James Lloyd is Director of the Strategic Society Centre.
All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.
The single biggest determinant of whether the UK becomes a better place to grow older in will be whether politicians lead an effective debate on how society pays for ageing.
An ageing population poses a major challenge to public spending as more individuals become entitled to the state pension or require state-funded health and social care. Projections of the rising cost of an ageing society have long been produced, and regularly updated, most recently by the Office for Budget Responsibility.
Some extra costs can be avoided or reduced through ‘doing things better’, for example, investing in prevention, joining-up and coordinating services to reduce waste, and improving access to information and advice to enable self-diagnosis and condition-management.
But these reforms will only ever go so far, and will not be nearly enough to meet the ‘revenue gap’ resulting from our ageing population.
So if UK public services are going to be up to the task of ensuring the country is a better place to grow older in, and if swingeing cuts are not to be made elsewhere, the government will have to look at new forms of taxation.
A remarkable feature of the ageing debate has been the lack of discussion around how the babyboomer generation is expected to use its unprecedented housing wealth. In particular, it’s striking that while the wealthiest generation in history place growing pressure on public services, there is negligible debate on older people being expected to contribute this wealth to pay for such public services, for example, in the form of capital gains taxes or inheritance tax. The only explanation is that politicians are too afraid to broach such potentially unpopular topics.
So what’s needed? A joint-parliamentary Commission on Paying for an Ageing Society would be a start, with politicians willing to take the flak as they seek to shift public attitudes to new taxation and confront the public with hard ‘fiscal truths’. The longer such a necessary public debate is put off, the harder it will be for individuals to plan ahead and have peace of mind.
As the Strategic Society Centre argued in ‘Paying for Ageing: Decision time for households and the state’, policymakers need a coordinated strategy across both age-related public spending and the policy framework for older households making ‘decumulation’ decisions. The current ‘muddling through’ represents the worst of all worlds. It’s time for a real debate on how we pay for an ageing society.
What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?
What concerns you most about growing older and why?
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