Thursday, 23 February 2017

Cycling in Korea - People are nice

When things go smoothly, cycle touring (even a short one) can be a little dull. You get on your bike, ride somewhere, spending most of the time thinking about the next meal or cake. You worry a bit about navigation, how you will fix a major mechanical problem, enjoy the view, sleep, then do it all again.

And South Korea had the potential to offer on paper pretty dull cycling. But I happened to be there in November (as you do) and thought I would give it a go.

The local population is polite (it takes a while to get used to all the bowing) and kind. And it is one of the safest countries in the world with low levels of crime. Someone left an iPod unguarded in the communal area of a hostel I was staying in for two days – something you probably couldn’t do in many other countries.

The lack of information about how to go about cycling in Korea was worrying though. Most guidebooks warned against riding in the city (and indeed, in Korea in general). There were few maps out there and it seems that google aren’t allowed to let you download maps of South Korea for offline use.  I didn’t want to take a bike on the plane for a short trip, partly due to the additional cost but also due to my technical incompetence and lack of confidence that I could put the bike back together when I got there.

A few websites talked of significant investment in cycle paths, for example along some of the rivers. I chose to do a short trip along the cycle path which has been built between Seoul and Busan, the geek in me excited that they even have telephone boxes where you can stamp a card to prove you have done the route.  Navigation should be relatively easy as the 500km route broadly followed a pretty big river. I couldn’t get lost (right?).

There were a few maps online but they weren’t brilliant. Certainly not good enough if I came off the route at some point. Fortunately, before leaving I discovered someone called Jan Boonstra who sent me a link to some pretty detailed maps for the whole route.

Finding accommodation along the route was also a challenge, with no hotels at a convenient point. So I decided to risk a nice looking room in a house via Airbnb.

The next challenge was to find somewhere I could get a bike. For short rides there are places along the river where you can hire a bike. But I really struggled to find somewhere I could hire a bike for more than one day. Via Facebook I came across “Korea by Bike” who pointed me towards a bike shop “Bikely” in Seoul where I could hire a bike.

Bikely responded to my message quickly and promised to have a bike available for me. Unfortunately, they weren’t open on Sunday (when I wanted to start my ride) and didn’t open til 11am on the Monday. So my three-day ride became a short two-day ride.

The manager at Bikely was brilliant and twice talked me through the route I had planned, pointing out where I might go wrong. The cycle paths were like nothing I’ve experienced anywhere in the world. There were frequent toilets, water stops, air pumps. and even cycle shops/repair businesses along the route. The paths were immaculate and well signed. And despite having chosen a potentially dull route along a river, the views were spectacular. The route heads through valleys and even through tunnels dug out of mountains.

Because I hadn’t left until about 11.30 on the Monday, it was pretty dark by the time I got to where I thought my accommodation for the night was. Whilst Airbnb can be great, when you arrive somewhere in rural South Korea, in the dark, with no sign of the accommodation where it is supposed to be, no mobile signal and no internet, that you really could be in trouble.

I knocked on one door, only to have a very scared couple of Koreans shout me away. I imagine they don’t get many white people knocking on their door of an average evening. I knocked on another house to no answer. I saw a big house on a hill which looked a bit like a deserted restaurant and pulled my bike up 100 steps to the door. A Korean lady came to the door but didn’t speak any English. I managed to get a phone signal so called my Airbnb host and asked the Korean lady to speak to her to explain where I was.

It turned out that the location of the Airbnb accommodation was about 20 miles away and it was in the wrong place on the Airbnb map. I was beginning to panic.

Not entirely sure what I was going to do, a group of customers appeared at the restaurant, including, it turned out, a local dignitary. I stopped one of them who spoke a little English. I don’t really know what happened next except within a couple of minutes, the man said he was sure the owner of the restaurant would let me stay there. He seemed pretty confident given he hadn’t yet asked her. But he was right. They invited me in, cooked me dinner in the restaurant and even gave me a beer. They showed me to an outhouse with a bed in and lots of quilts to keep me warm. They didn’t charge me anything. People are nice.

Despite the 80km ride I didn’t sleep particularly well and got up at first light to head back to Seoul. I decided to head back a slightly different way and experienced a cycle route which just ended and left me on a pretty scary road for a few miles. The guidebook advice was right. Cycling in Korea away from the cycle paths was pretty frightening so I was relieved to get back onto the cycle path and head towards Seoul.

Cycling back, the route was even more enjoyable than on the way. I stopped for a cheap but excellent spicy Korean stew before passing a pretty impressive dam and the Olympic Stadium on the way into Seoul.

Korea is a brilliant place to cycle and definitely not dull. The city seemed pretty polluted (and gridlocked) and I’m not sure I’d risk cycling along most of the roads I saw. But over two days I managed around 160km along some of the best cycle paths I’ve ever been on.

I hope I manage to get over there again and do the route all the way down to Busan.

Jan Boonstra:

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Parc du Cinquantenaire

A couple of days in Brussels and I had time for early morning runs in Parc du Cinquantenaire.

I did my longest run in a while and it felt relatively easy. There is a gentle uphill/downhill around the park which made for inconsistent lap pacing. There were lots of people out running even at 6am Brussels time.


The cost of long term care

This striking graph from the latest EU Ageing Report*1 highlights how the UK continues to spend a relatively small proportion of GDP on long term care (LTC).

It also highlights that, far from a demographic crisis in the long term costs of care, LTC costs as a percentage of GDP will increase in the UK by just 0.4% between 2015 and 2060.

What the data does not take account of however, is whether Government spending on care is adequate today, or indeed, whether it will be tomorrow.

We heard today from Age UK of a cost of almost £700m to the health service as a result of 2.5 million days of delayed discharge over the past five years *2.

So whilst there is some good news for the Treasury from the EU analysis, there is likely to be increasing pressure on Government to improve the quality of care as well as invest in prevention. Better integration of services could help hold back costs as can innovation in health and care.

Over the next five years we will start to see the return on recent financial and policy investment in integration. But the growing prevalence of serious illness amongst those aged over 80 and a growing ageing population will put pressures on budgets.*3

And as Age UK have highlighted today, squeezing social care is a false economy if it simply pushes up healthcare costs.

 David Sinclair

Also at

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Worthing 10k

I’ve had a bit of leg/ankle pain for the last 6 weeks which I’ve been struggling to lose. I’ve been going slow for the last month and I didn’t run at all in the 8 days before the Worthing 10k to see if resting would make a difference. It worked. I’ve still a few twinges but I managed to get through the run without any major pain.

And I managed a PB in the run after cycling over from East Preston.

10 about the Worthing 10
  • They gave away a new flavour of Lucozade (mango and passionfruit). It was good
  • Weather was too hot
  • But fortunately it wasn’t too too windy
  • The course is an out and back one. It goes along the seafront but the sea is out of site for much of the run.
  • I was beaten on the line by a women who I was behind for much of the race but who I took over in the last km. I’d have sprinted if I’d realised she was so close. (I do often try and keep up with someone else running at a similar pace to me)
  • They gave small bottles of water at half way
  • I got a medal. And no goody bag (in previous years I’m told they gave away mugs)
  • I found it easier than the Bognor 10k a few weeks earlier where the wind hit me hard for the last 5km and I completely lost energy
  • 10k is a nice distance for a run. 5k is basically run as fast as you can. 10k about a bit more stamina and getting pacing right is more important.
  • I’ve discovered Jointace Gel. Very good massage gel for joints and muscles.
  • I know I should start stretching after running. But I doubt I will. 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Are we killing with kindness?

Our places of work and play are encouraging inactivity, risking our future health argued Public Health England (PHE) (everybody active, everyday) earlier this month.

“The design of schools, public buildings and urban spaces prioritise convenience and speed ahead of walking or cycling. People sit all day in offices where it is often easier to find the lift than the stairs. Concerns about vandalism and maintenance have left public spaces without the benches and toilets that allow older or disabled people to venture out. Cars and other vehicles dominate, not the needs of pedestrians.”

The new report points to a strong and growing evidence base that proves that physical activity is good for us. Yet it also points out that lots of us aren’t doing enough of it. Almost half of all women and one third of men are damaging their health through a lack of physical activity. This physical inactivity is costing the UK around £7.4bn a year. In historic terms, we are now 20% less active than in 1961. Much of the evidence isn’t new but it is very useful having it in a single place.

Everybody active, everyday, is interesting in its emphasis on the importance of interventions across the lifecourse. PHE state that “Being active at every age increases quality of life and everyone’s chances of remaining healthy and independent”.

The report notes that “physical activity declines with age to the extent that by the age of 75 years only one in ten men and one in 20 women are active enough for good health”. At the other end of the age spectrum they PHE that “between 2008 and 2012, the proportion of children aged two to 15 years meeting recommended physical activity levels fell from 28% to 21% for boys and 19% to 16% for girls.”

The report argues that we need to “embed physical activity into the fabric of daily life, making it an easy, cost effective and ‘normal’ choice in every community in England”. They emphasise the importance of everyday activity (cycling and walking), active recreation and (to a lesser extent) sport.

PHE point to the potential of the move of public health to local authorities by highlighting the successes witnessed by Finland over the past 40 years:

“Once the world record holder for heart disease, Finland started a nationwide campaign for change 40 years ago. The government shifted money to local authorities, a move similar to the transfer of public health responsibilities to a local level in England. Authorities responded by creating heritage and conservation trails, building active outdoor play and exercise spaces, and encouraging sport at all levels, formal and informal. They developed innovative approaches for distinct groups, such as the elderly or the persistently hard-to-reach, that directly addressed their problems. Change has run across all age groups: young people, working age and older people are all much more active.”

ILC-UK will next month publish a new think-piece (Public health responses to an ageing society) which explores the extent to which local authorities are making the most of the new public health powers they have. Without a doubt, the new powers could provide a major opportunity.

But without breaking our own embargo, it is fair to say that we have yet to be convinced that local authorities are making the most of the potential. PHE mention the importance of public toilets in public spaces, for example, yet the new powers does not appear to have reversed this trend.

If we want people as active road users (cyclists/pedestrians), we need to ensure these spaces are safe. Older people remain disproportionately likely to be killed on the roads yet road safety doesn’t seem to have adequately hit the agenda of public health.

The focus within PHE on active environments is extremely important. As is their emphasis on interventions across the life-course. But do we need to go further? If local authorities are to make a difference in this area do they need more power to make a difference? Yes they need to encourage and inform, and yes planning needs to be more holistic. But perhaps they also need more powers to influence the environment which has contributed to such inactivity?

Much of the emphasis in the report is in encouraging ‘good’. But sadly there is little if any emphasis on whether we might need to ban ‘bad’. If we want to get people to get on a bike or walk to the shops, for example, we may need to reduce the reliance on the car. This is an area we need evidence. But it is also one where we need a grown up conversation which isn’t immediately shut down on the grounds of “personal freedom”.

David Sinclair

‘Public health responses to an ageing society’ will be published by ILC-UK on 17th November 2014.

Friday, 24 October 2014

7 lessons from the Missing Million

Yesterday we published our Missing Million report with the support of Prime and Business in the Community.

What did we find?

Involuntary unemployment is not the exclusive preserve of the young
  • Of the 3.3 million economically inactive people aged 50-64, approximately 1 million people have been made ‘involuntarily workless’
  • There are around 1.2 million people aged over 50 would be willing to work if the right opportunity arose

Older people don’t take jobs from the young
  • A higher proportion of older workers does not “crowd out” the labour market for younger workers. Our analysis shows that, on average, those local authorities that do well with regard to the employment of older workers also do well in terms of employing younger workers.

There is huge economic potential if we maximise labour market participation of older people
  • 26% of people aged 50-64 who are currently out of work would like to work – this rises to 45.8% of all those out of work aged 50-54.
  • 50-64 year olds account for 41% of the total number of people who are economically inactive aged 18-64 (as at Q1 2014).
  • If the skills and abilities of the 50-64 age group were fully utilised and the employment rate matched that of those in their 30s and 40s, UK GDP could be £88.4bn higher in 2014 (equivalent to an uplift of 5.6% of GDP).

Self-employment is an important source of work for older people
  • Self-employment accounts for 19.4% of all workers aged 50-64 and for 40.8% of all workers aged 65 and older.
  • The 50+ age group accounts for 42.9% of all self-employment in the UK and 2 million people.

Companies who don’t do more to support extended working lives could struggle to get the staff they need
  • The size of the UK’s workforce is likely to flat-line, projected to increase by just 4.5% over the next 20 years by comparison to an 18.2% rise over the last two decades.

We need to do more to prevent ill Health
  • Among those in their 50s, long term sickness is the cause of half of all inactivity put down to poor health amongst those aged 50-54 and nearly 40% amongst those aged 55-59.

We need to create more opportunities for older people to work flexibly
  • People over 50 want to see more flexible working options afforded to them, 15% even said they would even take less pay in order to work fewer hours – indicating that there is a large contingent of older workers who would like additional flexibility but who are locked into working long hours.

Ben Franklin presented a few slides at the launch event.

Let's get Britain building

There are perhaps not too many areas where the CBI, the Ready for Ageing Alliance, housebuilders and the Labour, Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives all agree.

But one of them is that we need to build more homes.

ILC-UK’s own analysis has revealed, for example, that just to keep up with demographic change, we need new homes built at the fastest rate since the 1970s.  

Some of these homes will need to be retirement homes. A new study published this month by Knight Frank has highlighted a “chronic shortage” of retirement homes. The organisation, which surveyed people over 55, found that 25% (4.4 million) would buy or rent in a retirement village.

In 2011 Professor Ball said that the UK has capacity to get to 16k units a year for owner-occupied retirement housing. In 2013 Demos argued that around 1 in 4 of the over 60s would consider retirement housing (similar to the Knight Frank percentage).

In the UK, just around 1% of us live in retirement housing. This compares with 17% in the US and 13% in Austria. Even if Knight Frank and others have overestimated demand, it is clear there is likely to be a shortage of new retirement housing.

So why isn’t it happening?. The recession has had a negative impact. There was not enough money around to build and not enough demand as inertia and other barriers prevented older people making the move. Planning remains a barrier.

But perhaps things are about to change? Glenigan have found for example that the number of retirement housing units awaiting planning consent is more than double the number currently being built. This either reflects an imminent increase in new schemes or a slow planning process. Possibly both.

McCarthy and Stone have recently announced plans to reach 3,000 units a year by 2018, having sold 1,667 in the year up to 31 August 2014.

EAC and McCarthy and Stone have provided ILC-UK with new data on the number of retirement housing schemes (1) completed since 2005. These figures reveal a fall up to 2010 and a subsequent increase. The total number of new properties remains a long way off the 2007 figure.

Units (properties) update October 2014

Year completed
McCarthy and Stone

It’s nice to see industry, charities, thinktanks and the three largest (2) political parties all agreeing. But whilst there is a consensus about need, making it happen seems a harder. Whilst the political parties advocate nationally, local MPs and Counsellors find reasons to object to housing. There is always somewhere better to put it (ideally someone else’s constituency).

And whilst the signs might look good, we have only built 200,000 homes in 4 out of the last 14 years. As our analysis showed, 200,000 is just enough to keep up with demographic change rather than address the current shortage. Even if we were to build 200,000, how do we increase the proportion of retirement housing as part of these numbers?

If we are to ensure the supply meets expectations, new housing (retirement and general needs) must be built according to the needs of an ageing society. We need lifetime homes standards, not a nonsense of “optional” age friendly standards for housing. If we don’t build the right homes, there will be limited incentive for older people to choose to rightsize and potentially free up bigger family homes.

Let’s get building. But let’s also build good stuff.

David Sinclair

Thanks to EAC and McCarthy and Stone for providing the new data.

1) UK numbers only include schemes that are staffed by something approximating to a traditional scheme/court manager. They therefore exclude developments that are simply age exclusive by virtue of planning consent. They are captured by year of completion, ie when people start to move in. The numbers includes schemes whose primary tenure is leasehold / freehold and the Scottish equivalent. There is likely to be some undercounting of (largely housing association) mixed tenure provision. EAC allocate all properties in a scheme to its dominant tenure.

2) In terms of Westminster Parliamentary seats