Headlines: December 1st, 2003

The results of Britain’s biggest ever study of quality of life in old age show older people are happier, healthier, and more resourceful than is generally thought but that the Government needs to do more to ensure that the increasing number of older people have a better life. The message comes from the four-year ‘Growing Older Programme’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.A second report published today also focuses on older people. It is from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and insists that policy measures to enable more people to continue working past retirement age do not mean forcing everyone to ‘work until they drop’.

The ESRC report finds that while people are living longer, older people still live in a climate that is characterised by prejudice, discrimination and social exclusion, with people over 80, now the fastest rising segment of the population, hit hardest of all. In a summary of the findings from the programme, published in “Growing Older in the 21st Century”, Malcolm Dean, an assistant editor at The Guardian, says this ‘ageism’ is in some respects similar to racism. He calls for older people to be reintegrated into mainstream public services rather than their being slotted into separate, often second rate, treatment.

The Growing Older Programme was made up of 24 research projects which had two
objectives, firstly: to identify and scrutinise aspects of the quality of life of older people and to try to contribute to policy and practice aimed at improving the quality of later life.

Being old is not the same for everybody – this may be obvious, but the research found this is often ignored by public agencies, which tend to group all older people together. In other respects, there are similarities between very different groups of people who only have age in common, for instance, the importance of family, health and the home in their well being which was most often cited as relevant in determining the quality of the lives of older people.

It found many older people still live in conditions of deprivation and poverty and social exclusion, and the older the person, the greater the deprivation. This was revealed in a three-year study of people in poor wards in Liverpool, Manchester and London. About nine per cent of people over retirement age are still working, according to the research, but it found that work could enhance or hinder a person’s quality of life.

That links to today’s report from the JRF, which draws together the findings of twelve different research projects on the transition between work and retirement. It says while people are living longer, they are also quitting the workforce at a younger average age, though not necessarily at a time of their own choosing

The report says that as people over 50 are set to become an increasingly important economic resource with the supply of younger workers declining, Government and employers need to change their attitudes to older workers and the contribution they can make. The document argues that any financial incentives introduced to encourage later retirement will achieve little unless other barriers to older people staying in the labour market are removed. Another barrier identified by the research is a lack of opportunities for many. The report concludes that employers and government could both do far more to promote flexibility and increase the options for older workers who do not want to exchange their full-time careers for total retirement.

The JRF report and a summary are both available as a free pdf download from  http://www.jrf.org.uk/  . Growing Older in the 21st Century by Malcolm Dean is available in PDF form on the ESRC website at: www.esrc.ac.uk.