Thursday 16th February saw the Greater Manchester Ageing Conference, held by the GM Ageing Hub, of which MICRA, the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing, is a part . To celebrate the conference, and to highlight the policy implications of living in an ageing society, MICRA have teamed up with Policy@Manchester to deliver a week of highly relevant age-related blogs.
Manchester has long set an example of how to implement age friendly initiatives. However, current experiences of ageing still vary greatly across the city region. Here, Dan Jones, Director of Innovation and Change at the Centre for Ageing Better, highlights the changes being made through the Centre’s partnership with Greater Manchester and how evidence based approaches are being used to deliver future age-friendly policies.
- We are living longer than ever before, and older people are taking an ever more active and visible role in every walk of life
- However experiences of ageing vary greatly across Greater Manchester
- The Centre for Ageing Better is working in partnership with the city region, with an initial focus on new approaches to employment for people aged 50 and over
- Once people in later life are out of work, the evidence suggests that they find it much harder to return
- Practical policy experiments, in areas such as employment and housing, will help to build the evidence base for effective age-friendly approaches across the board
Increasing longevity is one of society’s greatest successes. We are living longer than ever before, and older people are taking an ever more active and visible role in every walk of life. Manchester has long pioneered positive approaches to its ageing population, from recruiting older people as culture champions to developing age-friendly neighbourhoods.
However, people’s current experiences of ageing are deeply unequal. This was graphically illustrated by recent University of Manchester research mapping life expectancy onto the Greater Manchester tram network. At 66, male life expectancy in Rochdale, for example, is among the lowest in the country – and more than a decade below more prosperous places such as Didsbury (77). The highest life expectancy figures in Greater Manchester (Whitehill: 82 for women; 78 for men) are still below the national averages for the UK (83 for women, 79 for men).
The Greater Manchester Combined Authority is now seeking to become the UK’s first age-friendly city region – rethinking the workplace, the built environment and the civic realm, as well as health, social care and other services to make Greater Manchester a good place for everyone to grow old in.
The Centre for Ageing Better is an independent charitable foundation that aims to bring about evidence-informed changes in policy and practice that enable more people to enjoy later life. This is the shared ambition that drives the partnership between Ageing Better and GMCA.
We’ve started our work together with a focus on new approaches to employment for people aged 50 and over. Again, the inequalities are stark. Across Greater Manchester, nearly 1 in 2 people between 50 and State Pension Age are either out of work (31.2% against a national average of 27.4%) or in low pay (15.1% against 13.8%). Some have made a positive choice to retire, and will have the pensions and savings they need to sustain a good later life. However, many have had to stop working due to health problems, caring responsibilities or redundancy.
Once people in later life are out of work, the evidence suggests that they find it much harder to return. In the absence of a strong evidence base on what works to support older jobseekers, we’ve initiated qualitative research with people aged 50 and above who are out of work or in low pay in 5 neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. Our aim is to work with these people to analyse their situation and the barriers they face in getting into fulfilling work, and design potential interventions in response. Together with GMCA, JobCentre Plus and employers, we’ll seek to develop and trial a more tailored employment support offer for older jobseekers, that takes account of their experiences and life circumstances. Once we have learned more about what works we will work to spread this approach across GM. This ability to develop ideas together and then test them in practice is a key benefit of our partnership.
The draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework projects population growth of around 12% over the next 20 years, equivalent to an additional 200,000 households across the city region by 2035. Two thirds of this population increase (8% approx) will be among people aged 65 or over. We’re looking at how we can help planners and developers to build an accurate picture of the older people’s housing market across Greater Manchester – how many people live where, in what kind of housing stock, and what kind of accommodation they actually want to move to, if they want to move at all. This kind of demographic and market analysis is vital to make sure that large-scale housebuilding delivers the right mix of housing options for people living in Greater Manchester now and into the future. We’ll work with planners and developers to apply the data to stimulate more diverse housing supply, such as age-friendly high-density developments or homes that can be more easily adapted as people age.
Of course, a good place to live is about more than the home. Neighbourhoods provide opportunities for civic engagement, social interaction and mutual support. Our recent evidence briefing on the benefits of making a contribution to your community in later life highlighted that people who are less well off, have fewer social connections, and less activity in their lives at the moment may have most to gain from voluntary activity, but also face the most serious barriers to taking part. We now plan to undertake participatory research with people from more disadvantaged communities to understand the voluntary contributions they currently make, and the motivations and barriers they face. From this we will seek to identify ways to build connections, strengthen social capital and support existing patterns of activity to flourish.
Our partnership with Greater Manchester is providing rich opportunities to explore new solutions and apply evidence about what works. Whether in employment, housing and community action, we are working together to develop and trial new approaches to enable more people to enjoy a good later life.
As well as making a difference in GM, these practical policy experiments will help us build the evidence base on effective age-friendly approaches. From the forthcoming Work and Health programme to recently announced incentives to downsize in the Housing White Paper, there are signs that government is factoring ageing into its thinking. The doors are open to use the lessons from GM to inform national policy and practice.