It’s a well-known fact that the UK’s population is ageing. The repercussions will be felt across society, but local authorities will find themselves in the front line — councils will be responsible for managing the change to an older society.
There are now almost 12 million people aged 65 or over in the UK. 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. 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.
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.
There’s no way to avoid our ageing future. In many ways, it’s already here. But with intelligent, far-sighted work, this challenge can be turned into an opportunity.
Published date: 5th August 2019
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