Policy changes needed if UK is to be age-friendly, say healthy ageing experts

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Policy changes are needed at central and local government levels to ensure an age-friendly UK, say experts at the University of Stirling.

The Stirling academics recommend changes to housing and urban planning, employment, and tax relief to ensure better products and services for older people.

Only when businesses, public and third sectors work together to help older people be active, independent, and socially connected can there be “a genuinely age-friendly UK”, they argue.

The call comes as lawmakers and policy influencers gather today (Wednesday, 8 May) in Parliament to celebrate the impact of the UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) Healthy Ageing Challenge and present the findings of the Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme (SBDRP), which formed part of the Challenge.

Funded by UKRI, the £12.8 million SBDRP spanned all four UK nations and featured 12 research and innovation projects covering numerous topics, including: work; housing and environment; hospitality and retail; and staying active.

University of Stirling healthy ageing experts Professor Judith Phillips OBE and Associate Professor Dr Elaine Douglas were at the helm of the SBDRP and Stirling researchers led a number of the 12 projects, as well as other Healthy Ageing Challenge initiatives. Stirling is renowned for its work in healthy ageing, particularly in relation to housing and dementia.

Among the University of Stirling’s recommendations, detailed in the SBDRP Impact Report, are: ensuring innovation and future-proofing in housing to guarantee healthy cognitive ageing; ensuring all workers have access to advice and initiatives that support the physical, mental and financial wellbeing at work of those in mid- to later life; and helping the regeneration of town centres through age-friendly and dementia-sensitive retail and hospitality.

The Report also suggests introducing tax relief and extending local authority food voucher schemes to hospitality venues catering to older people and people with dementia.

head shot of woman with glasses
Professor Judith Phillips
Research Director, Social, Behavioural and Design Research Programme
It is critical that policymakers work in partnership with researchers and stakeholders across the public, private and third sectors. Only then can we ensure that we unlock the full potential for a genuinely age-friendly UK.

Professor Phillips, SBDRP Research Director, said: “For healthy ageing research, products, and services to be successfully delivered over the next several years, it is critical that policymakers work in partnership with researchers and stakeholders across the public, private and third sectors. Only then can we ensure that we unlock the full potential for a genuinely age-friendly UK.”

Professor Phillips added: “There is already clear evidence that our healthy ageing research as part of SBDRP is having a positive impact on our communities. That includes an app to support older workers to recognise how health issues impact their lives.”

Dr Douglas, SBDRP Programme Manager, said: “We predict a significant improvement in the quality of life of older people over the next decade, as well as a change in attitudes and behaviours around ageing. Thanks in large part to the SBDRP, its research and research partners, we expect to work towards better living spaces and environments, digital connectedness, and improved services and products to support our ageing population.”

George MacGinnis, Challenge Director, Healthy Ageing with UKRI, said: “The Healthy Ageing Challenge is defined by a social purpose – making the most of the opportunity from our longer lives. From the start it was clear that there was huge potential to generate insights from research that would inform wider innovation activities, and it was particularly insights on behaviour, social context and inclusive design that would be the key. I welcome this report and the way it highlights the great progress made in bringing the ageing research and business communities closer together, and in laying the foundations for future research by fostering a growing community of early career researchers interested in opening up exciting new routes to impact for their work.”

The SBDRP Impact Report is available here: Impact - SBDRP (ageing-sbdrp.co.uk

The UKRI Impact Report is available here: ukri.org/publications/adding-life-to-years-healthy-ageing-challenge-impact-report/