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The startling figures of our ageing population

The population of the UK has aged dramatically over the past half century or more.
Lifestyle and working conditions are significantly better than a generation or two ago, more people are more active well into their retirement years, and as a consequence are living longer. But as individuals age, into their 80s and 90s, they become increasingly reliant on medical and social care services and the support of family and friends. 

The increased burden of an ageing population on the NHS, GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes has been well-documented against a backdrop of cuts in council spending and the health service being required to make savings. 

With longevity comes other issues that place demands on the care system; the number of people living with dementia is rising to a forecast 1.4 million by 2030; the weather has an impact with an estimated 28,000 older people in the UK dying of cold in the winter; 1.6 million older people live below the accepted poverty line and four in 10 single pensioners have savings of less than £1,500.

Many older people are also lonely – a factor which directly impacts on wellbeing – with almost half aged 75 or over living alone with minimal contact with family, friends or neighbours.

Yet it is analysis of the demographic data which truly illustrates how that impacts on social care and what the future may hold. The population of the UK is soon to hit 65 million and one in every six people (some 10 million) is currently aged 65 and over. That is an 80% increase since 1951 and over the last 60-plus years there has been a substantial change in the age composition of older people.

In 1951, those aged 65-74 represented 67% of the 65 and over population. Now, that is 51% of that age bracket, with more people living beyond the age of 75 and into their 80s and 90s, with older women outnumbering men. 

Life expectancy in the UK is 78.5 years for men and 82.6 years for women but that could rise to 83.3 for men and 87 for women by 2035. Older women are more likely to live alone than men but women living longer are more likely to spend their later years in poor health.

The population is forecast to reach 73 million by 2035, with some two million of the over 65s having no children to look after them, adding extra burden on care services. In addition, some experts suggest that by 2058 every other child born today is likely to live beyond 100. 

These stark statistics form the backdrop to the Care Act 2014, seen as “the most significant reform of care and support in more than 60 years, putting people and their carers in control of their care and support,” according to Care and Support Minister Norman Lamb. 

It is, however, an Act which gives clarity to care provision, creating a “single, modern law that makes it clear what kind of care people should expect” and what it could cost them. 

The Care Act

The first element of the Care Act comes into force in April, a month before the General Election of May 7. However, the funding reforms will not be introduced until April 2016. Significantly, this will see a cap placed on the amount people have to spend on the care they need, regardless of how much they have in savings or assets. Once that cap of £72,000 is reached, the state will pay those costs.

A minimum eligibility threshold will be introduced across the country, which makes it clear when local authorities will have to provide support to people rather than local authorities being able to decide this threshold themselves. This will mean councils will not be allowed to tighten their thresholds beyond this minimum threshold, giving those who are eligible peace of mind that they won’t have their care taken away from them because of changes to the criteria.

Councils will have a duty to consider the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of the individual needing care with the new legislation emphasising the concept of personal care.
The Care Act legislates for Personal Budgets and will give people the power to spend money on tailored care that suits their individual needs as part of their support plan. 

The means testing level has also changed meaning government help kicks in earlier than before and those with modest wealth will be eligible for state help towards that cap when the system comes into force from April 2016. 

Every council will have to offer a deferred payment scheme, meaning no one should be forced to sell their home during their lifetime to pay for their residential care. 

The Act, however, isn’t just about those who receive care; it gives carers new rights to support in a move that puts them on the same footing as the people they care for. Currently, local authorities aren’t required to provide support to carers but under the new legislation all carers will be entitled to an assessment and if they are eligible for support for particular needs, they will have a legal right to receive support. 

Even those in need of care who are ineligible for state funding can receive information and advice from their local council on making their own arrangements with equivalent rights to be introduced for carers.

Yet what has also emerged, amidst the data surrounding an ageing population, is that older people value their democratic right to vote, moreso than their younger counterparts.

At the last General Election in 2010, as many as 76% of all people aged 65 or over registered a preference, compared to just 44% of those aged 18-24. Seemingly it is the older population who, according to voting data analysis, could have the most impact on the result – a fact that politicians will be acutely aware of. 

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