Lords Select Committee Report into Ageing and Demographic ChangeOctober 17, 2013
My Lords, it is a great honour and pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Livingston of Parkhead’s insightful, witty and passionate maiden speech. We all welcome his contribution to the House, and indeed to the whole country and beyond. As a businessman, he distinguished himself when running BT, not merely by driving it forward to growth commercially inside and especially outside the UK, but also in helping to spearhead many corporate social initiatives, including those that have helped to create suitable employment for those in later life, initiatives which I know are dear to his heart.
From an early age he has shown tremendous commercial acumen and has had a stellar rise from his start as an accountant to becoming a chief accountant, then a banker and venture capitalist, before becoming the youngest ever FTSE CEO in 1991, of the Dixons Group, at the age of 32. Subsequently, he became the BT Group finance director, head of retail and group CEO. It has been an amazing rise. As a Scot from humble beginnings and originally from overseas, I am sure that he will bring additional experience to your Lordships’ House, not least from his being a non-executive director at Celtic. What better representative could we have as our soon to be installed Trade Minister, promoting the country, bringing commercial expertise to our trade promotion bodies, and insight and common sense to our deliberations in this House? I know that fellow Peers will join me in congratulating him on his appointment and once again on his wonderful maiden speech.
Turning to today’s debate, I declare an interest as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions. I want to thank the Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, for its tremendous work and the Government for their response. It is just over a year since I had the privilege of co-authoring a report on life transitions that touches on many of the areas highlighted in the Select Committee’s report. It is encouraging to see how the report I wrote, supported by the Gulbenkian Foundation and entitled, Next Steps: Life Transitions and Retirement in the 21st Century, finds echoes in much of the tone and language of the work of the Select Committee, and indeed that we are able to think about life transitions, in this case those of ageing and retirement, in terms of presenting significant challenges and opportunities for public policy and public services. It is no longer enough to stick to our silos and care about the services on either side of a particular life transition; we now need to integrate and consider the impact of transitions both on service provision and on the individuals, families and communities who are affected by them.
I agree with many of the recommendations made in the Select Committee report. They are generally balanced, thoughtful and sensible, but I want to highlight one area where I feel that more research could be carried out, which is how the efforts of public and social entrepreneurs can contribute to enabling a smoother transition in later life, particularly when it comes to planning for retirement and ageing, and in building the support networks to cope better with and combat isolation. We tend to see retirement in the public policy arena in terms of hard fiscal, and non-fiscal, measures: pensions, saving, housing, social and healthcare implications and so on. However, in Life Transitions and Retirement in the 21st Century, we found that a major challenge for people was also the softer side and that better consideration is needed to enable people to feel positively about ageing and to see it as a journey, rather than as a disparate set of choices which can be confusing, easy to ignore when you are busy and sometimes daunting given the prospect of ill health and the end of life itself.
Specifically, we argued for a framework to provide a national retirement service that could mobilise charities, private organisations and government bodies to better signpost and draw in the ageing population. It would start when people are healthy and still in work and be designed to connect people locally and across generations, while giving them the information and training needed to make the right choices for them as they enter later life. A pilot to explore this has been initiated, which starts this weekend in Stoke with sponsorship, again, from Gulbenkian under the banner of the Retirement Transitions Initiative, using the incubation capabilities of the Shaftesbury Partnership—in which I declare a former interest as a founder. The scheme will work with employers, community organisations such as football clubs, charities, government agencies and faith groups, and local champions to encourage people to attend pre-retirement courses in a relaxed, down-to-earth and friendly local environment. By knitting people together and giving them the right information, the aim is to empower them and help them build resilience and networks of support from a cross-section of society. The aim is both to help prevent costs to the NHS and other statutory bodies further down the line and for us to learn what works and explore what blockages exist that might affect policy.
I would have liked to see a bit more in the Select Committee report about these aspects of ageing and how we can provide a cross-party consensus around significantly expanding holistic retirement planning courses under a national campaign, before it is too late. I would also have liked to see a bit more on how older people themselves can be a source of wisdom and ideas about how to improve the relationship between social care and health services and on how best to release equity and financial assets to pay for retirement or to incentivise continuing to work and a shift into portfolio part-time work. Those going through the process of retiring from the corporate world, as well as those who are unemployed or dealing with chronic illness, can often see more clearly than even some experts what the challenges are and what can be done. The APPG on Life Transitions aims to provide a forum to hear from the public and actors in the community such as social entrepreneurs about these challenges and the possible innovations in this area. I would like, in this regard, to ask the Minister whether the Chief Scientific Adviser’s research will be able to go further and gather or even crowdsource innovation and ideas from a wider audience than purely professionals and experts alone.
Clearly, the challenges and opportunities of an ageing society are mammoth and will require contributions from all quarters. How will we facilitate new kinds of start-up businesses, for example, that explicitly incorporate the wisdom and experience of part-time or non-executive semi-retirees along with young unemployed graduates and apprentices? How do we enable even more brokering of non-monetary means of bartering and support between those in later life and the wider population so that even those with limited means can still have a decent life? What role might housing design and building play in enabling young and old to live near each other and to support each other in their respective challenges, along Shared Lives and Homeshare lines, or is policy to lead inadvertently to a dangerous ghettoisation of different generations? These and many more questions and ideas need exploring if we are to have a step change in our understanding of later life and what is possible from both a wider public and public policy perspective.