Guest blog by Dr Alison Giles, Associate Director for Healthy Ageing, Centre for Ageing Better and Public Health England; and Elaine Rashbrook, Consultant Specialist, Life Course, Public Health England.
In October this year, Public Health England (PHE), together with the Centre for Ageing Better (CfAB) launched the Consensus Statement on Healthy Ageing. Over 70 organisations, including ARMA, have signed up and pledged to take action on the five principles set out in the Statement.
The average age at which people report a health condition or disability that interferes with daily life is just 62. With today’s 65-year olds set to live well into their 80s, many of us could face nearly two decades in poor health or living with a disability. This, in turn, could prevent us from working or volunteering for as long as we want or need to, make it more difficult for us to remain living in our own homes and connected to our communities, and make it harder to get out and about and spend time with the people we love.
The best way of ensuring a long life in good health is to have the best start in life, a decent education, a warm and loving home, and an income sufficient to meet our needs[i].
Across the public, private and voluntary sectors, action is needed beyond simply encouraging healthy behaviours. That’s because for the poorest among us, disability-free life expectancy shrinks to just 52 years, and studies consistently show that the quality of our jobs, our homes and the environment around us can make a huge difference to our health – and even our life expectancy.
In a new YouGov survey of people aged 40-60, commissioned by the Centre for Ageing Better and Independent Age, 62% said they worry their physical health will affect their ability to be financially secure, 55% worried it could impact how physically active they can be, and 43% were concerned it could affect the kind of home they could live in when they reach 65.
This is why the following principles, as set out in the Consensus Statement are so important:
- Putting prevention first and ensuring timely access to health and social care when needed. There are small changes we can all make to increase our likelihood of staying healthy for longer, from stopping smoking and reducing alcohol consumption to eating more healthily and being more physically active. But these individual actions need to be supplemented by fiscal and economic interventions, which will have a bigger impact on the places in which we live, work and age.[ii]
- Removing barriers and creating more opportunities for older adults to contribute to society. We want employers to promote health at work, deliver flexible working, and introduce policies to recruit, develop, promote and retain staff of every age. And we want to see more opportunities for people to volunteer and engage with creative, learning and cultural activities.
- Ensuring good homes and communities to help people remain healthy, active and independent. We want our housing stock to be improved, and new homes built to be accessible and adaptable. People on low incomes should have access to funds to repair and improve homes, and every community should have accessible transport links, good quality green spaces and good quality services and facilities.
- Narrowing inequalities. This means giving everyone equal access to a great education, good work, a decent home and meaningful social connections, regardless of their wealth or where they live.
- Challenging ageist and negative language, culture and practices. We must offer a realistic, representative picture of later life that values ageing as a positive and recognises the diversity of backgrounds, experience and ambition amongst older people.
Over the next 12 months, the Centre for Ageing Better and Public Health England will encourage other organisations to sign up, and will take forward a programme of work to build on the momentum of the statement and create action. Working together across partnerships, we can do more to make England a place in which we, our children and grandchildren can all enjoy a long, healthy and disability-free life.
[ii] Marteau, T.M. et al. Increasing healthy life expectancy equitably in England by 5 years by 2035: could it be achieved? The Lancet, 2019. Vol 393, issue 10191. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)31510-7/fulltext