Social policy in relation to older people is an area of increasing importance. This chapter looks at an innovative approach to using policy to improve older people's lives: the Strategy for Older People in Wales. This broad, high-level policy development takes a holistic approach to older people's lives, and places a great emphasis on engaging older people in the democratic process. The chapter takes a critical look at the implementation of the Strategy, and considers the particular challenges this presents to the process of evaluating policy innovation. It draws some comparisons with the Strategies of the devolved governments of Northern Ireland and Scotland. It concludes with some of the learning from the Strategy, highlights some of its limitations and considers how further evaluation may best be taken forward.
Background and context
Population ageing is emerging as a worldwide trend, reflecting improvements in health services, education and economic development, increases in life expectancy and falls in fertility. The oldest old (80 years and over) are the fastest growing segment in many nations (Kinsella and Velcoff, 2001). It is estimated that by 2021 this older age group will constitute almost 5% of the population in the UK (ONS, 1999). This demographic change emerged first in Europe, making this region unique in relation to the ageing world population (Scharf et al, 2003). The UK is regarded as being one of the world's 25 oldest countries, with 20.4% being aged 60 or over (Kinsella and Velcoff, 2001). It is estimated that by 2025 the number of people aged 65 and over in the UK will exceed the numbers aged under 16 by 1.6 million (ONS, 2003).
Such demographic changes present both opportunities and challenges for government policy. This is evidenced in the often-perceived increasing burden on pensions, and health and social care provision. Ageing can be accompanied by biological changes that increase the risk of illness, death or disability (ONS, 1999). Although life expectancy has increased, there is some debate as to whether there have also been improvements in morbidity in older age (ONS, 1999).
In addition to health, there are many other life events and changing circumstances that can be considered as potential threats to the well-being of older people. Bereavement, changes in financial situations and in social relationships also tend to be concentrated in later life.