Is recovery in London going to be Age-Friendly?

Building back better is the watchword for recovery in London. London Boroughs’ performance during the pandemic was on the whole exemplary – providing much needed support for older people, working in partnership with the community and innovating in real time. But now we are beyond the worst, are London Boroughs taking older people’s needs into account as they produce plans for recovery?

PAiL asked all London Boroughs for information earlier this year about how they were planning for recovery and how they were shaping these to improve the lives of older people.

Some London Boroughs are producing recovery plans to set out an improved vision for their area but largely these plans are high level in terms of broad aims and whilst including older people don’t go into detail. The dominant narrative though was about vulnerable older people and specific problems such as loneliness and health. The challenges facing older workers did get identified in some cases. But what’s noticeable is there’s little segmentation of older people in these plans – they are all lumped together apart from a recognition of the needs of BAME seniors. And many of the actions being proposed (e.g., the 15-minute city concept or active travel plans) didn’t assess the age implications of these proposals.

PAiL believes that the pandemic has been a stress test on how London’s government treat older people. Whilst there may be a lot of good initiatives and attempts to develop age friendly actions core must be a coherent strategy for older people in localities across London that embraces not just local government but includes health, third sector, local business, and age organisations.

A starting point is assessing how have older people fared during the pandemic and what are the remaining problems being faced. The experience has been very varied – we hear about the active older people becoming zoom meeting devotees but equally issues of loneliness and digital exclusion are rife. Wealthy older Londoners may also have fared well, but the real priority groups are those older people in poverty and those from BAME groups. Its key that recovery tackles immediate problems and plan in stages. Whilst aspirational needs such as developing inclusive communities are right many older people are concerned about restoring services and amenities and re- building confidence. This points to the need for short-, medium- and long-term actions all which can be measured. One criticism of the Age Friendly City approach is that it doesn’t come with much measurement and assessing tangible outcomes in improving outcomes for older people with hard metrics . But above all local strategies for older Londoners need to have the input from age organisations and older people to make them realistic. Benevolent planning needs to be replaced by a different approach which recognised ageism at play, the variety of needs of older people and crucially their role in shaping their future.

Tim Whitaker

Is recovery in London going to be Age-Friendly?

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