§ 5.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Greengross rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take in the light of the Department of Trade and Industry's Foresight report, The Age Shift, on the implications of demographic change in the United Kingdom.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I must first declare a personal interest. I was a member of The Age Shift panel, which was one of the Foresight panels. I believe that this issue is very important. I hope that I can persuade your Lordships that the issues covered by that panel are of the utmost importance. The panel considered the economic and social impact of the UK's changing population and the demographic pattern that it faced. It also considered the implications of that change for the economy, business, employment and leisure.
§ I strongly believe that the implications of the longevity revolution are profound, not only because of the rising number of older people but because of the decreasing number of young people and, less 175 obviously, the whole life course that we currently take for granted. All this needs to be rethought. This is about planning for the future in a new and totally unprecedented situation—in circumstances that have not been known before in the whole history of mankind.
§ The age shift impacts not only on government but, as the Foresight panel's recommendations make clear, on business, education, health and care services, the media, the built environment in which we live and its infrastructure, mobility, transport, and on families—in which four and five generations will become the norm; in short, on all aspects of society.
§ I pay tribute to the hard work of all the members of the panel, which included a cross-section of leading practitioners in academia, business, the voluntary sector and many other areas of life, under the chairmanship of Jim Stretton, chief executive of Standard Life. We were also admirably served by DTI officials, whom I also thank. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, who took ministerial responsibility for the whole Foresight programme. I am very grateful for his support and keen interest in responding to this Unstarred Question.
§ I believe that the aim of the Foresight initiatives—"about being ready for the future"—which have run since 1993, is absolutely crucial to good government, none more so than in relation to the implications of demographic change. In that respect it is clear that the good work done by the Minister's department across the Foresight panels is only the beginning. I do not believe that it has had the attention that it merits. The real hard work starts now and, in most cases, probably lies outside the DTI. We must ensure that in this respect the issues raised by Foresight are acted upon, including across government. That is why I was keen to promote this debate.
§ What did The Age Shift find? It is now commonly understood that we have an ageing population. There has been, and will continue to be, a rapid advance in life expectancy, especially of those aged 85 and over, but that will be coupled with a declining birth rate. Until now, an increase in life expectancy has meant that more of us are likely to reach our 80s and beyond. Very few people achieved that until recently. The new situation is different; for the first time our life span has grown longer.
§ In recognition of that matter, when I was chief executive of Age Concern England I set up the Debate of the Age in the hope of raising awareness in the United Kingdom of the implications of our ageing society as we approached the end of the previous century. I am grateful to many noble Lords and Members of another place, together with hundreds of thousands of people of all ages and walks of life, who participated in the largest citizen jury programme ever held in the world and the 1,500 events and debates across the nation which took place over two years. I was gratified that some of the expert papers used in the debate informed the Foresight initiative.176
§ I should like to pick out one or two themes touched on by The Age Shift. Life spans of 100 years and above will become commonplace rather than exceptional as now. That will have some predictable consequences; for example, for healthcare services, where higher priority needs to be given to prevention particularly of those diseases which plague people later in life. The consequences of not doing so are obvious and can be disastrous. But it may also begin to change a typical life course. If we take a typical life span of 75 to 80 years, approximately the first 20 years are spent growing up and in education and early work. The middle 30 years—sometimes more—are spent working and bringing up a family. The final 20 years or more are spent in retirement, unless people like us enter this House. Will that be the typical life course, however, of today's and tomorrow's children? If it is, increasing numbers of people will spend half their longer lives in retirement—perhaps up to 50 years if exit from the labour market remains as it is now. Although that may well allow for increasing work time or voluntary activity, which is an aim that I fully support having just chaired an expert group to advise Ministers on the setting up of a national experience corps to attract more volunteers of 50 years and over, we must ask whether that situation is economically sustainable both for individuals and the wider society.
§ The Foresight panel made some very wise recommendations on that and related issues. I was heartened to see that the Government responded only last month with the announcement that a fixed arbitrary retirement age would disappear by 2006. It became clear to the panel, however, that the impact of demographic change on business was not as yet very well understood. That was why the panel recommended that business be made aware of its changing customer and employee profile. Age discrimination as we know it must become a thing of the past. The key market will be in older people. Stereotypes will have to be broken; for example, when the media describe anyone over a certain age, probably 60, as "a pensioner", because he or she is not likely to be a pensioner.
§ Research will become ever more important. The DTI's EQUAL initiative, which came out of the first round of Foresight in the mid-1990s, was a noble attempt to get the academic and research communities to place greater priority on research into extending the quality of life. Unfortunately, it was not as successful as it was hoped it would be, but a new expanded version of EQUAL is very much needed now.
§ The Age Shift concluded in December 2000 with a range of recommendations to almost all government departments. Many of these issues are already being taken on board within government; for example, through the excellent Cabinet Office report Winning the Generation Game and through the establishment of the Interministerial Group on Older People But we need to ensure that action follows. Action means taking a longer perspective than is often the case. An inevitable consequence will be that age begins to become irrelevant, or at least a neutral concept, and 177 that we begin to judge people, particularly in work, on their competence and ability and not on the number of birthdays they have celebrated.
§ There is a crucial role here for Parliament. Various Members in this House and in the other place take a very close interest in these issues. So perhaps we should come together. For my own part, I have recently been privileged to establish a small new organisation, the International Longevity Centre UK, working with other organisations in different parts of the world, to take forward the agenda of The Age Shift, and to look in depth at some of these issues and how we might influence future policy and practice on the basis of the work we do.
§ This is a bold agenda for action. I hope that we can all respond to it, especially business. I hope that the Government will respond to it too. I look forward to hearing from the Minister how his ministerial colleagues intend to do that.
§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord Haskel
My Lords, the state pension at retirement is a relatively new idea. It was a progressive idea introduced in 1948 at a time when life expectancy was low, largely because of people's poor health.
Thanks to healthier ageing, the time has come to rethink the concept of a fixed age for retirement. The Foresight document makes a very powerful case for this. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for giving us the opportunity to debate the report and for bringing it to our attention.
The noble Baroness said that the report is important. I agree. I happen to think that every Foresight report is important. Each one provides a framework and a vision for people to better understand and anticipate change in their particular sector of work or of interest.
Adapting for change and innovating for the future is a risky business. There are more failures than successes. Foresight points the way to successful innovation and provides a framework in which to get these risky decisions right.
Unlike many Foresight reports, the Ageing Population Panel's report does not deal with a particular sector of industry but with a particular sector of society. But it has a message for all. So it is particularly important for all of us to become aware of it. Indeed, my main concern about the way that the Government are handling the Foresight exercise is that they do not promote it enough. Every company and organisation, small, medium and large, should be aware of the Foresight reports and the implications for their particular business or organisation. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on that point.
The main point of the report is that the age at which we become less productive and less valuable fluctuates wildly. There was an article in Computer Weekly recently saying that it was difficult, almost impossible, to get an interview for an IT job if you are over 40. Does that mean that you are no longer productive and valuable after your 40th birthday? Of course not. The 178 age at which judges retire, presumably because they are thought to become less productive and less valuable, is 72. Part-time judges retire at 65. In your Lordships' House there is a progressive view about retirement, because there is no retirement age.
Introducing an arbitrary retirement age only adds to the unfair discrimination already within employment. Of course older people have as much right as anyone else to express themselves in a socially useful way. Enabling people to live an active and expressive life certainly serves the best interests of the larger society. But I do not really think that it is a matter of legislation. It is a matter of breaking down ageist habits. This is a cultural change. Legislation is not very good at enforcing a cultural change. It has to happen on its own.
One area where this cultural change is starting to happen is in the area of mentoring. The requirement for mentoring by older people must be limitless. The DTI supplies mentors through its Small Business Service. Mentoring goes on at school. A mentor's age does not matter. What matters is their knowledge, their skills and experience and their ability to impart them. Mentoring in careers is well advanced. My party has even introduced mentoring into your Lordships' House. But we have only just started to scratch the surface of mentoring.
Many mentors are volunteers. Older people often go into the voluntary sector when they leave work. Social Trends tells us that one in five people undertook unpaid charitable work during 1998. Sadly, there is no analysis by age, but I am willing to bet that most volunteers were older people—contributors, not receivers.
Serving the community in this way is a long-established tradition in this country and the Government are right to encourage it by the tax system. But more can be done than by tax management. Voluntary work and mentoring would be much more effective with proper training, especially as more social services are being delivered by voluntary organisations. Modern labour markets thrive on skills and continuous learning. So this training could be a factor in creating a labour market flexible enough to employ older people.
Continuous learning and professional development is of value both inside and outside the paid work market. It helps to build a labour market that is flexible enough to provide work geared towards the needs of older people; work which uses their skills and experience but is less physically demanding and has flexible hours.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has said, The Age Shift is here. The Foresight paper has pointed the way. It is up to us to bring about the cultural change that will put it into practice.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Lord Northbrook
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for initiating the debate on such an important issue. I have read the Ageing Population Panel's report with great interest. 179 There is a good deal of useful material in it. The chart on page 6, comparing the projected population by age and sex between 2001 and 2031, is, in itself, very thought-provoking as it shows a big increase particularly in people over the age of 60 by 2031.
Looking at the balance of the report as a whole, I find I am much happier with those recommendations involving health, education and social security than those covering industry, which I find too interventionist in many cases. In the summary on pages 7 to 9, I endorse some of the paragraphs but not others.
The report states that suitable information and education to promote healthy ageing across the course of people's lives should be developed and disseminated as widely as possible. That seems an eminently sensible recommendation because it will save the Government money if the elderly population is more healthy. In addition, the suggestion that policies ensure that all older people are provided with appropriate technological support systems that are linked into electronic networks is a good one, although the report makes no suggestion of how much that will cost.
Another sensible recommendation comes on page seven. The report states that businesses should investigate the potential of new markets for services or products that will provide a better quality of life for frail or disabled older people. The report then goes on to say that the Government can help by supporting research relating to their needs and in facilitating the transfer of these technologies from the universities to the business sector. Again I feel that this is a role suitable for the Government.
However, when we come to other recommendations, I start to have more difficulty. One states that:Most businesses are largely unaware about how the Age Shift will impact on their markets or activities. As a matter of urgency, business organisations, trade associations and trade unions should raise the profile of ageing as a business issue and fill the information gap with industry-specific guidance".I find that recommendation an interference in the way companies run their affairs, except maybe for the provision of an ageing population information resource, which could be useful.
I have some problems, too, with another industrial recommendation. The report states that work patterns will have to become more flexible and attractive in order to retain older staff. It also states that action should be a top priority to reduce the incidence of musculo-skeletal strains. These two points have some validity, but companies have to be run to maximum efficiency, which may preclude part-time working and may necessitate the use of heavy machinery.
Another recommendation that causes me concern is that new financial products will be required to support the move towards flexible work patterns. I have to admit to being rather baffled by that recommendation. Apparently, the report goes on, providers of the next generation of financial products will need to work with government departments and the Financial Services Authority to develop these products. What products 180 might these be? In my view, existing financial products cover adequately the situation except for the imposition of compulsory annuities at the age of 75. Can the Minister inform us whether the Government plan to raise or abolish the limit?
Another recommendation that causes me concern due to its vagueness is that:All government departments should set an example by ensuring that their policies are fully inclusive".How will that be implemented in practice?
Another difficult recommendation is that the media and advertising industry need to change their attitude towards dependency and infirmity. That is a laudable objective, but I ask the Minister how in practice it can be implemented.
I have that problem with many of the conclusions in the report, especially as I see that the panel has stepped down after issuing it. May I ask the Minister this question about the report as a whole? Will he implement all the conclusions? What is not needed is a quango set up to monitor the situation.
Finally, in contrast to the rather broad recommendations in the report, perhaps I may set out where we on these Benches offer concrete proposals to help pensioners financially. Under the next Conservative government, no one will pay income tax on their savings or dividend income, except at the upper rate. The 10 per cent and 20 per cent rates of savings tax and the 10 per cent ordinary rate on dividends will be abolished, with higher rate taxpayers paying 40 per cent only on any savings income taxable at the higher rate. The right to claim dividend credits will be restored to people who have dividend income but are too poor to pay any tax.
The next Conservative government will by 2003–04 take approximately 1 million pensioners out of tax altogether by increasing the age-related personal allowance for the over-65s by £2,000. Pensioners aged between 65 and 74 with incomes between £9,310 and £17,000 and those over 75 with incomes between £9,570 and £17,000 will be the biggest gainers. They will pay £440 a year less tax or about £8.50 a week.
We are promising above-inflation increases in the basic state pension for all pensioners in April 2002. Single pensioners under 75 will receive an extra. £3 a week and married couples under 75 will receive an extra £4 a week. Older pensioners will receive an extra £4 a week if they are single and an extra £6.80 a week if they are married.
Pensioners will also be given the opportunity to consolidate the special payments to which they are currently entitled, receiving them rolled up into their basic state pension. Consolidation is, however, purely optional. Those pensioners who are currently unable to claim Labour's special payments will be able to do so as a weekly addition to their basic state pension. For example, those in residential care, the over-75s without a television, and retired people living abroad will benefit from the Conservative plans.
Proposed reforms to the rules governing the purchase of pension annuities, based on the recommendations of the Retirement Income Working 181 Party, were recently outlined. The next Conservative government will end the compulsory requirement to purchase an annuity with the whole of an individual's pension fund. Those with money purchase pension schemes will need only to ensure that they have a sufficient minimum income to keep them off state benefits.
Conservatives believe that the right thing to do is to allow pensioners to keep more of their own money, rather than devising complicated ways of taxing them and then handing out government money. Conservative proposals will allow pensioners to keep more of their hard-earned money and maintain their independence from the state.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Lord Dholakia
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for initiating this debate on age shift and the implications of demographic change in the United Kingdom. The report is very interesting and is well worth reading. I shall avoid the temptation of spelling out Liberal Democrat policy on care and pensions, because this does not seem to be the right occasion to do so.
Ageing affects us all—young or old. It is said that the old have been young once but the young have yet to be old. That indeed is the certainty in life if we live to an old age. I welcome the Foresight report, The Age Shift, since it is about planning in old age for old age. The issues in the report concern all aspects of economic, social, cultural and political activity as part of everyday living. Noble Lords have so far covered issues relating to the majority of people in our society who are growing old well and the many who are not. To create circumstances in our society which allow everyone to make the most of their old age requires concerted action by all. Business and government should play a key role, as the Foresight report identified.
I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is to reply to the debate. I have always valued his judgment. I hope that he will be able to reflect on the many questions that will be posed to him and give considered replies.
The Foresight report recognises the importance of immigration into our country as the population ages. However, it overlooks the presence of black and minority ethnic people who are yesterday's migrants and for whom the population is relatively young, but of course there are differences between the various ethnic minority groups. This generation will be an important provider of tomorrow's labour force, but at the same time there is a rising number of elderly today among the minority groups who, incidentally, were an important source of labour in post-war Britain, contributing to the rising prosperity of this country. We need to consider also the ageing population among established refugees and asylum seekers. We must do everything we can to ensure that all elders in this country enjoy their old age with dignity and respect.
182 Sadly, for minority elders, this goal is made difficult to achieve since their needs—relating to culture, language, faith and beliefs—have not been recognised or met in the past. They are not special needs, only different needs. Changes take place in our families and communities. That is not different in minority groups. The frequently cited statement that, "they look after their own and therefore don't need support" is unfounded in reality. For that reason, I wish to focus on this group.
Using the 1991 census information, the current share of black and minority ethnic elderly at 65-plus years stands at 1.2 per cent compared with over 4 per cent for the 45–64 year-old age group. We will therefore see a much higher proportion of minority elderly both in this and the next decade. How are the Government, statutory authorities and businesses planning for this increase in ageing among minority groups? Are health, social security, social care, housing and education adequately meeting the current needs of the relatively small group of ethnic elders? The present state of affairs suggests that,some authorities are doing well, some are doing a little and others arc doing nothing at all".That is the verdict of the Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity (PRIAE), whose personnel have studied this area over the past two decades and have been urging policymakers and planners to respond appropriately and adequately. Has anyone been listening? Again, the answer is, "gently and slowly", which was the reason why PRIAE was established. At this point I should declare that I am a trustee of this national and internationally independent organisation. I am proud that it is one of the foremost agencies in this area of work.
The Government have been a little shy about adopting in full the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Long-Term Care of the Elderly compared with our neighbours in Scotland. However, the key issues and recommendations of the minority elders which PRIAE produced on behalf of the Royal Commission are still valid and require a full response. The recommendations covered were: access to services; appropriateness of care; planning and paying for care; and reducing dependency. I am aware that the Government have been busy with the reforms, but can the noble Lord tell the House which specific recommendations the Government have adopted from the PRIAE report? If not, would it help if we were to seek a meeting with him and his officials in order to take this matter forward?
The National Service Framework for Older People will set standards of care. PRIAE was a member of the task group and stressed the need to invest, invest and invest. Why was that? It was so that developments in care services which currently do not exist can do so. And where services are developed, these need to be made more comprehensive and effective at reaching all sections, in particular those who are frail and disabled—via home care, day care and related services. It is obvious: how can national service framework standards be implemented if the developments do not exist for minority elders in the first instance?
183 Many of PRIAE's programmes are the first of their kind. That reflects the level of historic underdevelopment in this area. One example will suffice. Until 1998, not a single book published in the United Kingdom looked at dementia among minority elders. A few articles had been published. Since 1999, both the UK and Europe have a book and a film to raise awareness and provide hopeful signs of what could be done to support people with dementia and their carers among minority elders.
Noble Lords will know that this disease can strike anyone. It does not discriminate. One person in five at the age of 80-plus will have dementia. I welcome the support given by the Government to PRIAE to help develop its satellite model—working with a small number of minority organisations to develop specialist resources in dementia. This has already begun in London, which has the highest number of minority elders of any city in the country. But such investment is also needed in Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Bradford, Manchester, Glasgow, Cardiff and many other areas where ethnic minorities have settled. Will those resources be made available and, if so, when?
My next point relates to the critical providers of care who have made minority elders visible. Many of these voluntary organisations exist on temporary, shoestring budgets, yet they work in many innovative areas, not only in care and benefits but also in leisure pursuits to improve quality of life. PRIAE's central recommendation was that such organisations should be better resourced and supported through mainstream funding, not as an alternative but as a vital mainstream element of services. This is beginning to happen through some government programmes, but it interprets "mainstreaming" a little differently.
Perhaps I may add a note of caution. In the interest of mainstreaming, white voluntary organisations are encouraged and financed to support black minority ethnic organisations. We welcome learning and transfer opportunities, but we must ask if this is what is happening. Is the flow of benefit in both directions? Minority organisations are rightly concerned that this opportunity may gear white voluntary organisations towards being more competent in multicultural care, but then leave black minority ethnic organisations as second best. Such possible unintended outcomes require the Government to implement their mainstreaming programmes with care and concern. How do they intend to use the expertise generated by minority organisations in this area?
In 2001 we cannot deny progress, albeit that it is uneven, which I have explained and much of which I have omitted. For example, Wales has the oldest established black and ethnic minority presence. At the dawn of a new era, we organised the first ever all-Wales conference for black and ethnic minority elders, from which emerged practical recommendations. Recently, the Minister in Wales did not support PRIAE's application on the basis that it is not a Wales-based organisation. Work on minority elders would therefore be passed on to Age Concern in Wales. While 184 I recognise the work of such national bodies, this example illustrates what "narrow interpretation" effectively means.
Should we conclude from this that it is all right for a national minority or specialist organisation to raise the agenda, but that it is not good enough to undertake the development work? We have a long way to go to seize the growth in minority elders as an opportunity in welfare, in business, in leisure and in the simple transmission of values that supports progress for all of us. A question we must ask is: will the Government, in their growth and reform stage, seize the issues and practical responses made by organisations such as PRIAE and be hungry to make the progress we all so desire and have waited for over so long?
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ Lord Williamson of Horton
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Greengross is widely known for her work on the problems but, even more, on the positive opportunities for the older population. I am glad that she has given us an opportunity to contribute to this short debate tonight.
We spend a great deal of time on forecasting the future of the economy, the possible results of elections and even when they might be held, as well as, from time to time, football and racing results. However, the age shift in our population should not be considered to be a forecast. On the contrary, it is more correctly described as a "foresight" because the great majority of the people to whom it refers have, of course, already been born. The average length of their lifespan is relatively easy to foresee.
We can very reasonably plan on the projected pattern of our population broadly as it is shown in the report of the Ageing Population Panel, to which the Question this evening refers. But is our long-term planning decided on this basis? Are we looking to take advantage of the opportunities, to improve quality of life and to increase the potential for wealth creation? Not enough, I am sure.
But I say to the Minister that this is not a complaint to the Government. The age shift in our population is not something which calls for a knee-jerk reaction or a one-off solution, although the £15 million fund announced in the science and innovation White Paper of July 2000, to get the best ideas from Foresight put into action, was welcome, and continuous monitoring of the take-up of ideas is also very necessary.
The age shift is simply the future pattern of our nation that needs to be borne in mind across a whole range of issues in which the Government do not necessarily need to intervene, but do need to avoid actions which might impede the changes in priorities; for example, in health, research, work patterns and the length of working life.
I should like to deal with three points only. I refer first to working practices. Looking forward to the population pattern in 2030 by 10-year age groups—that is, nought to 10, 10 to 20, 20 to 30 year-olds and so on—the biggest single group will be people in their sixties. Some of these will, no doubt, wish to continue 185 working in the jobs of which they have most experience; many others will look for new opportunities for part-time jobs, for home working, for activities in non-governmental organisations and so on. It seems to me quite evident that we shall need greater flexibility in working practices and probably in the point at which pensions become available.
In particular, if an employee at age 60 to 65 is not needed in his present job, there is a strong tendency now for employers to assume that he or she must go. However, in some countries, such as Sweden, there is already a greater willingness to consider a sideways shift or a job at a lower level. There is nothing wrong with demotion provided that both employer and employee are content and that the employee is making a good contribution to the work of the company or organisation. We all know that work-induced stress is one of the commonest reasons why older people leave work, so the formula of reduce the stress, reduce the level of responsibility at work, may be a good formula for the older person in the future.
My noble friend Lady Greengross has already stressed the principle that, as the number of those willing to work beyond 60 or 65 increases, we should make our decisions on competence and not on age. That is the heart of the matter.
With a change in attitudes to retirement, there must also be a look at the pension rules. I am very much aware that we should be careful not to make changes which disturb the fine balance between the costs of pension schemes and their benefits, but this report on the age shift suggests two possible approaches to pensions: to raise the pension age in line with life expectancy or, more radically, to do away with the setting of formal retirement ages and to have some form of phased retirement.
There may be some scope to raise the pension age, but it runs against the principle of flexibility. For example, a mother who has devoted many years to bringing up her family and has very few savings would suffer if the pension age was shifted further away. However, I believe that before long we shall move very widely to a system where there are no formal retirement ages, although the way in which such a system will work needs a lot of careful study.
I retired at the age of 63; I was abroad at the time. All my friends in England asked me why I had gone on working beyond the retirement age; all my friends abroad asked me why I had retired before the retirement age. So there is obviously a need for more flexibility to avoid such rather curious questions in the future.
On the pensions side, I support the idea which has been put to us in briefing by the Continuing Care Conference, to allow long-term care to be provided by pension schemes. There are some difficulties at the moment but, in the medium term, it is rather a good idea.
Secondly, I should like to say a word about work and activity opportunities for older people. A very large percentage of private wealth is in the hands of the 186 older population—as we all know, "Where there's grey hair, there's brass"—and the potential for older people to use their wealth and for others to provide improved services is obviously increasing. I am somewhat surprised that there has not been a stronger development of projects by the old for the old.
Similarly, the development of business and commercial services for older customers does not seem to have been very rapid, although there are obvious examples such as holiday cruises and many varied educational courses. I wonder whether there are not greater opportunities in personal transport, which might improve the quality of life and, in some cases, reduce loneliness, which is an affliction of the very old.
The panel considers that:Most businesses are largely unaware about how the Age Shift will impact on their markets or activities".Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, I think that is a bit harsh and a bit interventionist; nevertheless, it is a message which needs signalling.
Thirdly, there is the extent to which we should be devoting more research effort to the changed society which we shall have within the next two or three decades. I share the view of the panel that a more ambitious programme of research into some of the problems of ageing would be well spent. In particular, the better the health of the older population, the lower the direct expenditure of the state and the less the pressure for higher expenditure—which will otherwise be inevitable—to meet the problems of the ageing population. We need more preventive medicine, regular health checks and so on. On the basis of my own very limited experience in three different countries, we do seem to lag somewhat behind some of our neighbours in that area.
Finally, I should like to ask the Minister for his view on the two possible ways of taking forward the panel's recommendations suggested on page 26 of the report. For me, this is a good report; the vital point, as always, is the follow-up.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Lord Turnberg
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for bringing to your Lordships' House a topic of such direct and immediate interest and for opening the debate in such an enlightening way.
I should like to discuss the implications of the rising proportion of older people for health and healthcare. I realise that these are somewhat outside the direct brief of my noble friend the Minister but I hope that your Lordships will agree that the subject of age transcends government departments, and that this issue more than most calls for joined-up government.
I shall speak to two distinct issues. First, how we begin to assess the costs of healthcare as more of us reach old age. We are clearly living longer and longer. Some evidence suggests that this rising trend in average life span is getting steeper. All this seems to be happening because of a combination of improvements in social circumstances, in housing and so on, in general affluence, in a continuing fall in environmental 187 risks and hazards—yes, despite what one hears, risks everywhere are decreasing rather than increasing—and, finally, to improvements in medical care. John Bunker, an authoritative American observer, calculated that about half of the last 10 years' rise in life spans has been due to advances in medical care.
It may seem reasonable to assume that the costs of healthcare will continue to rise in direct proportion to the numbers of older people. That is not quite the case. It is certainly true that long-term treatments for such common disorders as high blood pressure, raised cholesterol and diabetes, which prolong life, require such treatments to be taken for life. While they are not in themselves expensive treatments, the fact that they have to be taken by such a large proportion of the population and for so long means that they add a considerable burden to drug costs. However, these costs have to be balanced by the fact that the drugs keep patients feeling fit and well for much longer. We are not simply prolonging life by increasing the period of dependency but delaying the onset of dependency and the need for expensive hospital care, for example. In postponing death we are also postponing the age when we become sick.
This does not mean, of course, that we will not need more and better care for the elderly; we will certainly need all the improvements that one hopes for from the closer co-ordination between health and social services envisaged in the Health and Social Care Bill. We need that now and will do so even more in the future. Much is expected from the National Service Framework for Older People. It would be helpful to know when that framework will be published. I do not think it has been. No doubt my noble friend the Minister will correct me if I am wrong.
I should like to turn now to a more parochial matter; that is, the loss of healthcare professionals at retirement. Everyone is agreed that we need more nurses and more doctors. There is no doubt that we have too few by any international comparisons and that they are all heavily overworked. The Government's response, quite reasonably, is to try to improve nurse recruitment and increase the number of medical students training to be doctors; opening new medical schools, boosting student intake in others and meanwhile by trying to attract staff from overseas.
But surprisingly little emphasis is given to the retention of existing trained staff. Many doctors feel so tired and burnt out by the age of 55 or 60 that they retire early. But they, and those who survive until 65 years of age, are among the most experienced and effective doctors and represent an invaluable resource. So we have the perverse situation of trying to increase the number of doctors coming into the system while we are doing little to stem the outward flow. I fear that the same is true of nursing. There is enormous room here to make good use of high quality staff if we trawl the pool of doctors and nurses nearing retirement age.
That is a paradigm for the rest of society. In the NHS we have a desperate need which could be met by giving nurses and doctors a sense that they are valued and, perhaps more importantly, by providing the 188 opportunities and incentives to continue in employment gainful both to the NHS and to the individual: flexible work, part-time work and work tailored to take the greatest advantage of the particular skills, knowledge and experience of the individual. These measures could solve some at least of the staff shortage problems. Of course, it takes imaginative management and resources to achieve that, but how wasteful if we do not.
I hope that the Government will use every opportunity to use the NHS as an example for the rest of society for ways in which the third age can be incorporated into a more creative future and that my noble friend the Minister will pass the message to his colleagues in the Department of Health.
§ 6.32 p.m.
§ Lord Taverne
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, is right about the importance of this subject. Indeed, if present demographic trends were to continue, there would be some quite astonishing results. For example, let us consider the present birth rate in Italy and Spain. It is about 1.2 per female, which is just about half the replacement rate. If one were to project that into the future, it would mean that: in two centuries, taking three generations per century, for every 64 Italian babies born today, one would be born in 200 years' time. Simultaneously, a Dutch population expert has forecast that the average expectation of life for Dutch babies born about a decade from now will be about 115 years. So while there will be very few young Italians and Spaniards, there will be very many old ones.
That will be the case if present trends continue but, they will not. Trends change and I do no know what kind of scenario we shall face. But in any event there is no particular reason to forecast disaster because as the report and a number of speakers have pointed out, although people will live much longer, they will be very much fitter. That will be especially true if they can be kept at work and mentally active.
There are plenty of examples from the past. I particularly like the story about the famous American judge, Mr Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who dominated the American Supreme Court for 20 years. He was not appointed until he was 72. He was very vigorous physically, as well as mentally active. The story is that in his early 90s he was sitting with another judge of a very considerable age. They saw a very pretty young girl pass. Mr Justice Holmes said to his companion, "God, I wish I was 10 years younger!" There is also the perhaps apocryphal story about Stravinsky's grandfather who died at the age of 105 by falling off a stile in the course of a midnight assignation.
I can relate some not so amusing experiences of my own. Rather unwisely, I took up marathon running in my middle 50s. Now, rather reluctantly, I have ceased running marathons. However, there are plenty of people still running marathons in their 70s and some of them achieve a perfectly respectable time of under four hours. So there is no particular reason to suppose that 189 people will not be fitter if they have the chance to work. That is one of the key questions raised by the report and mentioned by several speakers in today's debate.
What can be done to encourage people to postpone their retirement? If they can, the effect could be quite dramatic. For example, many people predict problems in Europe as regards various pension schemes and the hidden liabilities that they incur. But as a OECD report has pointed out, if the average retirement age in Europe became 64 to 65 years of age, that would halve the dependency ratio. Indeed, the age of retirement is now rising. After falling for many years, it is beginning to rise.
No doubt the Government have considered it, but I draw their attention in particular to the Swedish scheme. I believe that we can learn a great deal from it not only as regards the various measures taken, to which the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, referred, but also their pension scheme which was introduced in 1998. It is extremely ingenious. The payment towards a pension which everyone has to contribute is 18.5 per cent, of which 2.5 per cent is a compulsory contribution to a privately funded scheme. The contributions are divided between employer and employee. The state pension of 16 per cent has some very interesting features. There is a minimum retiring age of 61 with no upper limit. But the pension paid on retirement depends on two factors: the first is the number of contributions made, and the second is the average life expectancy at the date of retirement. That is a very ingenious scheme. It provides a very considerable incentive for later retirement. It is also virtually demography-proof because as the average life expectancy rises, so the pension that one receives at any particular retirement date is somewhat decreased. Therefore, one is provided with a very powerful incentive to continue at work.
It is a scheme that we could consider. It could easily be fitted into our state scheme or into schemes as they develop. It would mean that we too could have a retirement age which is determined by the individual. The compulsory raising of the retirement age is rather unattractive, but if it is left to the individual, it is less so. If this Swedish model of "actuarial fairness", as it is called, can be copied—it was first championed by the Italians—many of the problems which have been referred to in this debate could be helped towards an attractive solution.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Lord Henley
My Lords, with other speakers, I would like to offer my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, upon initiating this debate. We have heard some very useful and valuable speeches.
We face some fairly absurd stereotypes in this country given voice, dare I say it, in the rather foolish remarks of the Prime Minister when he said some years ago "We are a young country". It is quite obvious that we are no such thing. We are an ageing country and, as 190 the report shows, we have a society which is becoming older with a declining birth rate, as the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, made clear, and longer life expectancy.
Like the noble Lord, I include some statistics which I remember from my time as a social security Minister about 10 years ago. At that time we spoke about there being about three people of working age for every pensioner. I remember it being made clear to me by officials at the time that when I reached the retirement age of 65, the figure would have changed to about two people of working age for every pensioner. However pensions are funded, that suggests enormous problems that society will have to face in future.
I say unequivocally that we see these changes as positive steps, difficult though they may be for society to manage. We believe that our society is enriched by the experience of the old. Anyone who has listened to most of the debates in this House would not doubt that for a moment. I stress "most of the debates". I believe that the Government Chief Whip will agree with me as regards some other debates.
Perhaps I may say something which will be heard and heeded in the world of television, which influences us so much. It was only recently that the Director-General of the BBC famously said that the BBC was "horribly white". Too often it—and for that matter other branches of broadcast media—seem to me to be horribly ageist.
I wonder if many other noble Lords share my indignation that any report on pensions on television is inevitably accompanied by pictures of the frailest of old people, laced with voiceover clichés about pensioners "cracking open the sherry" or whatever to celebrate another handout from the state. I do believe that television does need to look very carefully and very self-critically about how television itself portrays the phenomenon of age.
More and more older people are retaining physical and mental agility far longer. That is why I believe the report is right to highlight the issue of extending the retirement age—a step begun by the last Conservative government. Employees should have the choice to remain at work after 60 or 65, although they must not lose their right to retire earlier. Other noble Lords were right to point to the fact that we have seen people retiring earlier and earlier, with many retiring in their 50s, well before pension age, although I do believe that that tendency is beginning to be reversed.
But I do believe that these issues are best addressed not by regulation—I think that this point was made by my noble friend Lord Northbrook —but by education. We accept the report's recommendation that attitudes will have to change and work patterns become more flexible to retain older staff. But we hope this will be achieved with the genuine support of employers, not through over-prescriptive red tape. We also hope that employers themselves will see the advantage of employing older employees. Seeing the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, responding to this debate I wonder if I may put it to him that I have some memory of certainly one supermarket group finding that the turnover of staff among older employees was much 191 less than the turnover of staff among younger employees and realising therefore that there was a distinct advantage in taking positive steps towards actively recruiting older people rather than younger. I would be very grateful for the noble Lord's comment on that particular point.
I do believe, though, that too often the Government have looked to the regulation route rather than the education route, saddling industry with red tape that can cost billions of pounds more than it cost in the past. To do so in this case I think would simply add to the massive raft of regulations that are currently smothering enterprise and would almost certainly result in a reduction in job opportunities not only for the elderly but also for the population as a whole.
It is not, though, as if the state itself is without criticism. Too often elderly people suffer unfairness in the delivery of other key public services, particularly healthcare. Research shows, for example, that cancer in elderly people is less likely to be diagnosed and treated than in young people.
Older people have a right to enjoy freedom from fear, and to live their lives in the sure knowledge they will be treated on a purely clinical basis. They need to be sure that the quality of their care, and the access they enjoy to it, are the same as those for the rest of the population. These basic expectations will form the basis of our party's agecare policies.
A belief in independence for individuals is one of the strongest grains in our thought on these Benches. We want to extend opportunity to the older generation by tackling dependency. But, at the same time, policies must enable the younger generation to save more for their retirement.
Again the report is right to say that financial services must respond to the age shift. The Conservative Party has recently announced a range of policies to address these concerns. For example, we believe that the age shift has particular importance for annuities. Why then do this Government take the patronising view—this was referred to by my noble friend Lord Northbrook—that a person who has spent a lifetime saving will simply splurge those savings if allowed to do so? This House has more than once in social security Bills voted for those in retirement to be free of the need to buy an annuity. We on this side believe people should have that choice. Sadly, the Chancellor has repeatedly used another place to overturn this House's views. I live very much in hope—although, I have to say, not in expectation—that he may at last feel shamed into abandoning his indefensible position in the Budget tomorrow. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, will not be in a position to comment on this tonight but he is welcome to try to defend the indefensible if he wishes to do so.
As we on these Benches have made clear, we want to help those saving for retirement and people who are retired. Again, as my noble friend Lord Northbrook made clear, such people would be among the biggest beneficiaries of our plans to abolish the 10 per cent and 20 per cent rates of savings tax and the 10 per cent 192 ordinary rate on dividends. And the right to claim dividend credits will be restored to people who have dividend income but are too poor to pay tax.
A key part of the age shift is the declining ratio of the working population to those in retirement, which I referred to earlier—a fact which makes it essential that the current working population can save as much as possible for their retirement. Here, too, I have to say that the stealth taxes introduced by the current Chancellor, which have plundered some £5 billion a year from future pension savings, were utterly indefensible. Again, no doubt the noble Lord might wish to attempt such a defence.
We want to maximise future pensioner incomes and encourage people to do all they can to build up their own retirement savings. We have therefore been consulting on ways to enable individuals to opt out of the basic state pension to build up their own funded alternative.
The older people of today and the older people of the future are partners. Both must be accorded the respect and the self-respect that personal financial independence conveys.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ The Minister for Science, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville)
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, initiated this debate. This is an enormously important subject which needs to be widely discussed. As the Minister responsible for the Foresight Programme, I very much welcome the interest shown in The Age Shift report. It has attracted much interest both within government and elsewhere. I thank all those involved in the Ageing Population Panel for the time, energy and commitment which they gave so willingly and to such good effect.
The Foresight Programme provides an opportunity for stimulating government, business and others to think creatively about the future. It is inherent in the whole process that all these groups think about the implications of what is set out in the report. The Foresight reports are totally independent of government. Some of their conclusions we agree with and, of course, some not. The important thing is that we have an open and wide debate.
As the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, pointed out, the shift in the age balance of the population is not just happening here in the UK. Some of our major trading partners are experiencing this at an even faster rate. It is affecting the whole of the developed world and will in due course start affecting the developing nations. The effects are already being felt but will become more accentuated by 2020. It is the one near certainty for the future that business, government and society can plan for. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that this is about foresight not forecasts because on this issue we can project ahead.
It is also important that the business community needs to be aware of the impact of the changing nature of the population. The Government also accept that they have a role to play in helping to raise that 193 awareness, as well as in creating an environment in which changes can take place, for example, an employment culture that welcomes older workers and encourages reskilling through life. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, as regards what he sees as government intervention in industry. I believe that government have a role to see that the work of the Foresight panels is widely known and that people are encouraged to act upon it. That is, after all, the whole basis of the Foresight Programme. It is not a case of the Government sitting on the information and taking no action. That programme provided information for the whole of society and should be used to influence its actions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, that if there is an issue we ought to focus on it is making certain that that work is more widely known.
I do not wish to comment on the description of the Conservative Party's pensions proposals given by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. I do not think that it is totally relevant to this debate. I simply point out that he mentioned proposals; he did not say how they were to be funded. That point also applies to the final comments of the noble Lord, Lord Henley. I could spend all my 12 minutes talking about what we have done and what we shall do on pensions. That is an important issue but it is not particularly relevant to what was in the Foresight report.
Flexibility on working practices should not be seen as a burden on industry. In the world we are entering, it may be essential in terms of recruiting people to work in businesses. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, spoke about the work done by supermarkets, in particular B&Q, in employing older workers. While I am sure that the issue was driven by the highest motives, it was not unrelated to ensuring that it had a supply of good, hard-working people to man the stores.
Government can also help to combat existing negative and unhelpful images of older people and promote the reality of active older people with energy and time and a willingness to contribute to society.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that the report has implications across the whole of Government. That is why in 1998 the Government established the Interministerial Group on Older People, ensuring that older people's needs are at the centre of government thinking and policy development.
The interministerial group recognises that the age shift within the UK's population has important implications for Government and that we need to plan accordingly. It has welcomed the Foresight panel's important contribution on what needs to be done. We are now putting in place policies to reflect the needs of our ageing population and will be taking into account the issues identified by Foresight in this work.
I focus on a number of key issues which have arisen in the debate, in particular employment, the programme EQUAL, the research council activities, and the integration of health and social services. Those are some of the toughest issues we have to tackle. My 194 noble friend Lord Haskel made a clear appeal for getting rid of age discrimination in the workplace. As someone who started on a new career at the age of 58, it is a view that I totally support. It is an important point. The issue was raised in the Winning the Generation Game report. The DfEE has taken the lead in tackling the issue. More generally, the Government are committed to tackling age discrimination in employment. In 1999 they published a non-statutory Code of Practice on Age Diversity in Employment which they had developed with key social partners including Age Concern, the TUC, CBI, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the Employers Forum on Age, among others.
To support the code, they have launched an advertising and publicity campaign from February 2000 aimed primarily at employers and those who can influence employers. They have also initiated a wide-ranging research programme on age and employment issues which will form a basis of future activity in this area. In October 2000 the Government made a commitment to legislate against age discrimination in employment within six years by signing up to the EU Directive on Equal Treatment.
The code of practice evaluation, together with a comprehensive range of research and extensive consultations over the coming years, will inform plans towards implementing age legislation within six years.
In answer to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, as part of our work on the Winning the Generation Game we are considering options for allowing employees to have access to their occupational pensions while continuing to work with the same employer. That is an important point.
I was interested in the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, about the Swedish pension plan. I shall pass on his comments to my colleagues. The noble Lord is right. Maintaining people in active employment is the key to the issue. The only way in which we can deal with this huge change is to make certain that people continue to work longer. In many cases, that will also add to their quality of life.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, referred to EQUAL and the work of the research councils. I am not certain that an overall programme is required. One problem was that the EQUAL initiative dealt with areas of research which are fundamentally different: medical research into ageing is fundamentally different from research into the design of houses, or equipment in houses, to deal with old age. That again is different from the issue of the impact on financial products. The issue is not so much co-ordination but ensuring that in all the major areas where research needs to be undertaken it is vigorously pursued. We are working on that. There are substantial programmes in all the four relevant research councils.
The BBSRC's initiative, Experimental Research into Ageing, is aimed at the biology of normal ageing with particular encouragement of projects involving functional genomics. The EPSRC plans to issue a further, fourth call for proposals incorporating the area of inclusive design with an anticipated 195 commitment of nearly £2 million. The ESRC's Growing Older research programme was formally launched in December 2000 following a call for proposals in autumn 1998. It addresses the question of how the quality of people's lives can be extended. The MRC's enormous programme of medical research covers the diseases of old age, the problems of old age such as incontinence and many other issues.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, posed the question of the integration of health and social services. Improved health and medical care for older people are already high priorities for the Government. In autumn 2000, the Secretary of State for Health appointed Professor Ian Philp, head of the Institute for Studies on Ageing at the University of Sheffield as the first National Director for Older People charged with driving up standards in services. The Department of Health will shortly publish the national framework on services for older people, setting out for the first time in this area national standards and monitoring arrangements for service delivery. I take up the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. That must take account of the needs of ethnic minorities. Extremely good work has been done in some areas. Clearly we must have consistent standards across the country—that is the point of the framework—which also take account of local needs. I shall draw his comments to the attention of the inter-ministerial group which was set up to deal with exactly such an issue.
196 In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Turnberg, the National Health Service has already taken account of his point about retaining more elderly workers in the service. I believe that 20,000 letters were sent recently to retired workers although in the short-term context of work over the winter. We need to envisage that as a more long-term programme.
Work is continuing in order to combat stereotypes. Officials have had discussions with older people and the BBC to consider how best to improve the way in which older people are portrayed.
As noble Lords will understand, many government departments have initiatives under way which are in line with the messages from the Foresight Ageing Population Panel. The framework is now in place to ensure that progress is made across a broad front at ministerial level through the Interministerial Group on Older People and within the research councils. It was always envisaged that this panel—it is a thematic panel across all other panels—should have limited life and that the other panels would take the issue on board. I am reluctant to make the position more complicated. The way to drive it forward is through the existing mechanisms of Government.
Through the Foresight programme we will continue to work with business and others on increasing the awareness of the social and economic issues attached to the age shift and of the commercial opportunities offered so that we can plan for a prosperous future. By doing that, as the Foresight report makes clear, we can secure not only improved quality of life for our citizens, but also competitive advantage for the UK.
§ House adjourned at seven o'clock.