If we all want to dance into and through our third age we as individuals; as members of a community and as citizens need to plan for the third age and face up to the realities of it
On Friday I was speaking on a conference about housing for the elderly. As I was representing the Local Government Association I expanded the brief a bit to put housing into the context of the other things that need to be done, many of them led by local government, to prepare the nation and individuals for the third age.
I have always liked alliteration so I decided after coincidentally choosing 4 things with a P at the start that I could do the whole of 20-minute talk based on no less than 12 ps. It should be noted that this in no way relates to the number of times that gentlemen of a certain age have to go for a pee!!
Before I did that, I terrified the audience with a rendition of the first few lines of Ken Dodd’s favourite song, “Happiness”. I invited everyone in the audience to become “ambassadors for happiness.” That might sound flippant but in fact is very complex. The simple fact is that if people are happy they are likely to live a much longer life with both physical and mental health in good condition. It’s how you achieve happiness that is complex.
Happiness is made up from having a nice home, in a nice area, with a few bob in your pocket and being able to meet friends and family. If we could ensure that everyone has these things then we could drastically reduce the number of people needing, or thinking that they need, the NHS. More lives will be happily lengthened by dealing with the social determinants of health than by more clinical efforts, gadgets or medicines.
So here are the Ps!
- Quite simply we need to use far more common sense in dealing with the issues of ageing. We know what needs to be done. We need to ensure the things in the last paragraph above. Let’s just get on with it without a plethora of surveys, reports and research.
- Both as society and as individuals we have failed to plan for the longevity which people can now look forward to. Nationally we have known for 30 years that longevity was increasing and that there would be an explosion in the number of people both living longer and living in worse health for a growing part of that third age. As a nation we did nothing. Successive governments of all colours simply hid it in the ‘too difficult to handle’ file. Politicians have the attention spans of a gnat. Asking them to think more than 4 years ahead is very difficult. In the past 21 years we have had no less than 12 housing ministers so how can a long-term, cross-party approach to these issues be developed.
But we as individuals also need to prepare for our old age. From the age of 40 we need to be putting a little spare cash away (if we have any!), we need to be thinking about where we want to live; how healthy we will be as we approach the third age. We and our families need to plan for the future in a way that we never have before.
- Dealing with ageing is not about dealing with abstract numbers or ideas but about dealing with people. Housing is not about buildings but about communities. We need to provide; convert; or improve housing in such a way that the people links which sustain a happy life can be maintained. A strong community is better than any medicine for keeping people happy.
- Public Libraries. People need to be able to meet, chat and pursue their interests. Libraries are a very cost-effective way of providing these but so are community centres and all sorts of public buildings. Local government nationally has had to close so many facilities and the result is an increased dependency on the NHS.
- Public Houses! A good local is part of the community. A place where people can come together for a chat a natter and a reminisce. Three pubs close every day throughout the UK and often destroy the community. The same of course also applies to Post Offices and local shops which tie a community together.
- Bus passes that is. I normally go into town on the 86 bus (or the 80 or 75) and I am always struck that for us ‘Twirlies’ the bus is a community centre on wheels! I get most of my case work on the bus when my constituents pop over to have a natter and we can get some quite good debates going sometimes. The pass gets them out and into contact with people and that is good for both physical and mental health.
- When I go to Calderstones; Greenbank or Sefton Parks I am always aware that this is yet another type of community centre. People out and being active, talking to each other, exercising their dogs; having a coffee. Calderstones Park is always busy even on a day like today when it is pouring down. It costs us the same amount as approximately 450 bed nights in a hospital. No-one who goes there and thinks about it can doubt that it saves far more bed nights than that.
- If we reach the age of 65 in good physical and mental health the likelihood is that we will live to 82 if we are a man or 84 if we are a woman and most of that will be in reasonable good health. If we reach 65 in poor mental and physical health we will live a shorter, more miserable life. Some of the things that need to be done must be done by or with the help of government. Other things we must do ourselves. A one mile walk every other day makes a huge contribution to our health.
- Too often those organisations who can make difference to our lives look at their own bit of our lives. The housing people look at housing; the health people look at patients; the libraries people look at users. We are far more complicated than that. All organisations need to work together to deliver a seamless service to people of all ages.
- We desperately need to debate with society what ageing needs to us all. This is not just a matter for Parliament and councils it is a discussion for individuals, families and communities. We need to work through issues at all these levels if we are to cope with ageing and make our third age a time of pleasure not pain. Too few people know how long they are likely to live or how to prepare and pay for it. A big debate about ageing will help with that.
- Paying for it. The fact that the NHS is being given £20 billion makes it far less likely that there will be the money made available to pay for the much cheaper things which make a much greater difference. Unless we keep people fitter for longer and then get them out of hospital to more appropriate accommodation quicker if they have had to go to hospital then our NHS is ultimately doomed. It will lurch from crisis to crisis.
The Government are caught like rabbits in a car’s headlights. The Green Paper on adult social care which was promised for Summer 2017 will not be published in summer 2018. Fortunately, the Local Government Association has moved in to fill the gap. This week we will be publishing our own Green Paper and a very thorough and thought-provoking paper it is to. It looks at all the things contained in the Kemp 11 Ps and more. It provides a compelling analysis about the need for change and action.
You can read all about it here when the embargo gets lifted on Wednesday. In the meantime, can I close with a challenger to everyone who reads this. What are you doing to prepare yourself for your third age; your community for the number of elderly; and our Country for taking the key decisions necessary?