Latest newsletter from Swindon Seniors Forum. Newsletter 17 Summer and Autumn 2016
Just what is an older person’s life worth?
Tony Watts, Chairperson, South West Forum on Ageing
“Some things in life are bad
They can really make you sad
Other things just make you swear and curse…”
What makes you mad? I’m usually fairly equable until something gets my goat, and then I’m off on one. Usually it’s because of someone’s pigheadedness… when a little rationality and bigger thinking could solve so much.
First witness for the prosecution: 31,000 excess winter deaths last year. That’s like wiping a small town off the map.
31,000 families left to grieve for someone who might still be here today. To put it into context, it’s ten 9/11s, and more than ten times the annual death toll on our roads.
And no, it doesn’t happen in colder countries like Sweden...
I’ve been reporting on excess winter deaths for years now, and every time there’s an official wringing of hands, and we swiftly move on to other stories until the next year.
There is a complex web of reasons why this happens, of course. The fact that you’re 16% more likely to die in hospital on a Sunday rather than a Wednesday is one. Older people landing up on trolleys for hours on end in A&E because doctors can’t be arsed to be called out at weekends is another.
A higher incidence of colds and other ailments has to be allowed for too; and, of course, we have more falls.
But there is a root cause that makes people less well in winter that can be fixed. Millions of older people are living in houses that are under insulated and inefficiently heated. Many homes are unadapted to their needs. Chest and heart conditions are exacerbated by the cold and damp. More falls happen because confusion can set in. People’s lives get shut in living within one or two rooms – and that can affect your whole sense of wellbeing and your health.
The (then) Government’s response some years back was to force the energy companies to undertake more (free) insulation of older people’s homes- albeit the companies themselves passed the cost on. That has helped – but there is still a huge way to go, making the latest decision to slim down ECO wilfully harmful. The Green Deal, meanwhile, by any mode of reckoning an unmitigated disaster, is encouraged to continue.
Fuel bills continue to spiral, and we’re told that the best way to deal with this is not to stop the Big Six racking up huge profits. It’s for consumers to seek cheaper tariffs. That will only help so far – and it’s the smaller users of electricity and gas (older people) and who are often not on the Internet (older people) who will still have to pay the highest tariffs.
As I point out in my piece on heating oil (http://www.agenda-efa.org.uk/site/2013/11/new-way-help-combat-oil-fuel-poverty/), it’s also older people on fixed and limited incomes who are paying through the nose on the tariffs for auto top ups - up to twice the cost of gas.
We have to look at this in a root and branch way, and to really get to grips with it, with initiatives such as solid wall insulation, lower standing charges for lower users, more dedicated housing for older people, easier access to home adaptations to make them safer, an NHS that isn’t running on fumes at weekends...
Either that, or perhaps someone up on high needs to be honest enough to say: “Look, all you very nice but slightly surplus to requirements oldies. We’re really sorry that tens of thousands of you seem to keep dying each and every year.
“But in the greater scheme of things, we have more important things to spend the nation’s money on. Like HS2. Or paying redundancy packages to public sector staff and then rehiring them. Or heating MPs’ second homes.
“And, let’s face it, many of you will be popping your clogs quite soon anyway… just not as quickly as you thought, that’s all.”
After all, just what is an older person’s life worth?
THE POSITIVE CONTRIBUTIONS MADE BY THE OLDER GENERATION
The elderly represent a sector of the population that is growing in number. This trend is no surprise and yet it appears that we can tolerate so many elderly but above a certain point they suddenly become a burden, a threat to the national economy. We are led to believe that society can no longer afford what they need. All too often it is this negative perspective of the elderly that prevails and the positive contribution is conveniently overlooked.
In many countries and cultures, older people enjoy an elevated status and respect but, in the UK increasingly, the commentary focuses on the cost of supporting this age sector who are allegedly sucking up benefits and services and 'blocking' hospital beds. This one- sided representation fails to emphasise that they include the oldest generation within our families, our grandparents and parents. Many seniors are also carers, child minders, trustees, school governors, volunteer drivers etc., positive contributions of great social, cultural and economic benefit that are usually selectively ignored. In its extreme,'the ageing population' headline is no more than a smokescreen, an excuse for bad news and a device that enables the media, politicians etc. to whip up hysterical and divisive stories. It is also a strategy that allows governments to shift some of the blame for its failures on to seniors.
In responding to the negative rhetoric and ill-formed arguments, a good starting point is to remind those who point the finger of blame, or enter the debate from a one dimensional, solely financial standpoint, that the over 50’s hold 80% of the nation’s personal assets and wealth. They also represent the major proportion of the voting population.
The short summary that follows draws on a number of recent studies and reports commissioned by key organisations, the findings of which are robust and can be independently verified, to highlight the magnitude and scope of the positive contribution that the older generation make to society.
(a) Costs to the UK government to support the over 65’s?
Current costs to the Exchequer to provide the basic State Pension, health, social care and welfare per annum are around £136bn.
(b)Benefits to the UK government of having an ageing population
Direct Contributions to the Exchequer
Around £45bn is contributed by the over 65’s per annum. In June 2013 there were over 1 million workers over the age of 65 (the highest numbers since records began) The level of self employment in the 50+ age group is about 1in 5, considerably higher than across all ages. Years of experience and expertise means this group of start up entrepreneurs is more likely to succeed, with over 70% lasting more than 5 years, compared with 28% of younger entrepreneurs. Based on population projections this income to the Exchequer is set to rise to £82bn.
Each sector of UK society can be attributed a figure for its “spending power”. The current figure for the older age sector is estimated at £76bn per annum and they are the biggest spenders on overseas travel, recreation and culture.
Grandparents providing childcare
New analysis from Age UK and Grandparents Plus reveals that the informal childcare provided by grandparents is now worth £7.3 billion a year – up from £3.9 billion in 2004. Both the number of children looked after by grandparents and the length of time that grandparents spend on childcare, are rising. Between 2009/10 and 2010/11 the number of children receiving informal childcare from their grandparents went up from 1.3 million to 1.6 million (from 11.7% to 14.3% of all children under 14). The total number of child-hours of childcare provided by grandparents over the year also rose from 1.3 billion to 1.7 billion, a 35% increase.
The research showed that 1 in 4 working families depends on grandparents for childcare, and that half of all mothers rely on grandparents to provide childcare when they return to work after maternity leave. Nearly two in three (63%) grandparents with a grandchild under 16, look after their grandchildren, and 1 in 5 (19%) grandmothers provide at least 10 hours of childcare a week.
The vast majority of care is provided by family, friends and relatives and the valuation of care of the proportion of care provided by the over 65’s is estimated at £34bn per year.
As well as the obvious benefits of volunteering to the recipients of help, volunteers themselves also gain a lot by being less depressed, having a better quality of life and being generally happier. They can pass on skills and knowledge and feel valued and have a general good feeling about helping others and doing something useful or giving something back. The monetary value of older peoples contribution to volunteering (excluding caring) was estimated at £10.59bn in 2010 with 2,257,000 retirees over 60 volunteering for two or more charities. Even though many have no formal work commitments, millions of older people are “Portfolio Volunteers”, juggling many different volunteering roles with a variety of organisations; the average older volunteer works for two charities with 11 % working for more than three and 6% for four or more.
The findings also show:
· 15% of older people are keen to keep learning, saying they chose to volunteer to gain new skills
The annual amount contributed by the older age sector to in the form of gifts, donations and bequests is £10bn.
Government income: c. £136bn (figure in (a) above)
Elderly Contributions c. £182.9bn (sum of figures in (b) above)
Difference + c. £46.9bn
On currently available figures, this analysis shows a net positive contribution of c. £46.9bn. Given the extension of retirement ages, deferring of the age of State pension entitlement, better expectations of healthier old age and other changes, this net positive contribution should increase.
A recent YouGov poll of 2000 people aged 66-93 has shown that only 6% of over-65s describe themselves as "old". Almost half of those questioned (47%) complained of ageism and almost two-thirds (62%) were concerned about being seen as a problem by society. The survey also looked at older people's attitudes to their age with about 63% agreeing that being old was just a mindset and refused to define themselves as old, but 48% said they thought their generation was "ignored". More than a third (37%) felt they are treated disrespectfully because of their age.
Such findings serve to reinforce the widely held view that old age may be situated at the other extreme from youth but being old does not equate to being ill. Life can be as full of value, delight, incident and insight, as it is for a 20 year old. This is not to deny the need for compassionate societies to provide support mechanisms, but neither should it be viewed as a race to retirement when individuals suddenly get shifted from an asset to a burden, and witness the door slammed on a wealth of wisdom, experience and energy.
Whilst not advocating special pleading, the older generation rightly seek an equal voice and input into debate and decisions on issues and concerns that affect their daily lives. Collectively we should dismiss the negative stereotyping and recognise that old age may not be a bed of roses but since we are all going there, let’s fix it so we enjoy the journey.
Valuing the Socio-economic contribution of Older People in the UK. WRVS Publication March 2011.
AGE UK and Grandparents Plus May 2013 Contribution that grandparents make to childcare
The impact of volunteering and well being in later life. WRVS 2012
Volunteering in retirement: new beginnings. CSV 2013
YouGov poll commissioned by Invicta Telecare. Aug 2013
The over 50’s and their growing importance to the UK economy. A report for Saga by the Centre for Economic and Business Research. May 2013
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