How is an ageing population changing urban Britain?

Pensioners in Brighton. Image: Getty.

British cities have grey weather, grey concrete, and increasingly, grey heads. People across the country are living longer, and this means the population of our cities are living longer too.

On average, most cities are younger than the rest of the country and will remain so. But a few cities are older than the rest of the country and are ageing fast – with big consequences for policy makers.

Ageing will change society’s needs, and will require more resources to be spent on pensions, healthcare, and social care. And this will have larger implications for some cities than others. The Centre for Cities’ Cities Outlook 2018 report offers some insight into population changes in UK cities over recent years.

But to get a better picture of how ageing will affect different places, it’s necessary to dig deeper into the data and to look at the share of the population in each city aged over 65 (notwithstanding the fact that some people work beyond retirement age).

Click to expand.

Currently 18 per cent of the UK’s population are aged 65 or over, compared to 15 per cent in UK cities. Some of these cities are especially young: 12 per cent of the population of Luton are over 65, while in Slough it is only 10 per cent. Interestingly the youngest cities tend to be southern inland cities (as shown by the smaller bubbles on the map).

But this isn’t the case everywhere. In total there are 19 cities which are older than the UK average. The oldest of these include Blackpool, Bournemouth, Worthing, Southend, Birkenhead, and Swansea – all smaller coastal cities.

Cities have also been ageing at different speeds over the last decade

Seven cities, such as Crawley, Brighton, Coventry, and Dundee, have surprisingly seen a decline in the share of people aged 65+ even as the country has aged. This has mainly been driven by large increases in those in younger age groups.

However, in the other 56 cities across the UK the share of people aged 65+ has increased, and in 22 cities this demographic has grown by two or more percentage points. This was led by Wigan (see the table below), where the share increased from 15 percent to 18.8 percent.

Click to expand. Source: NOMIS, Mid-year population estimates.

Of the cities that have seen the largest increase, there are two main trends. The first is the presence of a number of new towns in this group, such as Telford, Milton Keynes, Warrington and Basildon. Ageing in these places reflects in part a number of original movers to the new towns turning 65, and means they are now likely to be dealing with greater demand for adult social care than in the past.

The second is that in many places (which includes some new towns), the rise in the share of those aged 65+ was not only the result of an increase in the number of older people, but also because of a fall in the population aged 16-49. These are the largest, darkest bubbles on the map. This may reflect an underlying weakness in their economies, as younger people move elsewhere for job opportunities.


Policy implications

All cities will face greater funding demands as pressure on social care increases from a combination of an ageing population and budget cuts (as the infamous “Graph of Doom” shows). And the data above shows that this will be particularly acute in certain places.

In the short term the government has announced stop gap funding of £150m to spend on social care. But this doesn’t address the longer term growing pressures on services. Allowing local authorities to keep a greater share of their business rates is a potential longer term response, but will be more effective in places with stronger economies (such as Milton Keynes) than those with weaker ones (such as Wigan and Southend). If – as suggested above – weaker economies do experience faster ageing, the current system risks creating and widening inequalities between places in the quality of care.

Ultimately, government reform of social care is required to balance the funding demands of an ageing population between the taxpayer and wealthier pensioners. The politics of the situation make this difficult, of course. Indeed, the most recent proposal to reform social care lasted only four days, before being dropped by the Prime Minister Theresa May after being branded “the dementia tax”.

There has been little movement on this since, and the Chancellor Philip Hammond did not even mention social care once in the November budget. However, it is an issue which will only grow in urgency in over the coming years. And an answer will be needed if we are to avoid further Northamptonshire-style local authority financial calamities in the future.

Anthony Breach is an economic analyst at the Centre for Cities, on whose blog this post first appeared. 

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.