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The Elder Interview
An Interview with Legal & General: £20m Care Research Programme Launches Before Government Budget Announced
February 2020 saw the launch of the UK’s new Advanced Care Research Centre (ACRC), a unique partnership between Edinburgh University and Legal & General Group (L&G), the UK’s largest pension fund investor and a leading provider of retirement products. The seven-year open-source research programme is focused on care research, and is the first of its kind in the UK combining research across fields including medicine, care professions, life sciences, engineering, informatics, data and social sciences.
The partnership’s development, led by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service, pulled together participation by 50 academics across three colleges to present L&G with a practical and powerful academic vision as well as a bank of world-class expertise in its proposed focus areas.
The £20m agreement marks the University’s largest industry investment to-date, and with social care expected to feature in the upcoming 11 March Budget, it is a timely reminder to the Government of the need for greater and sustained investment in the social care space.
The ACRC itself aims to drive forward development of data-driven, personalised and affordable care that delivers independence, dignity and quality of life for people living at home or in care environments – with other UK universities hopefully becoming involved in the Centre’s work in time.
For L&G’s Director of Corporate Affairs, John Godfrey, the partnership is an exciting example of the innovative ways in which business can stimulate and support research into the ageing demographic – as well as gain the returns of expertise in their own product lines. We talked to him about why Edinburgh University was the obvious choice for this work – and the positive impact of this strategic landmark collaboration.
What made Edinburgh University such an attractive partner for L&G in this research area?
Edinburgh University had a fantastic existing body of research within its Faculty of Medicine, including a lot of work done by the lead academic on the ACRC programme, Bruce Guthrie and his colleagues. It produced a compelling proposal and a vision to bring together all the other important research being done on elderly care across its different faculties, including engineering, informatics and social sciences, to create a National Centre for expertise in care.
For example, the medical faculty could work with the social science faculty, the data and informatics people and the engineers might join in. This could then feed into potential innovations in care tech and new models of delivery for social care. Basically, researchers here can leverage any other part of the university they need, that was something that was a clincher for us.
What role has Edinburgh’s data quality played in creating this partnership, given its aim for data-driven, personalised care development?
Edinburgh University is a leading institution for data research, as well as having access to Scottish NHS data, with the permission of the health and social care data controllers, which is kept in a “data loch.”
Crucially, this data is better for research purposes than English data because Scotland’s healthcare system records are more cohesive. This may be partly because the population is smaller so records can be more easily curated across primary and secondary care. English data however would need quite a lot of fixing to get to this point, with its multiple Trusts.
It’s important to note that we will not get access to data under this programme. The multi-disciplinary team, which includes data scientists and informatics specialists, will however potentially gain quality insights – again not for our exclusive use. A good prototype of what can be done in Edinburgh with this kind of data is Professor Ian Deary’s work on cognitive decline which is based on pan-Scottish records for a cohort born in 1936.
Have business partnerships like this got the power to make a real impact in tackling the care crisis?
Yes, although it’s still unusual for businesses like ours to do something like this on this scale and with an academic institution.
If you think of a similarly enormous challenge to that of the ageing population like climate change, for example, it’s clear that any commercial organisation attempting to lean into the level of required mitigation will require really good data points and ideally unique thinking. So why wouldn’t you engage with experts on this subject in the academic world?
Quite a few commercial organisations work with universities, but more typically in the areas of pharmaceuticals, life sciences or engineering – I don’t think anybody else from the financial services sector is doing these kinds of partnerships in the same way though. The ageing demographic is an incredibly complicated space, which is why academia is so valuable.
As a business, we provide the ability to actually ‘get stuff done’, which sometimes isn’t the leading skill of government or care charities.
We’ve also had important strategic partnerships in the past with NGOs and charities too – a few years ago we worked with Macmillan, because we pay out on a lot of life and critical illness policies in our business. The charity gave us some really good advice and pointers that actually helped us to structure some of our products
We’re not ashamed to work with experts. Essentially, we contribute money, they contribute specialist knowledge and importantly, for us, the ACRC is an open source enterprise that’s for public benefit.
Is L&G’s support of ageing research a moral imperative or simply a business case?
It’s both. Over the past eight years we’ve had six strategic growth drivers for our business, and top of that list is the ageing demographic.
At L&G we have roughly 10m customers, many in the pensioner category, so we want to understand them and provide the right things for them. We need to be able to offer the right sort of pension products and to be able to price annuities more accurately so that people can make the most of their money across a longer retirement.
Companies, in all sorts of sectors, tend to divide their consumer base into age groups, with a final age group that is usually, “…and then the over 60s.” We think this is wrong. Someone who is 60 is very different from someone who is 90. While marketing people might find it slightly dull to think about older people as opposed to “interesting millennials”, the question is: “where’s the money?”
If you put all the people over retirement age in the world together, you have the third largest economy in the world behind the United States and China, which is a staggering statistic. People are waking up belatedly to the “silver pound” and it’s a very accessible market.
The moral imperative is that it’s wrong, for example, to have huge discrepancies in life expectancy between different parts of the country and different socio-economic groups. Again, this is something we need to understand properly.
We think the power of investment can help address big societal challenges and has already done so with housing, for example. Now we are trying to do that in the ageing space.
Ultimately, we don’t see business in the modern world as a case of either making a lot of money or having a moral imperative. You can do both at the same time, and in a sustainable way.
Part of the ACRC is an academy to develop enterprise-oriented leaders in later life care. Are new types of leadership essential to evolve the care system effectively?
The leadership academy was Edinburgh University’s idea, as were all seven of the work streams within the ACRC. They believe, as we do, that good leadership is incredibly important to increasing the number of well-informed, educated people working in the care sector.
We don’t see the world as being a case of either making a lot of money or having a moral imperative; you can do both at the same time – and in a sustainable way.
You need to have those people if you’re going to reform a system, to make care more efficient and to provide more independence and dignity to those receiving care. In practice, this means academics who have the requisite knowledge, teamed with business-facing people who have great ideas, then spin them out and take them to the wider world.
It’s also about developing people who can be the future leaders in the care sector. One of the problems care has is that on the supply side there isn’t really an obvious career path or a way to move up the ladder. The pay is poor at the lower levels and it’s tempting to go and work on the tills at Aldi or grab the first NHS job that comes along because the benefits tend to be better.
If you get the right leaders into the sector, you can start to create real systemic change, which might just be about turning it into an aspirational career.
How can business and academia work together with national and local government to better meet the challenges of the ageing demographic and social care?
In 2019 the Government announced a target of people having five additional years of healthy life expectancy by 2035 – and crucially it has joined this up with industrial strategy and created the Healthy Ageing Grand Challenge to encourage businesses and other organisations to find solutions.
What they still haven’t really addressed though is the question of funding for social care and how that operates across the system. It’s difficult as these things get weaponised in a political forum and sensible discussions become difficult. An ageing demographic also cuts across a dozen or so government departments, so the question becomes “who coordinates and pulls it together?”
It’s all institutionally difficult, which is a reason why local governments can play such an important role in facing the challenges. For example, as a business, we have a long-term partnership with Newcastle Council and Newcastle University around asset development finance, notably the Newcastle Helix scheme, which houses the UK’s National Centre for Ageing.
The local authority is often the real driver of change. In general terms we like working with those in local government – mayors, council leaders, chief executives and so on – because they are so delivery focused and often have a compelling vision for their city. They are non-ideological but just want the best outcomes for the place. We see the role of central government as much more about policy “nudges”: devolution and city deals have been very positive in the sense that they have enabled local city councils to get more done.
Call us for expert live-in care advice
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