New measures sought to improve lives as Barnsley’s population gets older
Steps are being taken in public services across Barnsley to address a change in the town’s population which will see the number of over 65s increasing to account for one in five residents within the next few years.
The overall population will have risen by more than four per cent between 2014 and 2020, but within that the demographic is also changing and is predicted to mean more than 11 per cent will be aged over 65 in future, with the prospect of that trend continuing.As a result, Barnsley Council has set out to become an ‘age-friendly borough’, alongside Sheffield, Leeds and York as the only four in the Yorkshire and Humberside region.It means a diverse range of work, from simple but effective changes including the installation of more public seating – in recognition that older people may need to rest more often – to highly sophisticated work looking at employment levels and the implications of workforce changes affecting the over 50s.The council’s executive director for communities, Wendy Lowder, said a lot of design work had gone into the regeneration of the town centre to ensure it will be suitable for an ageing population.“How do we make the town centre accessible?” she said.“There never seems to be enough seating in shops. They don’t always have places where you can sit, simple things like that may seem small, but they are big things really.“There is now a lot more seating than there has ever been. In the Lightbox (library) we have access to public toilets, which is another issue and we continue to consider whether we have enough of them.”Local authorities alone cannot make the transformation, however, and the council wants to see improved training and awareness for bus drivers and other public transport workers, to help ensure they are aware of any limitations passengers may face.“Lets not have buses going off before older people have got to their seats,” said.In addition to creating a better understanding of work patterns among the over-50s, the council also wants to see more work with the University of the Third Age, an organisation which brings older people together into groups for a diverse range of activities.It is also believed there is potential to increase inter-generational work, perhaps including passing on digital skills to older people, to help them keep pace with a changing environment, though being age friendly also means not assuming everyone is internet literate.“How might we make sure information is accessible? We use the term digital by choice rather than digital by default,” she said.Barnsley Council’s network of area councils, sub-groups made up of councillors representing the town’s individual communities, are also supportive of the work through their own activities.They now offer a range of services to tackle the issues of loneliness and social isolation, which can affect all elements of society but are known to be an increasing problem among older people.That is reflected in an increase in numbers of voluntary groups which have been established across the district, with numbers up 16 per cent recently.
One key element all local authorities need to help define how they develop age-related services is a Government decision on funding for social care, however.
As the population grows older, those demands become an increasing financial burden but the Government has yet to announce its long-term solution to the issue.