Commitment to a shared vision for older people

October 17, 2019

A statement by Public Health England (PHE) and the Centre for Ageing Better has set out a shared vision for making England the best place in the world to grow old.

It is the first time that such a wide range of organisations have come together to voice their intention to promote healthy ageing. Signatories, including Age UK, Carers UK, Independent Age and the Mental Health Foundation span the areas of health, employment, housing and communities and are from academia, local government, the NHS and the public and voluntary sectors.

The five commitments are:

Putting prevention first and ensuring timely access to services and support when needed.

Everyone should have the opportunity to live, work and age in the conditions that support good health – good quality work, financial security, safe and secure housing and flourishing communities. Evidence-based interventions targeted at an individual level like strength and balance classes, smoking cessation support, and treatment for alcohol dependence need to be complemented by population-level policies across government, for example food marketing and reformulation.

As well as this, people should from an early age be encouraged through education, awareness-raising and empowerment to have control of their own health. If people experience a decline in their health and functional ability, we want to ensure they have timely access to high quality health, care and rehabilitation services and to personalised support and adaptations that will help them remain independent. A person’s changing needs should not be a barrier to maintaining or improving health and being able to continue to do the things that they value.

Removing barriers and creating more opportunities for older adults to contribute to society.

We want to provide workplaces that support health at work, create flexibility in roles if needed, and recruit, develop, promote and retain staff of every age. We want to implement policies and practices that support unpaid carers. And we want an inclusive approach to supporting older adults to volunteer, including opportunities for older people to provide mentoring and peer support. There should be a focus on extending opportunities to remain engaged with creative, learning and cultural activities as we age. We want to remove barriers to participation by providing more flexible opportunities for engagement and access to affordable transport, and by ensuring people’s contributions are valued and that they are supported to develop new skills.

Ensuring good homes and communities to help people remain healthy, active and independent in later life.

Poor housing can contribute to and exacerbate many long-term health conditions. We want to improve the quality of our existing mainstream housing stock and future-proof new homes, ensuring they are built to be accessible and adaptable. We also want more diverse housing options that meet the needs of older adults across all tenures – home ownership, social housing and the private rented sector.

With a growing proportion of older private renters, we want to improve conditions in the poorest quality private rented accommodation and identify ways of supporting low income owner-occupiers to access funds to repair and improve their homes. To support people to remain connected as they age, we want to ensure the provision of accessible transport links and good quality green spaces, maintain services and facilities as close to people’s homes as possible, and adopt a range of community-centred approaches that support and encourage community participation among people of all ages.

Narrowing inequalities in years of life lived in good health between richer and poorer people.

Also between different population groups and between different areas of the country – focussing efforts on those most at risk. Ageing is inevitable but how we age is not. Collectively, we need to act across the life course to ensure that everybody has the same opportunities to achieve a good education, good work, financial security, a decent home, and to develop and maintain connections to family, friends and a supportive wider community. These are the protective factors that underpin good mental and physical health and that help people develop and maintain resilience throughout their lives. Those who have not built up this resilience are more disabled by their environments – such as poor housing – in later life. Alongside this, we want to ensure that health and social care services are timely, appropriate and accessible to the whole population, irrespective of wealth or geographical location.

Challenging ageist and negative language, culture and practices wherever they occur, in both policy and practice.

Language and imagery that stereotypes people in later life as feeble, not fit for work, lonely and incapable, or not deserving of health treatment ignores the huge diversity of backgrounds, experience and ambition of the millions of people who are older. We should see a reflection of that diversity and a more realistic and representative picture of later life that values ageing and older people. We want to shift the conversation to one which celebrates and recognises the successes and benefits of an ageing population.

Following the launch, PHE and the Centre for Ageing Better will continue to develop and promote good practice, share learning and experience and inspire others so everyone can look forward to a healthy later life.

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