There are at least two phases of growing older. First, is the need to cope with changes to state pension age which involve me carrying on earning a living for much longer than I would have originally planned. However, I know that I would have wanted to carry on ‘working’ anyway – it’s earning a decent living that is a pressure, particularly when I know that age discrimination in the workplace appears to be alive and well and jobs can be hard to come by. At the same time the state needs me to carry on earning and contributing to tax revenues, as well as by being active.
To help people extend their working life, NIACE has been piloting a Mid-Life Review. The issue of how best to support people aged 60–70 who are unemployed also needs attention. More employers need to realise that this age group can offer a great deal of expertise to the workforce and are often happy to share their skills with younger people. Learning and skills provision has yet to catch up with a potential demand for re-skilling older people - numbers of people learning decline in later years, and public spending shrinks almost completely, as Learning through Life reported.
Compared with many countries in the world, the UK is a great country to grow old in, but that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t get better. For most of us, we can look forward to increasing longevity and if we are healthy, independent, connected, active and financially secure all goes well. But that is a big IF.
More worrying, as I contemplate the second phase of growing older, is the picture of my much older age, especially if isolation, ill health, poverty or dependency kick in. There are just not enough safety nets and support, despite the best efforts of the voluntary and community sector, especially for people who might not have or want the support of a family.
The benefits of continuing to participate in learning – in its widest sense – are well documented. Opportunities need to be available for those least likely to participate in learning throughout their lives. The wider benefits include overcoming isolation, being more active in communities, sharing skills – which are all big motivators for adult learning according to our survey. This kind of later life learning even contributes to improved health outcomes. Lots of opportunities to learn exist for much older people, but they are not always accessible to all and are almost always unfunded by the state. It’s vital that we recognise the importance of learning in supporting active and independent ageing.
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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