Taking Care of Business: The Age UK London Business Directory

The Age UK London Business Directory is a catalogue of companies that have had all of their credentials checked and vetted by the Business Directory’s staff. The service helps to protect older people from rogue traders by only putting them in contact with the Business Directory’s trusted companies. This week I spoke to the Business Directory’s Marketing and Sales Officer Jessica Jarvis to find out more about the service and how things have changed this year:

“Over the past few months we have been working to improve our service – not only for our customers, but for our businesses too. The changes we have made make it easier for our customers to find the service they are after and there is also lots of useful information and advice online about using the directory and how to avoid scams. We pride ourselves on bringing you the best businesses possible; we do this by checking every business that joins us to ensure they are professional and reliable. These checks include:

  • A face-to-face meeting with one of our team members
  • A form of identification
  • A copy of their public liability insurance  schedule and employers’ liability insurance or professional indemnity insurance, if applicable
  • Copies of membership certificates for any trade associations or professional bodies
  • Names and addresses for a minimum of three customer references
  • We require that they sign up to our customer charter
  • We also require that they sign a trading standards declaration

As well as the typical businesses like plumbers and electricians, there was also demand for alternative services that are specifically designed to help older people live more independently and to love later life. We have now expanded our services as a result. We offer everything from flooring to financial services and disability adaptations to hairdressing. If you are not sure if we can help or if you know of a business that could be on the Directory, please get in touch with us today! We have a dedicated team that are here to help, call us today on 0800 334 5056.

The Business Directory has a list of fully vetted companies including gardeners

We get fantastic support from all the local Age UK’s and we want to do the same for them. That’s why we have been building free profiles for each London borough which contains all the services that they can provide to the customers in their local area. This helps us to connect more people with their local Age UK and also allows them to find the best possible service.”

If you are a local Age UK and would like more information about how the Business Directory can help you, then please contact Jessica Jarvis – JJarvis@ageuklondon.org.uk. She can help you update the content on your website and even pay a visit to talk to your reception volunteers and staff about the Business Directory.

You can also visit the Business Directory’s  Advisors page online for some more information and helpful guides.

Regeneration – How Does it Impact Older People?

As many of the previously run down parts of London get a face lift – shiny new glass buildings, pavement cafes, and artisan bakeries galore – I have often found myself wondering what these changes mean to older people that have lived there all their lives. The greasy spoon cafés and small grocery stores may have looked scruffy to some, but for those who have known that area all their lives, the loss of these familiar establishments could have a big impact.

An interesting study Ageing in a Long-term Regeneration Neighbourhood: A Disruptive Experience or Successful Ageing in Place? by R Kleinhans and others comments on the sense of attachment older people feel with their urban environment and the sense of confusion that can occur with drastic changes:

 “Older adults can become ‘out of place’ and feel less comfortable with their living environment after changes in their personal situation or during and after radical changes in environment itself. If we translate this to the context of urban regeneration, it is clear that a range of radical changes in terms of housing stock, public space and services can make people lose their trusted environment.”

The loss of social housing to make way for luxury apartments can result in older people leaving their communities altogether. Some move to start a new life elsewhere, but others move because the younger members of their families are forced out by the rise in prices. The influx of new people can make the area over crowded and public transport almost unusable for older people who are unable to stand at busy times.

Arriva Routemaster – Photo Credit: Martin (wikicommons)

There is also the disruption caused by the building works themselves that can have a detrimental effect on the mental and physical health of those living through the process. An older Lewisham resident Bridgit Sam-Bailey has made these points on the Lewisham Gateway development:

 “Some of you might be thinking that the new buildings and development are attractive, as more people are moving into the borough. This is good for the young and upwardly mobile, but what about those of us who have had to endure the traffic and confusion around the areas where the developments are taking place?  I have in mind the old and physically challenged, and not to forget the mothers with buggies and/or toddlers, especially those carrying shopping.”

Whilst the positive aspects of urban regeneration cannot be ignored, the developers and local authorities should be aware of the needs of more vulnerable residents during the development process, as well as the impact on local providers that will need to cater for the increase in demand for services.

Why we Should aim for Digitial Inclusion not a Digital Detox

Last week saw the phrase “digital detox” spread across the nation after an Ofcom survey found that 34% of internet users have decided to take time away from the web. A perceived over-reliance on technology has meant that 40% of adults feel they are regularly ignored by peers using smartphones and that 16% now purposefully choose to holiday in areas with no internet access.

Now, as much as I’d love to use this blog to point out the irony of discovering these figures online, I feel it’s better to point your attention towards a far more important digital story from last week’s press. This is the news that one in four over-65s are now using social media sites – a 50% increase in use on last year. Websites such as Facebook and Twitter have proved especially popular, as older people increasingly take to social media to keep in touch with loved ones. It’s not just a case of viewing content either, as one in five over-65s said they had uploaded their own pictures or videos to the net.

These figures are part of an overall trend that has seen the use of social media sites rising fastest amongst older users, whilst the uptake amongst younger browsers has begun to level off. Two thirds of people aged 45 to 54 now access social networks, and last year the proportion of 55 to 64-year-olds using social media passed the 50 per cent mark.

Computer Class

One in four over-65s are now using social networking sites

Yet if so many of us are choosing to take a digital detox, is it really such a positive step for older people to start heading online? In short: Yes! Not only can internet access provide individuals with cheaper bills and products, but Independent Age has also highlighted the link between “digital exclusion” and “social exclusion”. In 2012, 661,000 Londoners over the age of 55 were recorded as having never used the internet, which is especially concerning as London was voted the loneliness capital of Europe just two years ago.

Now, it’s certainly true that digital communication cannot replace face-to-face interaction entirely and nor should we aim to achieve this. However, in a society where over one million people can go for a month at a time without speaking to anyone at all, social media can play a key role in alleviating loneliness by enabling contact with distant friends and family.  Online resources can also be used to establish new offline connections, through the discovery of befriending schemes or local community groups. 

The pressing issue is how to go about promoting this digital inclusion. Age UK London’s “Wealth of the Web” report has recommended piquing the interest of those with little desire to head online by displaying the ways that the web can enhance existing hobbies and interests. This voluntary step towards digital inclusion appears a far better proposition than using the government’s previous “digital by default” agenda as the sole means of encouraging online participation.

Laptop User

Many use social media to keep in touch with loved ones

Of course for some, the desire to access the internet will never develop and it would be foolish to try and force the issue. Yet with more and more older people heading onto social media channels, now may be the perfect time to talk to older friends and family about accessing the internet. Even prompting a change from “offline and uninterested” to “offline and interested” can be a massive step towards digital inclusion.

So, whilst a digital detox may seem enticing for some, we should continue to promote the exact opposite amongst older people in London. Let’s push for digital inclusion, not digital detox.

Age UK London’s Mayoral Election Priorities

We’re really glad to have had contributions from four leading London Mayoral candidates to our blog, and if you haven’t read them yet I ‘d suggest you do – they are all making thoughtful and constructive suggestions for how the next Mayor can support older Londoners. You can find each blog from our home page.

At the same time as our 25 February Mayoral hustings we also launched our own Manifesto “Making London a Great Place to Grow Older” based on consultation with older people, it gives our proposed priorities for the next Mayor.

Age UK London Chief Executive Samantha Mauger, holding ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older’

Key asks include digital inclusion, making London’s housing age friendly and making transport in London accessible to all. We thought it was important to pick out and highlight a small number of areas where the Mayor can clearly make a difference, although we have also made recommendations in other areas because the Mayor has a  wide-ranging role and an important voice in national debates.

We’ve found over the last few years that all sorts of issues involving older people, from finding and accessing services to staying in employment, keeping in touch with family and friends to taking part in local democracy, are very much improved by helping older people use digital technology. However a majority of people aged over 75 are still not online – see  our report “Wealth of the Web” . The GLA already has an unfunded digital inclusion strategy, and a relatively modest amount of funding from the Mayor could have a considerable impact in supporting older people to get online.

An older Londoners asks four Mayoral candidates a question at the Age UK London London Mayoral Hustings for Older People.

It is common ground among politicians and commentators that London faces a housing crisis. There’s less awareness that this crisis affects older people too. High housing costs contribute to pensioner poverty in London – see my previous post. Many older Londoners live in homes that are of poor quality, physically inaccessible and difficult to heat – there were 3800 ‘excess winter deaths’ of older Londoners last year. National research shows that many older people would like to move to ‘rightsize’ but struggle to find suitable and affordable alternatives in their area; this is now coming up in the feedback we get from older Londoners.

As with housing, transport is an area where the Mayor has a major role (through Transport for London (TfL) in this case). Being able to travel is a key factor in helping older people stay socially included and avoiding loneliness. TfL has made efforts to improve travel for older and disabled people (especially on buses), but these need to be followed up to make sure passengers’ experiences really improve. How accessible will travel be for older and disabled people in the predicted larger and busier future London? How will changes like Cycle Superhighways affect pedestrians and public transport users?

Four attendees at the Age UK London London Mayoral Hustings for Older People

Specific calls made in the manifesto include asking candidates to commit themselves to: retaining the Freedom Pass; ensure that a range of suitable, accessible and genuinely affordable housing options are available for older people in all London boroughs; provide funding for digital inclusion programmes for older Londoners; and appoint a Deputy Mayor or Mayoral Adviser to an Age Friendly London portfolio.   

We also call for the Mayor to influence positive change in other areas like age friendly environments, crime and safety and health and social care.

We’d be really happy to hear what you think of the calls made in our Manifesto.

Mayoral Candidate Blog – Sian Berry

Age UK London recently hosted a London Mayoral Hustings for Older People and have also released ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older‘ a manifesto for older Londoners. 

We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the last of these pieces, from Sian Berry, Green Party councillor for Highgate, Camden Council.

I’d like to tell you a tale of two cities.

One of them is an excellent place to live as you get older. You’re never far away from the shops. You’re surrounded by people. The doctor’s surgery is walking distance and the hospital is a short bus ride away. In fact pretty much everything is a short bus ride away, which is particularly good when you have an over 60s oyster card or freedom pass. The city is a good, practical, sensible place to live when you’re not as mobile as once you were.

The other city is a tough place to be an older person. It’s loud, hectic and difficult. The Tube is a no-go area because it’s hard to get up and down to the platforms – particularly when you never know when the escalator’s going to be out of order at the other end – and the crush is horrible if nobody stands up and gives you their seat. Loose paving stones and lots of roads and kerbs to cross are a hazard now you’re less steady on your feet, and it’s much harder to get across the road now that you’ve slowed down, with traffic bearing down on you from all directions.

Life in this city is also hard if you’re insecure about where you live. If you have a spare room and you live in social housing, you’re vulnerable to the bedroom tax. If you live in your own home, you may be sitting on a massive asset but without the money to spend to keep it running. And if you’re a private renter, you may be in the worst position of all. It’s bad enough for young people at the beginning of their careers, but if you’re trying to pay for soaring private rents out of a pension, you may be facing constant pressure to downsize or to move completely out of the city that may have been your home for decades.

Which of these cities is London? I suspect that all too often it’s the second, particularly with three times as many pensioners living in poverty in inner London as in the rest of the country.

I’m proud that my Green colleagues at the London Assembly have spent the past 16 years nudging and moulding London into a more liveable place for people of all ages, and when I say I want to make the city work for the common good, part of the test of that is whether it works for our older people too.

For example my vision of a better city is one where people use cars less and walk and cycle more. Cycling certainly doesn’t have to be for the young and agile. I put something online about helping people cycle from the age of 8 to 80 and I had a comment straight back from someone who was 88 and still cycling. That’s fantastic, but we could do much more to keep more older people active and on their bikes if we reduce traffic and build segregated cycle lanes that are welcoming and comfortable even for people who aren’t fearless.

Similarly, I’ll do everything I can to improve walking in London. Two-thirds of Londoners live within a five-minute walk of their high street, and for many of us that’s what makes life in the big city liveable. Yet pedestrian casualty rates and air pollution are often at their highest in these local town centres, and too many of them are losing shops to big shops that are further away. We need to help keep our high streets vibrant by protecting smaller shops with new planning rules, and make them better and safer places to walk to, with useable crossings in the places where people are most likely to want to cross the road.

I’ve also pledged to make London the world’s first dementia-friendly capital city. I have been trained as a dementia friend myself and, as Mayor, I will train frontline City Hall and agency staff – including the police, fire brigade and Transport for London staff – to be dementia-friendly and a legion of helpful eyes and ears on the ground too.

Crucially, though, all the work we do to make the city better for older people will make much difference if they are being forced out of the city, away from the communities in which hey have spent their lives, by the housing crisis.

That’s why our Green parliamentarians Caroline Lucas and Jenny Jones have argued tirelessly against the bedroom tax. It’s why we’re against the Housing and Planning Bill, which will require councils to sell off their most valuable council homes. And it’s why I’ve promised to call a halt to estate demolitions, which have already led to the net loss of thousands of council homes. I will also set up a Community Homes Unit at City Hall to support residents all over London to develop their own plans for new homes of all kinds. A big portion of this work will be supporting new co-ops and co-housing developments, which can play a large part in keeping older people supported and independent in the city.

That’s my vision for the kind of London I want to grow older in, and I hope you’ll support that by voting for me for Mayor on May 5 and supporting our Green candidates for the London Assembly.

Mayoral Candidate Blog – Sadiq Khan

Age UK London recently hosted a London Mayoral Hustings for Older People and have also released ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older‘ a manifesto for older Londoners. 

We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the third of these pieces, from Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting.

Sadiq Khan: Listening to older people and making London a great place to grow older

It was great to take part in the Age UK London Mayoral hustings recently. It was a really lively discussion, and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I’d like to thank Age UK London for organising it.

While I have been out and about campaigning and listening to thousands of older Londoners I have seen the experiences, knowledge, dynamism and, energy that London’s older population brings – all of which are an invaluable contribution to our city.

There are currently 2.2 million older people in London and they deserve to have their voice heard and feel like they live in a city that is a great place to grow old. Sadly, this is too often not the case. Some positive policy changes have been implemented in recent years, but there is still a great deal that needs to be done.

If I’m elected in May, I will be a Mayor for all Londoners and will focus on four key issues to support older people.

Firstly, a key priority will be to fix London’s housing crisis, which is affecting people of all ages. It is not just young families struggling to get on the housing ladder and key workers not able to live close to where they work – many older people are facing serious problems too. For example, over 30 per cent of older people would like to downsize, but can’t find affordable, age friendly options in their area. Also too many older people in London are living in homes that are of poor quality, physically inaccessible and difficult to heat.

As Mayor, I will ensure that a range of accessible, energy efficient and genuinely affordable homes to buy and, rent are available across all London boroughs. Making London’s housing age-friendly will ultimately play a crucial part in solving London’s housing crisis and I will work with Age UK London and other organisations to take this forward as quickly as possible.

It is also the case that addressing the housing crisis will help with the concerns many older Londoners have that their children and grandchildren won’t be able to afford to live nearby.

Secondly, we need to do more to support older people getting online. This will not only help many older people stay in touch with family and make new social connections, but also engage with public services online. As Mayor, I will appoint the first ever Chief Digital Officer to promote digital inclusion across London and work with the Government, local councils, the voluntary sector and, businesses to get more people online.

Thirdly, I will work with Transport for London to deliver both an affordable and an accessible transport network for everyone.

I know how being able to travel is a key factor in helping people stay socially included and connected. When I was growing up we took the bus all the time – whether to go shopping with my mum, explore London or drive around with my dad, who was a bus driver for many years.

I have also seen how the Freedom Pass in particular is a lifeline to London’s older population, ensuring people can always get around our city. That’s why if I’m Mayor, I’ll guarantee that the Freedom Pass and the Tfl 60+ Oyster card are here to stay. I will also work to increase the number of step-free tube stations, ensure new projects don’t disadvantage older people, make sure bus drivers get the training they need to deal with disabled and older passengers and, work with councils to improve door to door transport services for older people.

Fourthly, I will support work to tackle loneliness in London. Over half of over 75s in Britain live alone and more than a million older people say they go for over a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member. The problem is even worse in the capital, where one in four Londoners are lonely often or all of the time.

I was lucky enough to grow up on a council estate that was a real community, where everyone would help each other and come together for celebrations like the Queen’s Jubilee. Communities like this are becoming rarer, making the problem of loneliness worse. There is so much more that we can and must do. As Mayor I’ll ensure tackling loneliness is a key part of a wider push to tackle social segregation and promote integration over the decades ahead.

I will focus on these four key issues, but of course there are many other areas that I will work on as Mayor that will benefit older people. Whether it’s increasing neighbourhood policing to make older people feel safer in their own communities, making vital public service information accessible to all older Londoners or ensuring all Londoners have access to the health and social care that works for them.

With all these issues my guiding principle will be to listen to concerns and ensure that all the policies we adopt in City Hall will take into account that London, as a city, is getting older.

London is the greatest city in the world and if I am elected in May, I promise to be a Mayor for all Londoners – of all ages. There will be a lot of work to do, but I know I’ve got the experience, values and vision to ensure that we make our city a great place for all Londoners to grow older.

Mayoral Candidate Blog – Zac Goldsmith

Age UK London recently hosted a London Mayoral Hustings for Older People and have also released ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older‘ a manifesto for older Londoners. 

We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the second of these pieces, from Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston.

Older Londoners contribute immeasurably to our capital’s success. As entrepreneurs and employees, you add almost £50 billion to London’s economy. But even more importantly, older people provide the ties that bind Londoners together, whether as grandparents helping with childcare, or as volunteers supporting our communities. For me, it is crystal clear that Londoners owe a debt to the parents and grandparents that support us.

As an MP, I was proud to vote through the pensions Triple Lock. This has seen the State Pension increase by £800 since 2010. And I was also proud to support Universal Benefits, such as the Winter Fuel Payment. Everyone deserves dignity and security in their old age. But there is much more I want to do for older citizens as Mayor of London, and I welcome the Age UK London manifesto.

My Action Plan will deliver more homes, better transport, safer streets and a cleaner environment.

Zac Goldsmith on a visit to Age UK Croydon

Housing is my number one priority. Prices in London are now so out of kilter with wages that Londoners of all income levels are struggling to get on the housing ladder; and the homes being built don’t always match the kind of homes we need, from family homes to, as your manifesto rightly points out, the severe lack of Sheltered Accommodation.

I want older Londoners to be sure of a comfortable home in retirement. But, just as importantly, I want you to live side by side with your children and grandchildren. There is only one lasting solution to London’s housing crisis – and that is close the gap between what we are building and what we need.

That’s why I have committed to double house-building to 50,000 a year. I’ll get there by holding developers to account to ensure they build the maximum number of affordable homes; by working with the Government to release publicly-owned land so those homes can be built, and by growing the transport network to unlock new sites for development by connecting up remote land to the rest of London by rail and tube. Crossrail 2 alone would make over 200,000 homes possible.

My second priority is closely linked with the first: keeping London moving by protecting transport investment. Our transport system has to handle 24 million journeys every day – and London’s population is growing by the equivalent of two new tube trains a week. It’s why I am standing against Labour candidate Sadiq Khan’s proposals to take £1.9 billion out of the transport budget.

His plans would mean more overcrowding, less money to spend on Step Free Access, and it would put the over-60s Freedom Pass at risk – a priority issue in your Manifesto, and a priority for me too. As Mayor, I will guarantee the Freedom Pass, and I will protect investment in those vital transport upgrades, including Step Free Access.

Third, I am committed to building a safer London for Londoners of all ages. Your manifesto rightly called for “more visible, accessible and approachable policing.” I will deliver that as Mayor. I will safeguard Neighbourhood Policing, keep police numbers above 32,000 and ensure police are out on the streets where the public want to see them. I will also put more police on public transport to reassure all Londoners given the escalating threats we face. And I will tackle the root causes of crime in our communities, investing in prevention work and getting tough with the most dangerous individuals.

Lastly, I want older citizens to enjoy a cleaner, greener London. Air pollution is cutting short the lives of too many Londoners – equivalent to 10,000 deaths a year – with the elderly hit hardest. So I will clean up London’s air by supporting solar power, getting dirty HGVs off our roads and delivering a revolution in electric cars. I will also expand and enhance our precious network of green spaces, and will absolutely defend our magnificent green belt.

I’ve kept my promises as a local MP. It’s why at the last election my constituents rewarded me with the biggest increased majority of any sitting MP. Now, as a mayoral candidate, I’ve been working round the clock to get things done for London.

When the police budget was threatened with cuts, I took a stand to protect it. I’ve stood up to union bosses, changing the law so a strike can only go ahead if it has clear support from ordinary union members.

I’ve been able to deliver because unlike my Labour rival, I’m prepared to sit down and work with this Government. In a system where the Chancellor controls 93 percent of London’s funding, the next mayor has to be able to make deals with David Cameron and George Osborne.

London is the greatest city in the world. As Mayor I will make it the most age-friendly too.

Mayoral Candidate Blog – Caroline Pidgeon

Age UK London recently hosted a London Mayoral Hustings for Older People and have also released ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older‘ a manifesto for older Londoners. 

We asked the four candidates who attended our Hustings if they would write a blog post for older Londoners. Here, we have the first of these pieces, from Caroline Pidgeon, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group.

It is often said that London is a young city.

And it is certainly true that London has more young people than many other parts of the country.  London is a place where many young people come to study and to work.

However as the Age UK London manifesto rightly points out, within London there are already 2.2 million people aged 50 and over.

And London has almost a million people aged 65 or over. 

Most importantly this population is increasing.  Within just a few years there will be more Londoners age 65 or over than the whole population of Birmingham.

People are not moving out of the city in the numbers they may have done in previous decades, particularly when they started a family.  Many people stay in London throughout their careers and often into retirement as well.  

I have the experience London needs.  As a Liberal Democrat on the London Assembly, I have been holding the current Mayor to account for eight years.  I have been working day in, day out for Londoners at City Hall and have seen first-hand the challenges we face, including those for London’s older population. 

I can confirm that I support Age UK London’s proposals and suggestions for making London a better place for older people.  

Let me touch on a few issues.

In terms of housing, London has a growing population and it also has a huge problem of a lack of affordable housing.  Private rents have soared in recent years and the ability to buy a home is just a dream for many young people at present.  I know this is a huge concern for many parents and grandparents.

The only solution to solving London’s housing crisis is to increase the supply of all types of homes.  I have a costed plan to do just that by continuing the Olympic Council Tax precept as a Housing precept.  If Londoners elect me as Mayor I will have the mandate to set a new budget, reversing the current Mayor’s plans, ensuring we have the funding stream for an Olympic effort to build the homes that London needs with a £2 billion fund.

As part of my home building, I will use the London Plan to ensure that we build homes which are accessible and attractive for older people.  Detailed information can be seen here.

In terms of digital issues, I think the manifesto quite rightly highlights the need for digital inclusion.  It is very easy to forget just how rapidly the world has changed.   Just thirty years ago people were still using electronic typewriters in many offices.  In fact I learnt to type at school on an old manual typewriter!

It is absolutely right that we need to ensure that communication is routinely available through non-digital channels, whilst also ensuring computer training is available to help older people to gain the basic skills and confidence to use a computer and have full access to digital services.

And of course, transport – so important in allowing people to enjoy their lives.  I 100 per cent support the Freedom Pass as it stands – with no means testing.  I also want TfL to take over running suburban national rail services in London, not only to get a better service for passengers, but also to allow older people to have a genuinely 24 hour Freedom Pass wherever you live in London.

I have been a strong campaigner on the issue of accessibility of transport from step free access at stations and bus stops, to the importance of dial-a-ride and enough time to cross the road at pedestrian crossings.  For more information on my record on access issues I hope this article for Disability Talk UK is useful.

Finally, your manifesto calls for the appointment of a Mayoral Adviser to ensure London is more Age Friendly.  I fully support this proposal.  London’s 1 million and growing population of pensioners deserve nothing less.

Mayoral candidates respond to older people

We’ve launched ‘Making London a Great Place to Grow Older’, Age UK London’s manifesto for the 2016 Mayoral and Assembly elections and you can read it here. We’ve also just held a hustings event with Mayoral candidates Sian Berry (Green), Zac Goldsmith (Conservative), Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrat). In the near future we hope to have contributions from Sian, Zac, Sadiq and Caroline on this blog.

(From left to right) Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrats; Sadiq Khan, Labour; Samantha Mauger, Chief Executive, Age UK London; Zac Goldsmith, Conservative; and Sian Berry, Green

The candidates’ contributions at our hustings yesterday all showed encouraging awareness of older people’s concerns and needs and of older people as citizens (and voters of course). Differences between them were really  to do with general political differences and personal style. In a way it was a refreshing change from a lot of public debate about London which seems to assume the city is made up entirely of young people. One of our team had a discussion with a media representative who was genuinely surprised to learn from our manifesto how many older people there are in London (almost a million aged 65+ and 2.2 million aged 50+). That sort of realisation is a result in itself.

Some highlights of what the candidates said:

Sian Berry, Green Party councillor for Highgate, Camden Council,  said, if elected, she wanted to build ‘more homes more quickly’, give free social care to all aged 65 and over, make sure pedestrian crossings gave everyone enough time to cross and that she was a ‘Dementia Friend’; she urged the other candidates to join her as a ‘Dementia Friend’.

Zac Goldsmith, Conservative MP for Richmond Park and North Kingston, said, if elected, he wanted to celebrate London’s success story, but also protect those who make the city so great, including older people. He said he wanted ‘more homes, better transport, safer streets and a cleaner environment.’

Sadiq Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, said he had enjoyed meeting 1000s of older people in London during his campaign, and that he is ‘passionate about tackling loneliness’. He also promised that, if elected, he would appoint London’s first ever ‘Chief Digital Officer’ to promote digital inclusion across London, and particularly among older people.

Caroline Pidgeon, The Leader of the Liberal Democrat London Assembly Group, said the only solution to London’s housing crisis was to increase supply and that she had ‘a costed plan for that.’ She also said she supported Age UK London’s call for the new Mayor to appoint a Deputy Mayor or Mayoral Adviser to an Age Friendly London portfolio.

All four candidates promised that they would keep the Freedom Pass. They answered a wide range of questions from older people. We will be putting more material about the day online soon.

Do older people think London is a fair city?

We’ve just run an Open Space event with the London Fairness Commission to test whether older Londoners think London is a fair city and what should be done to make it fair, or fairer. The Commission is an initiative supported by several major London funders to find out what Londoners think about this  and present the findings to 2016 Mayoral candidates. You can find out more on the London Fairness Commission website.

What’s fair or unfair in society is a matter of opinion and isn’t easy to separate from people’s general beliefs. The Commission has defined it in practice as covering income and wealth, housing, transport and opportunities (especially for employment). There is an obvious link with equality and inequality, and the Fairness Commission points out in various ways just how much inequality exists in London. The Commission frames the overall question like this: “The city is an economic powerhouse, the financial centre of Europe, and offers unrivalled employment opportunities.  And yet, many are beginning to question whether London’s success is leading to a fair society. “ 

The Fairness Commission’s initial report found that  just over half of those who responded thought London is a fair city although majorities thought some aspects of life, like housing, were unfair in London. In the survey, people aged 55+ were slightly more likely than average to think London life is fair. That is not necessarily surprising overall, but the report itself points out that there is huge inequality in income and wealth among older people (see also my previous post on pensioner poverty figures). You could also take into account that “55+” as a category covers quite different generations of people who may have very different experiences.

So what did the people at our joint event yesterday (10 December) think? Using the Open Space format the participants came up with a really varied list of discussion topics and actions. They included both issues specific to older people and questions affecting the whole community. Group discussion topics which the participants chose themselves were:

  • Community: Did we have it, have we lost it, can we make it?
  • How do we facilitate people to help people – getting people together – older people supporting older people
  • Stop ‘right to buy’ and build more social housing
  • What is the definition of ‘fair’ in relation to this debate? (Taking into account that both older people’s and younger people’s services have been heavily cut).
  • Digital inclusion/exclusion – are we excluding people in the way we communicate?
  • Facilitating downsizing in line with decline
  • What can be done to help pensioners feel safe?
  • Developing more independent living resources to prevent social isolation
  • Facilitate housing for older people

One thing that struck me about the list and the discussions was the importance given to housing. People were talking both about their needs and other older people’s needs, and the needs of younger family members and the community as a whole. Some wanted to downsize, which would  potentially free a larger home. Some wanted to upsize, so that they could live together with younger family members. Neither were finding suitable, affordable places to go. Some who’ve written about intergenerational conflict and older people “blocking” houses should have been there to hear this discussion.

In relation to this, it’s worth looking at an article by Lynn Strother on the Age UK London Opinion Exchange about a family’s experiences with housing and care, which you can read here.

Another thing that came out for me was that to really capture what is fair or unfair for older people, you have to be quite multi-dimensional and go well beyond personal economic issues. You have to look at services and support (“older people who have lived all their lives in London feel it’s not fair to be disadvantaged later in life with cuts”), digital inclusion when so much of life is now on a screen, and people’s attitudes to each other, respect and a feeling of community.

Of course we came up with a lot of action points to be taken forward in what the London Fairness Commission presents to Mayoral candidates next year. It will be really interesting to see how this develops and what influence it can have. In the New Year we will keep you upp to date with the Fairness Commission and the work Age UK London is planning around the Mayoral and Assembly elections.