Public Engagement in Longer Lives
In 2022, Phoenix Insights – a think tank which aims to transform the way society views ageing – commissioned NatCen’s Centre for Deliberation (CfD) and Kings College London’s Policy Institute to conduct deliberative workshops with the public to understand views on longevity and how we can all live better longer lives.
About the study
The average lifespan in the UK is longer than ever before. This presents both opportunities and challenges to individuals and society. Phoenix insights recognise that thinking about longevity can be daunting, and so through their work they want to help people reimagine how they can live better, longer lives. Therefore they commissioned NatCen’s CfD and King’s College London’s (KCL) Policy Institute to deliver research to understand what people associate with longer lives and how they can be reimagined. The research brought together 56 members of the UK public of different ages to take part in a 2.5 hour online workshop. Participants then conducted peer research at home to further reflect on longer lives before attending a final 2.5 hour online national summit where they heard from expert stakeholders.
Longer means later
When introduced to the idea of living longer lives, participants tended to automatically focus on ‘later’ life (after the age of 60). This produced a dominant framing of longer lives as associated with anxiety, particularly due to concerns with ‘unknowns’ post-70 about health and financial outcomes at the end of life.
The strength of the stereotypes associated with later life posed a challenge to reimagining longer lives. In particular, participants struggled to imagine working, learning, or caring differently due to perceived socioeconomic barriers.
Across groups, participants developed four clear life phases which reflected stereotypical narratives about what it means to be within each phase of life in our society. These included having minimal responsibilities before reaching 30; balancing too many responsibilities (through work and caring for children and elderly relatives) between 30 and 50; and slowing down and relaxing between 50 and 70, with anxiety and uncertainty the dominant narrative after 70.
Opportunities and change
Despite the difficulties of reimagining how we live longer lives differently. The following policy priorities emerged as important areas for focus and investment:
- Work – improving equality in the workplace so that work is more easily accessible for those over fifty and the value of older workers recognised.
- Finances – free financial advice for people of all ages so that everyone is able to make the most out of the money they earn and fund their longer lives.
- Learning – funding higher or vocational training for people of all ages to increase people’s employment choices as well as their financial stability.
- Wellbeing, health and caring – changing entitlements in workplaces so that people are able to take paid leave to help balance commitments at key points in life such as caring responsibilities. Participants believed that having such reassurances could ensure greater mental health and wellbeing, especially for female employees who are more likely to take on a greater share of caring responsibilities in families.
The research consisted of four phases:
- Stakeholder engagement: Experts in the field of ageing and longevity took part in a one off workshop run by KCL’s Policy Unit. The findings from the workshop shaped the research design.
- 7 regional online workshops: In total 56 people took part in 7 different online workshops, each lasting 2.5 hours. Each workshop consisted of 8 people of different ages from a given location across the UK (London, Sheffield, Sutton Coldfield, Isle of Wight, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland). During the workshops participants discussed their initial associations with longer lives before reviewing evidence on the opportunities and challenges. Then, to support people to reimagine longer lives they discussed future scenarios for work, learning, connecting, and caring in 2040.
- Peer research: After the workshops 21 of the 56 people completed a peer research activity where they discussed the issue of longer lives with their friends and family before reporting back findings to NatCen researchers.
- National Summit: Participants who completed the peer research were invited to take part in a national summit that took place across 2 online sessions lasting 2.5 hours. In the first session NatCen presented findings from the research so far and some of the stakeholders who had attended the initial workshop provided expert input. In the second session participants were asked to prioritise possible policy responses to the key areas of tension identified in the previous workshops; work and finance; learning; and wellbeing, health and caring.