I saw a headline on the BBC recently saying Norway was the best place for older people. It turned out to be a reference to Help Age International’s Global Age Watch Index 2014, rather than a UKIP policy to deport everyone over the age of 60 to Oslo. Norway is evidently the best place in the world to be if you are over 60. Right behind it are Sweden and Switzerland with Canada in fourth place. The USA is eighth. In last place at 96 is Afghanistan. The UK is outside the top ten at eleventh.
The Index measures four areas, income security, health status, capability (previously called employment and education) and enabling environment and combines the four scores to give the overall ranking.
The Index records that the UK remains at the upper end of the table in relation to income security “although the decline in pensioner poverty over recent years appears to have stalled”. Moreover, economic security alone is not sufficient to improve the wellbeing of older people. What drags the UK down the Index is that it only comes 27th for health status, which the Index says “is cause for concern”. There are considerable regional variabilities and the gap between local authorities with the highest and lowest average disability-free life expectancy at age 65 has widened to around 12 years.
With nearly half (49%) of people over age 65 living alone, and this figure expecting to increase over the years, the index highlights the public health impacts of loneliness and the need for the UK to work on age-friendly communities. The UK needs to do more. Greece for example comes in at 73rd on the overall ranking but is five places above the UK at 22nd for health status. The USA also got their worst score for health status but still beat the UK coming in at 25th. However, Canada ranked fourth. The Index urges more joined up thinking in the UK around health and social care and says this is hampered by constraint on public spending.
Although the Index praises the UK for the introduction of the single-tier state pension from 2016 and automatic enrolment into workplace pensions, it says the generation currently approaching retirement will not benefit fully from them and there is a “concern that future generations will be less financially resilient” than the current generation of older people.
With 14.8 million people (23.3% of the population ) over 60 and this percentage expected to rise to 30.7% by 2050 the obvious message is the UK is doing OK but it could do better. Let’s start in the UK by aiming to do in 2015 what we did in a certain golfing cup last week, and beat the Americans. Catching Canada is going to be a lot more difficult.