As part of our series of blogs examining The Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing’s (MICRA) new report ‘The Golden Generation?’ Anna Dixon, Chief Executive at the Centre for Ageing Better assesses the importance of inequality to this debate.
- There is a 19-year difference in healthy life expectancy between the richest and poorest neighbourhoods.
- The poorest third of the population have levels of frailty equivalent to those of people ten years older in the richest third.
- The Centre for Ageing Better’s work in Greater Manchester examines worklessness amongst people aged over 50 and demonstrates how the inequalities people suffer are often sharply interrelated.
- We urgently need to widen the debate about how we tackle inequalities in later life.
A Golden Generation?
Being part of a ‘Golden Generation’ in our later life is surely what we all hope for. Living comfortably and without worry, being in good health, having opportunities to be valuable – and valued – by society, and playing an active part in the communities we live in and love.
The issue of our later lives was thrust into the spotlight this week, with Michael Marmot, Director of the Institute of Healthy Equity at University College London and a former Government adviser, saying he was ‘deeply concerned’ with a levelling off of the century-long upward trend in life expectancy.
But the truth is that for most of us our gender, ethnicity, the affluence of the area we live in, our education, and the level of wealth we have accrued over our lifetime, will have a direct result on the quality of our later life experience, as well as the length of it.
The impact of inequalities
Not only do poorer people not live as long, but they enjoy significantly fewer years of good health – around 19 years less than those in the least deprived areas.
They also experience frailty and disability at younger ages, with the poorest third of the population having levels of frailty equivalent to those of people ten years older in the richest third.
The reality for the less well-oﬀ is a shorter life, poorer health, fewer resources and more barriers to social, cultural and civic participation. This comes at great cost to them personally, but ultimately also to the public purse.
The Golden Generation? report is timely. This issue of inequality currently runs hot through public discourse – particularly the divide between those who ‘have’ and those who don’t, and between generations.
Understanding the divide
At the Centre for Ageing Better, we are also looking specifically at the issue of inequality – how it accumulates over the life course, how some of the most hidden groups in our society are affected, and what that might mean for policy makers who want to help create a society where people can age well, regardless of their background and (lack of) opportunities. You can sign up here to read about our findings when we launch our report later this year, and also receive updates on our wider work.
In truth, inequality is at the root of almost every issue we are looking at as we seek to build an evidence base to inform changes in society that enable more people, now and in future, to enjoy their later life.
Our work in Greater Manchester looking at worklessness amongst people aged over 50 is a good example of how the inequalities people suffer are often sharply interrelated. The people we interviewed cited issues such as poor health and caring responsibilities alongside system issues such as poor transport and lack of quality employment as significant barriers to them getting back into work.
We are also seeking to identify the barriers to volunteering in socially deprived neighbourhoods.
Not all inequality is material of course – part of our research around how those in later life use the internet will try to understand the challenges they face. A lack of confidence will leave them at a severe disadvantage as the information, advice and services that they want and need increasingly move online.
The Golden Generation? is a great addition to the much-needed debate about how we tackle inequalities in later life. We look forward to working with MICRA and other partners to help find and champion the solutions.