Government is ‘woefully underprepared’ to cope with rapidly ageing population

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The Government is “woefully underprepared” for the consequences of a rapidly ageing society in England, a House of Lords committee has warned.

In a report, the cross-party committee cited figures from the Office for National Statistics which predict a 50 per cent rise in the number of over-65s and a doubling in over-85s between 2010 and 2030.

East Northamptonshire has been highlighted as an area which will see one of the largest increases in the number of elderly people by 2030 with an 83.1 per cent rise expected.

While agreeing that longer life is a “gift” to be welcomed, the committee said that unless the Government acts swiftly, it can be expected to cause “a series of crises” in society and public services.

The report called on the Government to publish a white paper before the 2015 general election setting out how England needs to prepare for an older population.

And it said that whichever party is in power after the election should set up two cross-party commissions to report within a year on action to be taken to get ready for an older society.

One commission should work with employers and financial services providers to improve pensions, savings and equity release schemes, while the other should look at organisational and funding changes needed in the health and social care system.

Health and social care services will need a “radically different model” to look after people in their own homes and in the community and avoid needless hospital admissions, said the report.

The committee said that the current NHS and care system is already “failing” older people and is “inappropriate” to deal with the expected large increase in elderly people, a sizeable proportion of whom will have long-term health conditions.

And it warned that for many people, a longer life will worsen the existing problems of insufficient savings and pensions.

The committee recommended that the elderly should be able to carry on working for longer, with a gradual move into part-time employment replacing the current system of “cliff-edge” retirement at a particular age.

The Government should work with the financial services industry to tackle defects in defined contribution pensions so people understand better what income they can expect in retirement. And official support should be given to the development of the equity release market, to allow home-owners to use their property assets to support themselves in old age.

Lord Filkin, chairman of the Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change, said: “As a country we are not ready for the rapid ageing of our population. By 2030, England will have double the number of people aged 85 and over than it had in 2010, and the large increase in our older population will have profound effects.

“The amazing gift of longer life is to be welcomed, but our society and politicians need to address the implications, and the changes needed to attitudes, policies and services so people are best able to benefit from it.

“This is not a distant issue; our population is older now and will get more so over the next decade. The public are entitled to an honest conversation about the implications.”

A Government spokesman said: “We already have an ambitious programme in place across Government to understand and better meet the needs of an ageing population.

“It is essential that we reform our public services so they can cater for changing demand and are sustainable in the longer-term. We are making radical changes to our pension system to encourage more people to save for their retirement. We welcome the Committee’s report, and will consider its recommendations.”

ONS figures suggest that the East Midlands will be the region seeing the largest increase in elderly people, with numbers of over-65s rising from 768,5000 in 2010 to 1.2 million in 2030 - a rise of 58% - while over-85s will increase from 102,500 to 213,500 (up 108.3%) over the same period.

Local areas expecting the largest increases in over-85s by 2030 are Tamworth (up 175%), Lichfield and Rutland (both 172.7%), Wokingham (172.4%), South Staffordshire (166.7%), East Cambridgeshire (163.2%), Hart (161.1%) Castle Point (160.9%) Maldon (160%) and Surrey Heath (158.8%).

Biggest rises in populations of over-65s by 2030 are expected in Milton Keynes (up 108.1%), South Northamptonshire (86.8%), Daventry (86.6%), Bracknell Forest (83.9%), City of London (83.3%), East Northamptonshire (83.1%), Harborough (82.6%), South Derbyshire (80.8%), Mid-Suffolk (80.7%) and Selby (80.3%).

A Government spokesman said there was already an ambitious programme in place to understand and better meet the needs of an ageing population.

“It is essential that we reform our public services so they can cater for changing demand and are sustainable in the longer-term. We are making radical changes to our pension system to encourage more people to save for their retirement,” the spokesman said.