There are more than one million people over the age of 65 in the capital and 2.5 million Londoners over 50. They add up to more than the entire population of Paris and that is just one reason why we should be talking about the Mayor’s Action Plan to improve the lives of older Londoners. Entitled Towards an Age Friendly London, it has been in development since 2019 and was launched at a low-key event at City Hall last week.
Producing such a plan is a core requirement for cities signed up to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities, as London did in 2018. The WHO’s age-friendly framework is based around eight “domains” such as housing, transport and civic, cultural and social participation.
Age UK London welcomes Mayor Khan’s plan because the commitment to improving the lives of older people, as long as it is backed up by impactful activity, matters for older Londoners now and those who will become older Londoners in the future. As the fastest-growing age demographic in the city, their needs should be planned for and seen as providing an opportunity.
In a world that often seeks to divide generations from each other, it is vital that the Mayor champions the contribution of older Londoners. It feels that too often people need to be reminded of all the things older Londoners do to make the capital a better place. They are volunteers, community leaders, carers, employees, employers, shoppers, friends and neighbours. There are hundreds of reasons why we need a mayoral action plan, but I will highlight just three.
Firstly, even though Age UK London research has found that most older Londoners are positive about living in the city – 59 per cent in total it is shocking that only one in five see London as a place where older people are valued.
Secondly, we have the highest rate of poverty among older people in the country (24 per cent) and for some groups it is much worse – poverty rates are at 48 per cent for older social housing tenants.
Thirdly, although we know London is a city of inequalities, people often don’t realise just how stark the contrasts are among older Londoners. Our research has shown that, across a range of areas, some older Londoners have much worse experiences than others. A higher proportion of older black, Asian and minority ethnic Londoners have worse experiences, and the same is true for LGBTQ+ older Londoners.
People with long-term health conditions or who are disabled are much more likely to have poorer experiences of services and experience loneliness. We also know that London can be a difficult place for older social tenants, private renters, those living alone and those reliant on just their pension.
The full Action Plan contains over 10,500 words. It sets out the things that are within the Mayor’s power to deliver and proposes actions which, if they have their intended impact, will make a real difference. Those actions have primarily been derived from existing mayoral strategies, initiatives, and other plans. In the housing chapter, for example, some actions are designed with all ages in mind but should hopefully benefit older people, for example support for private renters and the provision of more affordable homes. Other actions are more specifically designed with older people in mind, such as support for downsizing and more specialist housing.
It will come as no surprise that at Age UK London think actions speak louder than words, and the coming months need to be all about seeing changes that really do improve people’s lives. We will be watching closely to see what the mayoral candidates say about older Londoners and making London more age-friendly.
Age UK London is a member of the London Age-Friendly Forum (LAFF), along with Wise Age, Positive Ageing in London, U3A London region, Greater London Forum for Older People, Civil Service Pensioners Alliance, and members of the National Pensioners Convention. LAFF want older Londoners to feel a sense of ownership of the plan.
We want to ensure that staff across the Greater London Authority group are aware of the plan so that age-friendliness becomes mainstreamed into all activity. We would also like to hear a bit more enthusiasm and noise, including from the Mayor himself, about the Action Plan so that older Londoners, the boroughs and the public more widely are aware of it and can, if necessary, hold the Mayor to account.
Abigail Wood is chief executive officer of Age UK London. Follow her on X/Twitter. Photograph from City Hall. If you value On London and its coverage of the capital, become a supporter or a paying subscriber to publisher and editor Dave Hill’s personal Substack for just £5 a month or £50 a year. In return, you’ll get a big, weekly London newsletter and offers of free tickets to top London events.