Recognise the diversity of ageing

Policymakers need to recognise the great diversity in the way people age and address health inequalities that contribute to that, says Anna Dixon of the Centre for Ageing Better.

Group of varying age women sitting chatting and smiling


Policies related to our ageing society are often misconceived because they don’t recognise the diversity in how people age, according to Anna Dixon, Chief Executive of the Centre for Ageing Better.

Anna was speaking in a webinar with Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, about her new book, The Age of Ageing Better, last week.

She said that policymakers tended to lump all over 50s into one group when the post-50 years embrace a range of different generations and different experiences of health inequalities.

“We need to understand that there is a huge diversity and huge inequalities in every generation,” she said.

While for some increasing the state pension age would mean working longer, for others, with health issues – particularly those from the most disadvantaged areas – it would mean a long period on benefits in the lead-up to retirement, said Dixon. “It is simply shifting people from pensions to benefits. We need to look at this more in the round,” she said. She mentioned, for instance, blending benefits more and stopping benefits sanctions for older people forced onto benefits because of health issues – something that could lead to a spiral of debt that could last several years.

Dixon also suggested that a universal basic income across the whole life course would do away with the idea of a fixed retirement age and some of the other unfairness of the state pension, such as the impact on those who have taken extended time out of work to care for family members.

Dixon also said that the Covid-19 pandemic had highlighted how much over 70s do for their communities and how much voluntary work added meaning to people’s lives. However, lockdown rules for over 70s had also taken away some of their independence in a blanket way.

She added that different generations were often pitted against each other, but that we are all part of age-diverse communities, be they families or workplaces. “Policy needs to work for all of us and bring people together around the issues we care about, to create communities of interest and place which are inclusive of all ages,” she said.

The webinar also addressed issues of social care – and the inequality in the treatment of those in the social care as opposed to the health system.  Dixon called for a new care model and a more open discussion about issues related to end of life.

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