The future of ageing

Current Project

Current in-depth inquiry

Our latest inquiry will explore ethical questions in relation to the role of science and technology in helping people live well in old age.

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What does it mean to ‘live well’ in older age?

This question has been at the heart of our project on the future of ageing since we began our deliberations in December 2020. So far, we have run an expert consultation, organised engagement workshops, and gathered input from practitioners who work in health, research, and social care contexts – particularly those who work with older people.

But the next stage of our evidence-gathering focuses on inviting those with an interest in ageing, research, science, and technology to send us their creative contributions.

We would like to read, see, watch, or listen to what you think it means to live well in older age. You might draw something, take a photograph or video, or write a story or poem about how you feel.

We have written three scenarios which offer some issues you might like to consider when sending your contributions:

UK 2040 fictional scenario 1: moving online?

Universal access to high-speed internet has transformed both work environments and the health and care sectors. The greater shift to home working makes it easier for some people to stay in the workforce for longer and be better-off when they choose to retire. However, these effects are distributed unevenly as those in more physical or front-line roles cannot benefit, leading to increased income disparities in older age. The majority of health appointments are delivered online, although the password and security systems required to logon present a problem for a minority of older users. Social care services are provided through a combination of assistive devices, robot services and compulsory digital monitoring. Regular in-person care is regarded as a premium service, available at additional cost for those willing to pay.

UK 2050 fictional scenario 2: longer, healthier life for some?

New drugs to slow ageing have been developed, significantly delaying the onset of a number of conditions associated with ageing, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia, and extending overall life expectancy. However, they work much less effectively for people who are obese – who are already more likely to experience longer periods of ill-health in old age. With pressure on the country’s finances, difficult decisions have to be made between funding the costs of the new (relatively expensive) medicines; tackling the complex social and environmental factors associated with obesity; and funding better preventative health services that help improve mobility and wellbeing for all older people.

UK 2060 fictional scenario 3: who pays?

A second generation of drugs to slow ageing proves to be much more widely effective across the population. The introduction of legislation to cap industry profits at a low level on the grounds of public health ensures that they are much more affordable than in the past. However, despite the fact that people are living healthier lives for longer, it remains difficult for older people to remain in the workforce because of a preference for younger employees. Pensioner poverty increases, as does the cost to the public sector of paying state pensions for longer. A compulsory insurance system, introduced to meet the costs of long-term care, uses different levels of co-payment from older people and families, depending on the extent to which they can prove they have followed healthy ageing advice and medications in the past.

You shouldn’t feel constrained by these scenarios, however. You might prefer to highlight other aspects or issues around ‘living well in older age’ because of your opinions or experiences. We are open and welcome all of your thoughts and ideas.

For further information, please contact Kate Harvey. Please send us your contributions by the end of 2021.

Project team

Katharine Wright crop

Katharine Wright

Assistant Director

Katharine is part of the senior management team. She is responsible for leading Council projects and inquiries and speaking on behalf the Council on a range of ethical issues. Before joining the Council in 2007, she worked on health law and ethics in the NHS, Department of Health and House of Commons.

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Kate Harvey

Senior Research Officer

Kate undertakes research to support the Council’s work and contributes to the drafting of reports and briefing papers. She also monitors developments in areas of interest to the Council. Kate is currently on secondment at the University of Edinburgh's Law School, and will return to the Council in April 2021.