vital issues have been given sufficient scrutiny in the leadership race so far.

The problem is that no government has ever considered the issue of aging in the round. We have fragmented policies that cover different aspects of aging, but no strategy to address the challenges and opportunities posed by people living longer and falling birth rates.

That’s why we are advocating the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner (OPC) for England. This position has been a powerful advocate for older people in Wales, Northern Ireland, and is popular with voters. A poll by Ageing Better earlier in the year found that over two-thirds of all age groups support the creation an independent role to support and safeguard the rights of older persons.

But it’s about more than supporting current older generations. This role would ensure that we look at the bigger picture in relation to ageing. An OPC would work to combat ageism by encouraging positive portrayals of older people and overcoming negative stereotypes. The Commissioner would promote the social, economic, and cultural contributions of older people throughout society.

An OPC is able to push for the changes needed to ensure people can age better, live longer and reduce inequalities.

Delivering on these policies won’t mean that we live in gerontocracy. It will only show that the next government cares about future prosperity and wellbeing of millions of its older citizens. And that it wants future generations of people to be able look forward to a good retirement.