Headlines: August 6th, 2008

The Audit Commission has found that councils in England, particularly those which have the fastest ageing populations, are not ready to meet the challenges this brings. Neither are they preparing to grasp the opportunities that are showing up.

Older people, the over-50s, will make up more than one in three of the population by 2009. By 2029, 40 per cent of people will be aged 50 or over. But the report reveals that most council services focus on the 3 per cent minority who require social care, excluding the invisible majority who may end up isolated and vulnerable if ignored.

The report asked older ‘mystery shoppers’ to identify the everyday challenges they face in accessing council services. They approached 49 councils asking a series of questions and found that most councils need to improve the way they provide information in key areas such as volunteering, leisure and social activities, learning opportunities and transport.

Councils in areas with the most over 50s are the least prepared to cope with their long-term needs and interests of the greater majority. As people live longer, those who can help them stay well and independent, need to be a little more imaginative.

The report highlights Penwith, Dudley and Blackpool councils which have produced a variety of solutions such as special home safety checks, a falls prevention programme and even a radio station set up and run by older people. All are in place as ‘age-proofing’ measures to prevent social isolation and support independent living without incurring great expense.

The report says councils can prepare for an ageing population by making better use of information, reviewing demographic profiles and using local knowledge to target money and services effectively. They should also improve evaluation by testing local satisfaction and experience to assess age-proofing of services.

The Commission urges councils to lead the local programmes by preparing effectively for local population change, by mobilising local communities and by creating strong local partnerships.