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UK population ageing by five hours a day but innovation is lagging behind. Nesta report calls for systemic innovation for an ageing population.

Generation X-ers, such as Peter Andre who turns 40 today and Derren Brown who turns 42 today, will face a very different type of retirement, but one that our society and economy are unprepared for and where innovation is lagging, says a new report from Nesta, the UK's innovation foundation.

Five Hours a Day: Systemic Innovation for an Ageing Population calls for real change to address our ageing society, not just carrying on with out-of-date assumptions about ageing and with out-of-date ways of living and working. Shifting the debate from retrofitting traditional approaches, the report emphasises the need for systemic change through innovations in policy, products and services, markets as well as behaviours to meet the dramatically changing needs and opportunities of an ageing population.

Although innovations across science and technology over the past century have radically increased life expectancy, many of our social institutions like social care feel increasingly archaic and out-of-step, the report says. It argues that by focusing on important areas such as social care funding, quality of care in hospitals and care homes, and existing older people's services, questions about whether the underlying approach is the best one are being left unexamined.

Halima Khan, director of Nesta's public services lab and report author explains, "Whilst scientists have found the 'ageing genes' and are trying to unlock the fundamentals of how we age, social policy and how we think about age is stifled.  We need to build approaches that are fit for the future - not preoccupy ourselves with mending models that were built for the past."

Older people are more likely to set up successful new businesses, provide unpaid care for their peers, be happier and better off than younger counterparts. Recognising ageing as a dynamic and evolving issue, the report argues that we need to move beyond 'chronologism' - basing our judgements on people's age, rather than skills and experiences - and consider the implications of much longer lives on our whole life course and how we live and work.  

Professor Tom Kirkwood, who leads Newcastle University's broad-ranging Initiative on Changing Age welcomes the report, "Although everyone knows that lifespans are getting longer, few yet appreciate just how radical a change is ahead. When I began expressing the rate as an increase of five hours a day, which if anything is on the conservative side, it seemed to help focus minds. Increasing longevity brings challenges, of course, but what it really offers are opportunities. We've been working hard in Newcastle to catalyse the necessary innovation and I am therefore delighted that Nesta has made a bold commitment to this vital agenda."

 The report recommends the following as key systemic challenges to be solved:

  • Social places: mobilise vibrant, socially-engaged neighbourhoods to enable older people to live well and independently for longer
  • People powered health: bring the social into the medical by combining clinical expertise with self-management and peer support to improve health outcomes
  • Purposeful work: develop new employment models that enable people to work purposefully and enjoyably in the second half of life
  • Plan for life: create a sense of opportunity about the second half of life - to take stock, reskill, plan ahead, connect with others and live more healthily
  • Living room: enabling older people to live where they want through new housing models which combine high quality accommodation with friendship and support

The report explains that there are a number of different mechanisms that can contribute to systems change, including alliances of key organisations, systematic experimentation to develop, test and scale radically-improved solutions and key pieces of developmental infrastructure to orchestrate knowledge and action.

Khan continues, "Some of the most interesting innovations are those that enable people to help other people, in terms of neighbours helping one another, or older people mentoring younger people or supporting older people to live independently."

Nesta is already supporting a number of innovations in ageing and is planning to launch a new programme of work on ageing in the summer. In preparation, Nesta is collating ideas and innovations that enable us to age well; suggestions can be submitted at www.ageinginnovators.org where there is a growing list of ageing innovations from around the world. The programme to be launched in the summer builds on Nesta's current ageing programmes and support includes: 

  • Ageing Well challenge prize: an inducement prize that is supporting five finalists with ideas to tackle isolation in old age. Ideas include Radio Club where participants can chat 'live on air'; After Work Club, a post-work networking club to help men redefine their retirement; and NANA, a community café run by 'Nanas' for the local community. 
  • Innovation in Giving Fund: a £10m fund which is supporting organisations looking at how communities can share new ways of sharing time, money, skills and resources. Recent grants worth half a million have been awarded to ageing innovations Care4care (encouraging neighbours to take care of their neighbours), GoodGym (encouraging runners to visit isolation older people as part of their training regime) and Tyze (encouraging us all to organise and activate our networks).
  • Centre for Social Action's Innovation Fund: to be launched in April, the £14m1 strand of the Cabinet Office initiative will in part support innovations that seek to address challenges of an ageing population, through social action.
  • Nesta Impact Investment Fund: invests in social ventures with innovative products or services that are addressing the health and wellbeing of an ageing population.
  • The Rooted Guide:  step-by-step, practical advice and resources for people considering starting up their own social or community-run venture in later life. It was created in collaboration Unltd. Free copies are available to download or order from Nesta's website.

Five Hours a Day: Systemic Innovation for an Ageing Population is available to download for free at www.nesta.org.uk/five_hours_a_day

For media enquiries please contact Sarah Reardon at Nesta | e: [email protected]  |  t: +44 (0)20 7438 2606 |  m: +44 (0)7880 613 500

Notes to editor:

Life expectancy is rising by 5 hours a day. Kirkwood, T in Wellcome Trust (2012), 'Investigating development, aging and chronic disease'

The £14m Centre for Social Action's Innovation Fund will be funded by £10m from the Cabinet Office and £4m for Nesta

Selection of ageing innovations being supported by Nesta:

Ageing facts:

  • In 2008, there were 3.2 people of working age for every person of pensionable age. This ratio is projected to fall to 2.8 people of working age for every person of pensionable age by 2033.
  • At least a quarter of babies born in 2012 will live to see their 100th birthday.
  • The number of centenarians has risen from 2600 in 1981 to almost 12,600 in 2009.
  • The proportion of older, old people will continue to rise: 3m 80+ year olds in 2010; projected to rise to 4.5m 80+ year olds in 2030; projected to rise 8m 80+ year olds in 2050.
  • UK population 65+ years old: 10m in 2010; projected to rise to 15.5m by 2030; projected to rise to 19m by 2050.
  • 66 per cent of us would like to die at home, but less than 20 per cent do.
  • It is estimated that the spending power of the 'silver economy' will grow from £79bn currently to £127bn by 2030.