‘Radical rethink’ needed to support ageing society, government told

Policies that address health inequalities and better investment in housing among What Works Centre's proposals

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The government needs to undertake a “radical rethink” on policies from health to housing to cope with a rapidly ageing population, one of the government-backed 'what works' centres for better policymaking has said.

The warning comes in a report that warns the number of people aged 65 and over will increase by more than 40% within the next two decades.

The report was published by the Centre for Ageing Better, a charitable foundation set up to gather evidence and carry out research to underpin policies to support a good quality of life in older age.


The centre is one of several What Works Network centres funded since 2010 to encourage evidence-based policymaking.

In The State of Ageing in 2019, the centre called for a cross-government approach to ensure services are equipped to meet the needs of older people and have the capacity to cope with growing demand.

It pointed out that the number of households where the oldest person is 85 or older is increasing faster than any other age group, adding: “These changes have profound implications for each of us, as well as for government, business and civil society.”

It added: "While the twentieth century’s advances in public health, nutrition and medical science have given us the gift of longevity, so far this century we have failed to respond with sufficiently radical action to ensure everyone enjoys these extra years."

Among other things, the report called on the government to implement economic, structural, social and health policies “that the evidence shows work to enable more people to live healthy, active lives”.

This would require health services and the government to adopt a focus on health inequalities across all of these areas, it said, through implementing policies and interventions to prevent, rather than just treat, disease.

This should include efforts to tackle causes of preventable ill health and disability, such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise and excessive alcohol consumption.

Policies to promote healthy ageing must be targeted towards people whose health is most at risk, the report added. For example, the report found nearly half of men and women aged 50 and over in England are obese, while around one in five are of a desirable weight. This compares with more than a quarter of the wealthiest men and nearly half of the wealthiest women of the same age who are of a desirable weight.

The report also said the government should support community activities that are “inclusive and accessible to us regardless of age or disability”, and transport infrastructure to enable older people to access them.

“Transport and the design of our towns and cities can enable us to get out and about, or it can create barriers, especially for those with health conditions and disabilities,” it says. It adds that health is the greatest barrier to using public transport among people aged 80 and over.

It also called for an “urgent upgrade” of the UK’s housing, alongside better advice services and access to funding for people to adapt and repair their homes. “A decent and accessible home could mean the difference between continuing to wash and dress unaided and needing costly care,” it noted.

“The fact that our housing is so unsuitable poses serious consequences as more of us live for longer.”

The report called on the government to invest more in improving mainstream housing stock and supporting local authorities, planners and developers to build homes that will meet the needs of the ageing population.

Other recommendations in the document include better support “tailored to individual needs and circumstances” when people fall out of work and struggle to re-enter the labour market.

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