Ageing in the E.U.

People An older woman
ViewsMay 25th, 2012

New research from the older people’s charity WRVS suggests that the experience of ageing in the UK is poor compared to other EU countries, with older people in this country the loneliest, poorest and the most concerned about age discrimination.

The research focused on a range of indicators, including health, wealth and levels of loneliness in four EU countries (the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden). Of the four countries, the UK was rated third in its overall performance.

Loneliness and lacking somebody in whom to confide are particular problems in the UK, with our older people having the highest rates of loneliness and the highest prevalence of life-limiting illness. Meanwhile, our older people more frequently feel that they have been shown a lack of respect because of their age than older people in other countries.

So where are the key policy differences which account for the different experiences of ageing, and what lessons might we learn here in Wales?

I think the research highlights some sad truths and should act as a wake-up call to improve services for older people. In particular, we should be concerned about the loneliness faced by older people here in Wales; we know from other studies that overcoming loneliness and isolation is the factor that is most important to improving quality of life for older people. Doing so can keep people happier, healthier and out of hospital and in their homes for longer. But we need to do more by protecting low-level social support services such as lunch clubs and good neighbour schemes, and also improve signposting so that lonely older people are systematically directed towards help.

Today’s new study emphasises that the establishment of an Older People’s Commissioner for Wales marks Wales out as forward-thinking in its policy approach to ageing. Yet too often, that same fact can be a weakness, with the OPCW potentially being viewed as a panacea to the challenges we face. By the same token, measuring quality of life amongst the older population (for example, the Older People’s Wellbeing Monitor for Wales) is very welcome in allowing us to benchmark our progress against other EU countries – but the Monitor has not been updated since 2009. Given the centrality of wellbeing to the Social Services (Wales) Bill, we would argue that the monitor should be reinvigorated as an annual report.

Wales has made some great strides on helping to improve the lives of older people – but today’s research shows that there is still a great deal to be done for us to keep up with some of our European neighbours. The Welsh Government’s next steps will be crucial in determining whether or not they can rise to the challenge.

Dr. Ed Bridges is Public Affairs Manager, WRVS
[email protected]

Tagged with: Older People

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