When are we ‘old’?

As I struggled to set out the case for a more holistic view about housing for ‘older people’ to the DCLG Select Committee Inquiry, I am again struck by the weaknesses in analysis, and the shortcomings in some of the underlying data, with regard to a period of life which for many people now lasts for 30- 40 years.

Last week saw the publication of the DWPs ‘Family Resources Survey 15-16’. This is an important source of information on a range of trends*, including housing, disability and income.

As I poured over the report I was suddenly truck by the age divisions in the data presented for virtually every field except income (where age deciles are applied up to 85yrs +).

Whilst for all pre-retirement age groups a 15 year age span is used (e.g. 16-29, 30-45 etc.) for older people there is a single cluster i.e. 65yrs and over.

In looking for data and thinking through the implications for housing based on later life trends e.g. disability, housing type, caring responsibilities etc, this clumping together of everyone of 65yrs and over is not at all helpful.

For the majority of people (though obviously not all) there are significant differences between their experience of being a ‘younger old’ person  in their 60s and 70s – fairly newly retired, often active and involved, compared with being over 80/85 years.

Happily, some people do remain fit and active throughout their later years, but for the majority there are significantly greater risks e.g. of health decline, loss of mobility, dementia, loss of life partner etc after 80. These factors can all impact on housing and care needs.

Undoubtedly, recognising later life diversity & inequality (e.g. healthy life expectancy, income etc) is an important starting point, but we do need some overarching figures on headline trends too.

These valuable national data sources need to look again at the assumptions underpinning approaches to age division, to recognise the implications of increased longevity and develop more nuanced thinking about later life.

* The Family Resources Survey is a continuous household survey which collects information on a representative sample of private households in the United Kingdom. Detailed information is recorded on respondents’ income from all sources; housing tenure; caring needs and responsibilities; disability; expenditure on housing; education; pension scheme participation; childcare; family circumstances; child maintenance.