It’s a well-known fact that the UK’s population is ageing. The repercussions can be felt across society, but local authorities find themselves in the front line — councils will be responsible for managing the change to an older society.
There are now over 12 million people aged 65 or above in the UK – according to survey carried out in 2019. This number is meant to steadily increase to 24.8% of the population being over 65 by 2050[i]. Improvements in diet, lifestyle and medical care mean that people are living longer. At the same time, people are having fewer children. Together, these two factors have caused a demographic shift, from a younger population to an older one.
Managed well, living longer is a good thing. But there are inevitable ramifications for how our society functions. Having fewer people of working age and more in retirement puts pressure on pensions and public services. A shortage of working people could harm the country’s economic wellbeing.
Given their management of vital public services, the ageing of the population impacts local authorities in a variety of ways. From transport to health care to information, councils shape the day to day lives of their constituents. As they age, their needs grow, and councils will be judged on the extent to which they meet them.
To achieve this, local authorities must consider older people in all of their planning. During the months of the COVID-19 lockdown, local authorities, including care home workers responded and adapted to the new restrictions, taking matters into their own hands. Workers were delivering meals and food to the homes of the elderly, ensuring they were still cared for and fed when unable to leave the house. These circumstances have highlighted the importance of planning for local authorities and care homes in times of a pandemic and can help shape plans and precautions in the future. Councils should incorporate risk assessments on the impact that their chosen strategies will have on older people. To make sure that they’re genuinely addressing their needs, local authorities should actively consult them to understand their views before taking action.
Councils should also be on guard against accidentally excluding or discriminating against older people. For example, while putting key information online can save money and improve access going digital too quickly or without proper forethought risks marginalising older people. Local authorities must ensure that other options remain available for the elderly who cannot be served online.
The importance of online shopping has been key during COVID-19. Many people have had to rely on ordering through the internet as a source of getting food into the house when so many of us have been quarantining. This is significant when it comes to the elderly, as people over the age of 70, regardless of medical conditions were asked to isolate. Many elderly people can find it difficult to work their way around online shopping or may not have access to the internet altogether. So, what does this mean for those who can’t get food delivered and are unable to leave the house? This highlights issues surrounding technology and the older citizens in today’s society and suggests that plans/schemes should be put into place in order to protect these issues from happening in the future.
Equally, councils shouldn’t let these challenges obscure the fact that there are many benefits to an ageing population. Since older people are more likely to volunteer, an ageing population could be a shot in the arm for charities seeking help. When looking to commission services such as gardening, local authorities could and harness the power of elderly volunteers.
Similarly, older people can also use their free time and cash to breathe life into their local economies. Entrepreneurship and investment from the older generation should be explored – they could help councils rejuvenate high streets and combat the loneliness and isolation of the elderly. European cities such as Bologna and technology companies like Google are successfully connecting experienced entrepreneurs with youngsters looking to learn, in a bid to rejuvenate communities and keep older people connected to the economy.
Published date: 5th August 2020
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