The U.K. has ushered in a new Conservative government to get “Brexit done.” The pound rose in value against the dollar on the news that Boris Johnson is in – but meanwhile the health of the nation suffered a dip in the news that day. As voters were out at the polls, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) were announced that show stalling improvements in life expectancy and worsening health prospects. The timespan people can expect to enjoy life in good health has shortened and what’s worse is that it is happening in younger people: children born today can expect to live in pain or discomfort through ill health for a longer proportion of their lives once they get older.
This is wake-up call for the new government- who recognize the urgency to address “left behind” communities. But it is something we all need to address too as stakeholders in society. According to Sir John Bell, Life Sciences Champion and Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford University, “longevity is the single most important issue for society in the next 30 years.”
At the November International Longevity Policy & Governance Summit launch in London, leaders from the around the world gathered to share learnings and experiences on how to address the challenges and seize the opportunities of living longer, and reach consensus on harnessing the “longevity dividend.”
Lord Filkin CBE, chair of the strategic advisory board for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity (APPGL) -that is designing a national strategy for 5 extra years of healthy life expectancy while minimising health inequalities- declared, “we need much greater effort into health prevention across our lives– to prevent diseases happening in the first place and detect, intervene and reverse them if they do. This will take concerted action and leadership at national and local level by government, the NHS, third sector and business.”
Dr Charles Alessi, senior adviser to Public Health England and an APPGL advisor, argued that the “NHS must become a Service for National Health- developing new way to incentivize, measure and act on prevention, making it easier for people to adopt healthier behaviors. We also need to change our sense of what growing old means. The countries making great progress are the places where the relationship between government and citizen is strong. Finland has revolutionized how we think about aging. They address aging in a positive and encouraging narrative.”
Japan, the most ‘super-aged society’ in the world- where by 2040 it is predicted that only 35% of its population will be under 50 – has some tips to share. Professor Kenji Shibuya, director of the new Institute of Population Health at King’s College London, and senior advisor to WHO’s Director-General and involved in the Japan’s Future Innovations Working Group, said “we need to empower individuals, promote inclusiveness and mutual support and develop social ecosystems.” Otani Soshi, deputy director for healthcare industry policy at Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, added that “long-term solutions will require business innovation and collaboration involving a diverse mix of industry expertise.” But Shibuya added, “we still need a moonshot to take what is working to the rest of the world.”
The National Association of Medicine (NAM) in the US has recently announced such a moonshot, the Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity Grand Challenge, in recognition that multidisciplinary solutions are urgently needed to maximize the number of years lived in good health and in a state of well-being.
At the International Summit, Julia Randell-Khan, a fellow at the Stanford Center on Longevity which is also involved with the NAM Healthy Longevity Grand Challenge, presented the New Map of Life, that collects evidence and ideas on how people can be mentally sharp, physically fit and financially secure throughout century-long lives filled with belonging, purpose and worth. Khan said, “current norms and practice in education, work, retirement are too limited. The big questions are around redesigning society for a longer life and helping people work out what they will do and how they will plan for an extra 30 years of life.”
Mike Mansfield, program director of the Center for Longevity and Retirement at Aegon, agreed, adding, “we need a new social contract to embrace solidarity, sustainability and the opportunity for people to age with dignity: it must address the need for a redistribution of responsibility in how people fund and prepare for their retirement, ensuring that vulnerable people are not left behind.”
Khan added that a big opportunity is to get older people to stay in work, and go back into work, arguing, “people can live an extra 7 years if they are engaged in social activity, volunteering and purpose-led work opportunities.”
Keeping in works also adds to the bottom line and fuels economic. ONS estimates that if the employment rate of people aged 50 to 64 matched that of those aged 35 to 49, it would add more than 5% to U.K. GDP, or £88 billion. Yvonne Sonsino, global co-leader of Next Stage at Mercer speaking at the Summit, concurred, “in order to harness the benefits of living longer a new social contract is needed to encourage employers to help people remain in productive and engaging work beyond their 50s, by adopting age-friendly practices such as flexible working and carers’ leave, helping people acquire new skills, and providing in-work support such as health screening and financial planning advice. Our research shows that people potentially run out of pension savings some 8-20 years before they die on current estimates of life expectancy. Enabling the funding of longevity through meaningful work is already a necessity.”
John Godfrey, corporate affairs director at Legal & General and APPGL advisor speaking at the Summit, explained how a new social contract has been driven partly in response to consumers looking to deal with socially responsible businesses over concerns about global sustainability (as we are seeing with the climate change agenda).
Sergey Young, founder of Longevity Vision Fund, APPGL financial advisory board member, and founder of Longevity@Work, the first corporate longevity program in the world aiming to create workplace “Blue Zones”(environments that automatically contribute to the health, happiness and longevity of employees), said, “creating longevity-friendly workplace environments is one of the biggest opportunities to contribute to employees’ healthy lifespans, without asking them to rely solely on their own willpower or the government. We need to incentivize businesses to be socially responsible and develop longevity-promoting workspaces.”
Dmitry Kaminskiy, founder of Longevity.Capital and Deep Knowledge Ventures, summarized the core message of the Summit, “Britain’s national assets could be deployed to tackle the challenges and develop the opportunities of a longer, healthier life – to create a longevity dividend that can be shared fairly to all in society – and become the world’s leader in healthy longevity.”