The publication of the 2021 census data shows that the population of over-60s in Wales increased by 12% over the last 10 years, to 861,600 or 27.7% of the population. Across Wales the picture is variable – for example in Conwy it is 34.8% and in Newport 22.7%. We have been experiencing an ageing population for many years now, and we will continue to – the largest age group in Wales is the 55 to 59 group.
Much of the commentary about the census information has focused on the challenges of an ageing population, equating it with increased demand for care and missing out the good news that more of us are living longer – surely something to be celebrated. At the same time as welcoming this good news we need to make sure that our society adapts and that attitudes towards ageing and older people change. Too often our later lives are blighted by the impacts of ageism and restrictions placed on us by a physical environment that puts barriers in the way of us getting out and about and doing the things that matter to us. This needs to change, and fast.
As Older People’s Commissioner for Wales I am taking action to tackle ageism and age discrimination. Negative attitudes towards ageing and older people are deeply embedded and they are tough to change. It’s good that the Welsh Government has recognised the need to challenge ageism in its Strategy for an Ageing Society¹ and there is work underway internationally including through the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing. Changes are needed in the way we think, feel and act towards others, and indeed to ourselves based on our age and this involves increasing awareness of ageism, challenging stereotypes, and making sure that governments and public bodies are not ageist in their policies or actions.²
At the same time as tackling ageism and age discrimination we need to make sure that we are an ‘age-friendly’ society, in other words make sure that our places, systems and ways of working enable us to age well, to be included and to have our voices heard. I am working with local authorities, partner organisations and older people to support and encourage the development of age-friendly communities and membership of the World Health Organisation Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities. I’m pleased that Welsh Government is supporting this work and has made a commitment to an ‘age-friendly Wales’.
The data from the census can help us better understand our ageing population, but we need improvements in other data sources too. For example, improvements in the data on the abuse of older people to better understand older people’s experiences, how to prevent abuse, and the support and services that are needed. We also need to make sure that, along with data, we enable older people to directly share their experiences and stories. Being older does not define us as a homogenous group, with the same attitudes, circumstances and beliefs. If anything, we get more diverse as we get older, not less.
Let’s welcome the new information on our ageing population that the census gives us and use it to inform policy making and planning. But let’s remember too, that hearing the voices of the diversity of the older population are equally important in planning and essential if we are to ensure that older people are valued, rights are upheld and no-one is left behind.
1 Welsh Government. (2022) Age friendly Wales: our strategy for an ageing society. Available at: https://gov.wales/age-friendly-wales-our-strategy-ageing-society
2 Older People’s Commissioner for Wales. (2022) Ending Ageism and Age Discrimination. Available at: https://olderpeople.wales/commissioners-priorities/ending-ageism-and-age-discrimination/