UK Must Prepare For The “Daunting But Not Insurmountable” Challenge Of Ageing

In a new report for the International Longevity Centre UK (ILC), global academic thought leaders Prof. David Bloom (Harvard) and Prof. Andrew Scott (London Business School) argue that the UK’s unprecedented population ageing poses a set of daunting, yet not insurmountable, challenges for policymakers, institutions and healthcare providers to design better solutions fit for an ageing society.

The UK’s population is ageing more rapidly than ever before with the share of people aged 65+ projected to reach 1 in 4 within the next two decades. With today’s 65-year-olds expected to live, on average, 20 years beyond state pension age, the UK’s ageing population is placing considerable strain on government pension and social security systems. Moreover, as retirees come to outnumber new entrants to the workforce, labour shortages could lead to economic growth slowdowns. Finally, already over-stretched and underfunded health and social care systems will need to adapt to growing demand as they prepare to cater for an ever-growing share of the population.

The UK has seen promising developments on ageing policy, including the recent establishment of the UK Longevity Council and the inclusion of ageing as one of the Government’s Grand Challenges. However, Scott and Bloom argue that policymakers need to go further to redesign policy and institutions that truly support a shift in the population’s age structure.

Prof. Bloom argues that key to this are programmes to enable older workers to remain in the labour market for longer through retraining opportunities and more flexible working patterns; health policy reforms that focus on preventing, rather than curing disease to enable people to stay active and healthy for longer; as well as a renewed debate on the state pension age.

The authors moreover highlight the pivotal role innovation could play, including, for instance, robotics to help fill production demands for manual labour, or better housing and transport design to facilitate independence and continued employment for older people.

Prof. David Bloom, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, argued:

“The uncharted waters of population ageing pose a set of daunting challenges in the UK and beyond. An unparalleled level of ageing marks new territory for the policymakers, institutions, healthcare providers, and other leaders who must contend with its effects and design plausible solutions. While daunting, however, this new set of challenges is not insurmountable.”

Prof. Andrew Scott, London Business School, commented:

“Not only are people living longer but also differently and this means our social and economic infrastructure needs to follow suit.”

“We need a broad and clear set of policies which focus on maximising the opportunities that come from longer, healthier lives while minimising in a dignified way the costs of an ageing society. The demographic factors behind an ageing society represent one of society’s greatest achievements. Making sure that we turn it to our advantage will hopefully be our next.”

 

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