G20 countries in Asia Pacific are not prepared for the needs of ageing populations, according to new research from the Economist Intelligence Unit
More people are living into old age than ever before. In 2018 The World Health Organization predicted that by 2020 there would be more people aged over 60 years than there are children under 5 years. This prediction is on track to be correct,and numbers in the older cohort continue to rise. This has created challenges in providing health and social services for burgeoning older populations and governments across the globe have been slow to react. Priorities are now shifting from solely addressing the health of older people, to how societies can maximise this opportunity and provide effective, inclusive environments in which to age.
This report from The Economist Intelligence Unit describes findings from the “Scaling Healthy ageing, Inclusive environments and Financial security Today” (SHIFT) Index“, a benchmarking analysis around ageing societies. The SHIFT Index benchmarks against a set of national-level leading practices in creating an enabling environment supportive of longevity and healthy ageing for societies in the 19 countries comprising the Group of Twenty (G20). The SHIFT Index captures the multifactorial variables that impact ageing across three domains: adaptive health and social care systems; accessible economic opportunity; and inclusive social structures and institutions.
The research found that no G20 country is fully prepared to support healthy, financially secure, socially-connected older people. The US, Australia, Canada and South Korea ranked highest in our index with scores in the 70s out of 100 (see table below). Broadly, those countries with a higher proportion of people aged over 50 — including the three highest ranking countries plus South Korea, Germany, France and Japan — are implementing more leading practices to enable inclusive environments. Wealthy countries may find it easier to respond, but wealth is not a prerequisite for providing supportive environments. The best scoring health systems tend to be high-income countries, but upper-middle income Brazil, and lower-middle income Indonesia are also making strides to improve health systems.
As a whole, the G20 countries perform best in providing adaptive healthcare systems and worst in providing inclusive social structures and institutions, indicating that countries still have work to do to shift the focus towards building more welcoming societies for older adults as they age. Countries also have room to improve in providing more accessible economic opportunities to older workers.
Despite clear progress made, governments have more work to do to make sure their health systems are adaptive to the needs of older adults as they age, while also fostering inclusion and ensuring individual economic security. A key barrier to addressing this is lack of robust age-disaggregated data collection by governments in areas such as dedicated health professionals, the extent of isolation and loneliness as well as mental health.
The SHIFT Index reveals several priority areas that may form the basis of policy responses to develop more accessible and inclusive societies for older people:
- Collect better data: Countries should collect and publish detailed, age-disaggregated health and economic data annually so policymakers can develop evidence-based programs and policies.
- Address poverty among older people: Some older adults choose to work longer, others must. Governments can ensure the financial health and security of older adults by creating more inclusive work environments. This starts with removing barriers to working longer that exist in some markets.
- Prevent a care crisis among the elderly: The provision of care for older adults–both formal and informal–and the accessibility of, or access to, long-term care is ill-defined and is an area for further research.
- Enable older people’s voices to be heard: The views and needs of older people are not routinely collected and they are not represented well in policy consultation.
- Address age-related discrimination: Few countries categorise age-discrimination as a crime outside of employment practices. Fighting discrimination as well as physical, emotional and financial abuse of older adults, will encourage greater social cohesion across generations.
- Support training and upskilling of older people: Supporting older people with the skills and help needed to navigate increasingly complex and digitised health and social care systems should be an area of focus.
Jesse Quigley Jones, managing editor at The Economist Intelligence Unit and editor of the report, said, “The challenges that ageing populations present for economies and health systems have long-been understood, yet provision of inclusive, supportive environments for older people has not been a high-profile policy priority. Although wealth has emerged as a theme in the Index as a contributing factor towards healthy ageing indicators, it is not necessarily a prerequisite for providing supportive environments. Lower-income nations can take low-cost measures that improve ageing societies, such as enacting inclusive work environment policies and fostering inclusive and enabling social environments.
With older people particularly vulnerable to the health and societal impact of the covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for older people to lead healthy, independent lives for as long as possible and avoid the need for institutional care. While our data were collected pre-pandemic, the priorities identified in the report are now thrown into sharper light and may serve as a wakeup call for governments across the globe for providing adaptable, accessible and inclusive environments in which populations can age.”