Why healthy ageing matters to business

An event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Longevity today highlighted how and why businesses should do more to measure their health impact on employees and customers.

Smart Future


Employers could help address the current skills shortage by investing more in the health of their employees and consumers, an event organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Longevity heard today.

John Godfrey, Corporate Affairs Director at Legal & General, told the Healthy longevity and health growth event that the health debate was closely related to the climate change one in that employers could have a positive impact in three main areas: a direct one [on the health of their employees which would improve productivity, reduce absence and people leaving for health reasons], an impact on customers and users [he said businesses should measure the impact of their products and services on them, in part because taxpayers, not businesses, pick up the tab] and a wider societal impact, for instance, on housing, pollution and diet. Godfrey said businesses ran the risk of legal and shareholder action on unhealthy products. He cited the current opioid crisis in the US.

It is important, said Godfrey, that we better measure the health impact of what businesses do and the Business for Health group, which spun out of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity, is looking to create a metrics framework to do just that. It will allow businesses to measure their own impact and track their progress.

Romina Boarini, Director of the OECD’s Centre for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability and Equal Opportunity, spoke of how the OECD is attempting to bring together the proliferation of metrics and tools that organisations and others use to measure the non-financial performance of business, which is something that shareholders are increasingly paying attention to. She said the idea is that ‘what is good for society and the planet is also good for business’ and that business models are changing accordingly. Having too many different metrics means that they might not be as effective, said Boarini. The OECD has adapted its existing wellbeing framework to make it relevant to business. It is closely allied to ESG [environment, society and governance] frameworks. The aim is to ensure that the data and definitions used align with government frameworks. The OECD will launch an impact management platform later this month to bring together different international initiatives on tracking businesses’ impact on health. Boarini spoke of the need to broaden ESG initiatives to include health by talking about ESHG.

Covid impact

The event, which took place in Longevity Week, heard about the business case for taking action on health and how Covid had underscored this. Lord Geoffrey Filkin from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity said Covid had highlighted how previous ill health puts people more at risk not just of dying, but of developing longer term complications. Health statistics show ninety per cent of those who died of Covid previous ill health, with those in disadvantaged areas being most at risk. He said there are a lot of targets on health, but more needs to be done to mobilise action. However, there are positive signs that businesses and others are recognising their responsibility.

Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, said businesses increasingly recognised that good quality jobs and products could support people’s health. She said research shows poor health is starting earlier in life and that the difference of women living in good health was 20 years between the poorest and richest areas. For instance, 21% of working age people in Hartlepool are unable to work due to health reasons compared with just 10% in Wokingham. She said poor health could put an economic brake on the economic recovery. Research shows poor health is a major reason for people falling out of work whether it is their own poor health or someone they care for.

Jordan Cummins, CBI London Head of Policy, supported the work on health and said the CBI believes the more work on businesses’ health impact is necessary to build a more resilient and productive workforce. He compared the work being done on health data to that on gender and ethnicity pay gaps.

Mary Bright, Head of Social Affairs at Phoenix Group, said businesses “have not adjusted to the health juggernaut” and that they still rely too much on having a funnel of younger people to feed through into the workforce. However, the workforce is ageing and 30% of the UK’s skills talent is in the over 50s, she said. There is a huge economic need for action, she added and she addressed some of the misplaced assumptions that are holding older workers back. She said over 50s are less likely to take time off sick and that many digital start-ups have been founded by over 50s and those that are tend to last longer, showing technical skills are more about a person’s role than about their age. She added that employers should track their attraction, training and retention figures according to the age demographics of the general population. She stated: “Employers need to recruit more on attitude and capability than on age.”

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