Wednesday 16 January 2019
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UK performs poorly on experience of ageing

The experience of ageing in the UK is poor compared to other EU countries, with older people in this country the loneliest, poorest and the most concerned about age discrimination, according to a major report Ageing across Europe by WRVS launched today.

Download a copy of Ageing across Europe

The research, which focuses on a range of indicators, including health, wealth and levels of loneliness in four countries (the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden), graded the UK third in its overall performance.

Loneliness and lacking somebody to confide in are a particular problem in the UK, the report concludes. Older people in the UK have the highest rates of loneliness and they feel – more than older people in the other three countries - that they do not socialise as much as other people their age. One reason for this may be long-term underinvestment by local authorities in services that reduce isolation and loneliness.

In terms of the overall health of over 65s, the UK performs relatively poorly. It has the highest prevalence of life-limiting illness among older people and the lowest score for ‘feeling active and vigorous’. This may reflect particularly unhealthy lifestyles in the UK, with higher rates of alcohol consumption, and obesity than in the other three countries. In Sweden, whose older people are the healthiest of the four countries, public policy focuses on improving people’s health earlier on in life to ensure that they have a healthier old age.

On average, UK pensioners have the lowest net income of the four countries and are most likely to have had to draw on savings or economise on their expenditure in the last three years. Older people in the UK also have the lowest perception of their own living standards.

Out of the four countries, Britain’s over 65s are at the highest risk of poverty, with a fifth of pensioners at risk of poverty in 2010, compared to only six per cent of pensioners at risk of poverty in the Netherlands. This is particularly worrying, as the report finds that there is a clear correlation between income and health and income and social participation amongst older people, with poorer older people demonstrating worse health and lower levels of social participation.

The UK ranks the lowest on the age discrimination theme, while Sweden performs particularly well, with a mean score that was higher by several points. This study found that:

  • On average people surveyed in the UK believe that old age starts at age 59, compared to an average of 61.9 in Germany, 62.2 in Sweden and 62.9 in the Netherlands
  • Older people in the UK feel more negative towards young people in their 20s than older people in Germany, Sweden and the Netherlands
  • Older people in the UK more frequently feel that they have been shown a lack of respect because of their age than older people in the other three countries.
  • When examined by gender, it was found that older women in the UK were more concerned about age discrimination than older men.

People in the UK are also particularly concerned, in comparison to the other three countries, that there is too much age segregation in society and that there are not enough opportunities for older and younger people to work together and socialise.