It’s old news that our society is ageing. By 2046 almost one in four people will be 65 years old and over - demographic changes that will have profound implications for almost every aspect of our society and for all ages and generations.
Our ability to respond to these changes is one of the greatest economic and social opportunities we face.
So it is reassuring that the Government has included ageing as ‘one of the Grand Challenges’ at the heart of its Industrial Strategy.
In rising to this challenge, government and employers must focus on enabling more people to work in fulfilling jobs for longer. As life expectancy continues to rise and more people are living to 90 years old and beyond, careers and employment patterns are changing. In just three years’ time, one in three workers will be over 50 and increasing numbers of people are working beyond state pension age. People must be supported to continually develop their skills, keep abreast of new technology and contribute their knowledge and experience over a much longer working life. Older people have a huge amount to offer if afforded a work environment that ensures they can continue to flourish.
As the strategy rightly identifies, this means workplaces need to be age-friendly. Employers need to offer flexible working policies to accommodate greater caring demands or health conditions, and ensure their practices, such as recruitment and training opportunities, are age-inclusive. Enabling people to continue working in their later lives means people are not just financially more secure, active and socially connected, but also in a position to contribute fully to our economy and society.
The strategy promises to support new products and services to meet the wants and needs of our ageing population.
From a business point of view this is a huge and untapped opportunity. Spending driven by the over 50s or ‘silver pound’ as it’s sometimes referred is one of the most important trends to hit retailers in the past decade according to Retail Week. It’s analysis earlier this year of the Government’s Family Spending report showed that in 2016, over 50s households were estimated to account for 51.7% of consumer spending, some £473bn.
Greater innovation to respond to this market would also bring great social benefits. For example stimulating the development of products that help people to maintain their health and independence, financial products that encourage people to save adequately for their later lives, and innovative care models that combine technology and personal care in new ways. Centre for Ageing Better research on housing aids and adaptations finds they greatly improve the quality of life for people with mobility issues and could reduce NHS and social care costs. But the lack of attractive products, coupled with a lack of information and advice, puts many people off installing them early on when they could prevent injury and falls.
It is essential that the industrial strategy follows through on its ambition to align with the Government’s forthcoming Green Paper on care and support in England. This provides an opportunity to develop more radical and innovative solutions to the challenges we face. Cuts in local authority budgets and the reduction in the price paid for services by commissioners threaten the viability of the social care provider market, particularly in some parts of the country where there are few self-funders. This distorts the market and inhibits investment and innovation. A greater investment in technology is needed to fix the market and to promote innovation in service delivery models. Furthermore, people remain one of the care sector’s greatest but most undervalued assets, subjected to minimum wage pay, zero hours contracts, instability and a lack of opportunities for skills development. This needs to change.
In his budget last week Phillip Hammond talked about making Britain a civilised and tolerant place that cares for the vulnerable and nurtures the talented. The Industrial Strategy is right to be boldly ambitious in this pursuit. The right support delivered in the right way will benefit us all - not only in driving a thriving and inclusive economy, but enabling all of us as we grow older to enjoy and make the most of our longer lives.