The Guardian arranged a morning Conference on Ageing last week, chaired by their excellent columnist, Jackie Ashley. She writes about it in today’s edition. She cites familiar projections, such as that there are likely to be 2.9million people over the age of 85 in the U.K. in twenty years time. Today there are four working people for every retired person, but in forty five years time it may be as few as only two working people per aged person. ‘That’s impossible’, says Ashley, ‘it’s unsustainable. It won’t work’. Are we going to ‘import young African and Asian people to fill the workforce?’, she asks. ‘Outlandish thoughts, perhaps: but where are the inlandish ones?’
This is an unfashionable cause. Unlike climate change, it isn’t media friendly or sexy – ‘no flaxen-haired young activists, no global summitry, no vast gimmicks, no galleries filled with ‘ageing art’, no rock star campaigners’. She looks forward to the government’s long awaited white paper on funding for provision for the elderly but argues that the situation deserves far more thought and urgency than the politicians are giving to it.
One aspect of the looming situation is the housing problem. Around 60% of the population in the U.K. live in the suburbs where nine-tenths of houses have three or four bedrooms. Whilst older people continue to live in them, younger families seek such houses with sufficient accommodation and gardens for their children to play in. Out of 175,000 houses built each year in this country, only 5,000 are especially designed for older people. Such homes need bright light views and the latest heating technology but don’t need to be big.
Loneliness can be a problem for older people and a recent report suggests that seven million people in the U.K. say they have a severe lack of social support.
‘Clustered’ housing that is part of the wider community is one solution of the sort that in Germany and the Netherlands is already being developed. The family is the best means of dealing with these changes; each of us trying within our means to balance children, grandchildren and grandparents in some sort of solidarity; but Ashley chastises politicians for their indifference to the situation. For all of us longevity will become the new way of life, and one which should not be wretched and lonely.
….And at the mercy of a nation state no longer fit for this twenty first century purpose and which demands a new methodology of governance.