A Thriving Third Age
We are committed to ensuring that, wherever possible, older people can enjoy a thriving 'third age'. This means supporting people who want to keep on working. And it means maximising incomes and reducing costs where possible. In 2014/15, despite improvements over time, 120,000 people of pensionable age were still living in poverty in Scotland: this is particularly important because older people can find it harder than those of working age to increase their incomes. There is a lot we can do to address these issues.
We will take a number of actions to maximise older people's incomes to ensure they can enjoy a decent and fulfilling 'third age'.
We will help those older people who want to keep working after they have reached state pension age. The number of workers over state pension age has increased consistently over the past decade, particularly since the 2011 legislation to abolish the default retirement age. As part of our commitment to a thriving third age, we want to make sure that older workers are supported to keep developing and improving their skills. But we are concerned that some older people, women in particular, may feel they have to work because of low pension incomes and/or that they end up working in lower skilled jobs to balance work and caring responsibilities. We will therefore ensure that older workers' needs are considered in the development of new employment services, some of which will be devolved to Scotland from April 2017. Particular support requirements might include retraining and confidence building, as well as increased support for flexible working. All programmes will be fully person-centred, with support plans being tailored to individual needs.
Research Action - Older People And Employment
In June 2016, we published initial research on older people and employment, which looked at the drivers behind the substantial increase in the numbers working past state pension age over the past decade. 13 As this showed, more can be done to support those older people who are already working or who want to work but find it difficult to do so. To help us move forward, a second stage of research will be undertaken with older people themselves. This will explore the key issues and concerns of older people who work or actively seek employment, aiming to identify interventions to help reduce the barriers they face.
We will help older people claim the financial support they are entitled to. If every person eligible for Pension Credit and Council Tax Reduction received these entitlements, poverty levels amongst older people would be lower. So we will fund a Financial Health Check service with an older people strand: the health check will offer a personalised service to maximise incomes for older people in retirement this will help those already in receipt of the State Pension, but also those approaching pension age in Scotland. We will also seek advice from the devolved government in Northern Ireland, which has had some success in boosting Pension Credit uptake, and from our partners across Scotland about the best way to maximise benefit take up for older people.
New Social Isolation And Loneliness Approach
In 2017, we will develop a new approach to social isolation and loneliness. These issues can affect people of all ages but, as the Fairer Scotland conversations noted, can be particularly challenging for older people. A report from the Scottish Parliament's Equal Opportunities Committee identified a range of concerns that we are determined to address. The Scottish Government and its partners have many programmes and funding streams which are in place to address social isolation and loneliness. But these all need to be coordinated better, and we will take action, informed by the best available evidence, via a new strategic approach.
Our planned reforms to council tax will protect older people on low incomes. While three quarters of Scottish households that live in bands A to D will be unaffected by planned reforms to council tax band system, those in bands E to H will pay more. However, up to 54,000 households living in bands E to H on low incomes will be entitled to an exemption from the changes through the Council Tax Reduction Scheme - more than one third of these are pensioner households.
Refreshed Age, Home And Community Strategy
We will refresh our Age, Home and Community Strategy to take account of changing need, demographics and help address issues of isolation as well as improving access to suitable housing for older people. We will ensure there is flexibility in the housing grant subsidy arrangements within the Affordable Housing Supply Programme, so that social landlords are supported to build specialist housing in accordance with need.
We will improve the current system of Funeral Payments, so it helps more people, is more predictable and provides help more quickly. Funeral costs, which are currently rising above inflation, are a key concern for many older people on low incomes, as well as for those younger people who are responsible for paying for a funeral. Funeral Payments help those on qualifying low income benefits pay for a funeral and reduce the need to borrow money using credit cards, high cost loans or other more informal routes. Improving the system of Funeral Payments will help reassure the many older people who worry about the cost of funerals. We are also taking forward a range of other activity to help people plan ahead and address rising costs, including publishing a Funeral Costs Plan. To inform this, we will be hosting round-table events and a national conference on funeral poverty. In the longer term, we will consider plans for a Funeral Bond to help people plan ahead for their funeral.
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