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Challenges for women in an aging society

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older ppl walking-2‘Older women are the primary users of health and social care and particularly lose out when it comes to pensions’.

Ready for Aging? is the House of Lords’ Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change’s latest report on the UK’s rapidly aging population.

The committee’s conclusion is that ‘the Government and our society are woefully underprepared,’ and that ‘there has been a collective failure to address the implications.’

While ‘longer lives can be a great benefit,’ the report says that ‘without urgent action, this great boon could turn into a series of miserable crises.’

Included within that admonition of an imminent economic and social emergency is a warning about the great differences between men’s and women’s experiences of aging.

They are ‘markedly different,’ and those ‘divergences must be taken into account.’

The statistics reveal a forceful combination of factors that produce the distinct disadvantage faced by women as they age.

Women have a longer life expectancy, experience less continuity in their professional lives and continue to face a dismaying 15 per cent pay gap.

Largely due to ‘caregiving for children and older people,’ this combination leads to ‘inequalities in pensions and income.’

Women ‘stand to do worse than men in the new defined contribution world, and in particular, face disadvantages in the annuities market.’

Coupled with the fact that ‘older women have higher levels of disability, functional impairment and musculoskeletal problems than men,’ women face aging with a disproportionate handicap.

Adding to this already detrimental situation is the proportion of women who are widowed and live alone.

‘Nearly half of women over 65, and over 80 per cent of women over 85, are widowed.’

This compares to the approximate 50 per cent of men over 85 who are still married.

This difference ‘has a major impact on caregiving and support.’

When older women need care, they are often forced to look beyond their home, family and local community for support, which brings a range of associated costs.

Something the committee believes would help solve a number of these problems is a broad and thorough shift in society’s attitudes towards people working longer.

‘Flexible retirement and withdrawal from the workforce must be made a reality, by enabling people to downshift to part-time work, and wind down work while taking up pensions, benefits and tax relief more flexibly.’

Carers UK reported that more than 40 per cent of carers who gave up work did so due to a lack of sufficiently reliable or flexible services and 41 per cent of those who described themselves as looking after their home and family – 85 per cent of whom are women – say “they would rather be in paid work, but services available do not make a job possible.”

The committee said that ’employers should support those with responsibilities for caring for older people – particularly people in their 50s or 60s who care for elderly parents – to continue part-time or in flexible work.’

With no easy answer available, the committee recommended formal change via policy and law, through contributions by all political parties, starting with a government-led analysis of the issues and challenges in providing pubic services in an aging society.

The analysis, including a vision for the future, should be published before the next general election.

Until then, the committee’s warning remains.

‘Many people, young and old, expect far more than they will get.

‘Society is behind where it needs to be.’

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