Helping the UK age well

    Constantly improving health and living conditions are helping people live longer. Government figures reveal that there are now more people over state pension age in the UK than children. By 2050, a 65-year-old man in Britain can expect to live to 91, that’s 25 years longer than in 1950.

    The extra financial burden this trend is placing on the state has been well documented, but what about older adults themselves? Too often older people are treated as a problem, ignoring their potential contribution to the communities in which they live.

    Local authorities need to provide services that make towns, cities and villages enjoyable and healthy places to grow old. This will help to keep the UK’s ageing population independent and more engaged, reducing the pressure on the state.

    The question is how can local government ensure that places and communities are better environments in which to age, within reducing budgets? Current thinking advocates taking a place-based approach in an attempt to join up services to deal with issues that cut across the responsibilities of multiple public agencies, in order to deliver programmes more efficiently.

    To test this strategy, the government developed the Ageing Well initiative, and Shared Intelligence was commissioned to develop programmes for councils in nine pilot areas. Funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, Ageing Well is managed by the Local Government Association, a government agency that supports improvement and innovation in local councils and is likely to steer future thinking on supporting older adults, with clear ramifications for everyone living in an ageing society.

    We applied a place-based approach to Ageing Well, explains Shared Intelligence programme director Phil Swann. The aim was ‘better for less’, where the pressure of having to save money forces a fundamental system redesign, which results in better outcomes for people at a better cost. The theory is that you achieve this through a deeper engagement with citizens, a genuine focus on place and better collaboration between agencies at a local level. We explored how you can do this to make places better environments in which to grow old.

    A key part of the process was bringing together all front line staff from local government, the health service, the police, other public bodies and not-for-profit organisations who provide services for older people or have regular contact with them.

    We created conditions where these people could have effective conversations and share knowledge, recalls Swann. Surprisingly in a lot of places this hadn’t happened before. In some cases, people were meeting for the first time and immediately set about swapping contact details.

    This in itself led to closer collaboration, but Shared Intelligence also worked closely with the groups in each area to identify a key strategy they could all follow that would facilitate the development of an effective Ageing Well programme. What became clear to Swann was the way councils could best engage with key groups to deliver the required outcomes.

    Once we’d identified a key strategy for one group, we asked them what the local authority could do to help, he explains. They said simply: ‘Back off.’ In other words: ‘You have brought us together and we’ve identified what we need to do; now let us get on with it.’ So convening regularly at a mutually agreed frequency to check progress and revise goals, then leaving them to pursue the agreed strategies relatively uninterrupted was clearly the way to go.

    Shared Intelligence also identified a dual role that local authorities should assume to aid programme development, acting as either the oil and/or glue in the process.

    The task of the local authority is either to oil the wheels to make sure effective collaboration is taking place, or to provide the glue to ensure a coherent and comprehensive system is being developed, rather than a fragmented one, says Swann.

    Having identified the processes on both sides, Shared Intelligence began pin-pointing key strategies upon which an effective Ageing Well programme could be based. Two particularly interesting findings came to light that would have a major impact on programme effectiveness. First, in each of the nine areas, Shared Intelligence discovered that there were more initiatives being run for older people than the local members of this demographic knew about. So making sure the services and support available is communicated well was clearly important.

    How this was achieved, however, was also found to be key. Word of mouth is widely viewed as the most effective method of communication, but Shared Intelligence identified this as being particularly the case for older adults. So rather than simply improving relevant information on the local authority website, it was found that the site should be used to support word of mouth communication. Consequently, Shared Intelligence concluded that the site should be used to make sure all frontline staff have a clear and comprehensive understanding of what’s available to older people so they can deliver more accurate information directly.

    The importance of key community players, who local people trust and talk to, was also identified, such as hairdressers and pub landladies. It was clear that by spreading knowledge about local services for older people to these individuals, local authorities could further improve the engagement and communication process.

    As well as maximising awareness, Shared Intelligence recommended a number of actions from its work with the nine local authorities required to enable the effective delivery of place-based approaches to ageing well. These included:

    • Enabling greater collaboration between frontline practitioners and organisations;
    • Optimising the shared use of venues and other facilities;
    • Improving the awareness of the opportunities and services that are available;
    • Embedding intergenerational and whole family/household approaches;
    • Extending and deepening engagement;
    • Providing the glue to secure sustainable provision; and
    • Enabling effective local leadership.

    Two-thirds of the councils we worked with are now using the conclusions we drew from our research to shape the way they work with local communities to develop support and services for older people, Swann reports.

    Client: Local Government Association

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