“A landmark report on the state of ageing in Britain has warned that a significant proportion of people are at risk of spending later life in poverty, ill-health and hardship.
Britain is undergoing a radical demographic shift, with the number of people aged 65 and over set to grow by more than 40% in two decades, reaching more than 17 million by 2036. The number of households where the oldest person is 85 or over is increasing faster than any other age group.
But although we are living longer than ever before, the report warns that millions risk missing out on a good later life due to increasing pressure on health and care services, local authorities, the voluntary sector and government finances.
“Ageing is inevitable but how we age is not. Our current rates of chronic illness, mental health conditions, disability and frailty could be greatly reduced if we tackled the structural, economic and social drivers of poor health earlier,” said Dr Anna Dixon, the chief executive at Centre for Ageing Better.
“Our extra years of life are a gift that we should all be able to enjoy and yet – as this report shows – increasing numbers of us are at risk of missing out,” she added.
The Centre for Ageing Better’s report, The State of Ageing in 2019, warns that today’s least well-off over-50s face far greater challenges than wealthier peers and are likely to die younger, become sicker earlier and fall out of work due to ill-health.
The research brings together publicly available data sources to reveal vast differences in how people experience ageing depending on factors such as where they live, how much money they have or what sex or ethnicity they are.
While people aged 65 can expect to live just half of the remainder of their life without disability, those in less affluent parts of the country will die earlier and be sicker for longer. Ill-health is a major cause of people falling out of work prematurely and can affect quality of life and access to services such as healthcare.
The poorest people are three times more likely than the wealthiest to retire early because of ill-health: 39% of men and 31% of women compared with 6% of both sexes in the highest wealth quintile.
Although we are living far longer, a significant and increasing proportion of people are managing multiple health conditions and mobility problems from mid-life onwards, the report says. Of people aged 50 to 64, 23% have three or more long-term health conditions.
Meanwhile, the poorest men in society aged over 50 are three times more likely than the wealthiest to have chronic heart disease, two times more likely to have Type 2 diabetes, and two times more likely to have arthritis.
The report reveals that pensioner poverty is rising for the first time since 2010 and is more prevalent for women and black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups.
At least 1.3 million over-55s live in homes hazardous to their health and one in four 50- to 64 year-olds have three or more chronic health conditions.
The Centre for Ageing Better is calling on the government, businesses and charities to “rethink their approach and avoid storing up problems for the future”.
“This report is a wakeup call for us all – many people in their 50s and 60s now, particularly those who are less well-off, simply won’t get the quality of later life that they expect or deserve,” Dixon said.
“We must act now to add life to our years; to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to make the most of a longer life. Without radical action today to help people age well, we are storing up problems for the future and leaving millions at risk of poverty and poor health in later life.”