We shouldn't avoid preparing for old age

One in six in the UK is a pensioner, and within a decade, half the UK population will be over 50 - the cost of care provision is a subject that is only going to be more pressing

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The Independent Online

Last week I wrote about my cousin having a heart attack, aged 56. Thankfully, he is on the mend after two angioplasties. Thanks to the great staff at both Mayday Hospital in Croydon, and King’s College in Herne Hill, and to those who have wished us well.

We met up, Paolo and I, with the rest of our family at my indomitable Ma’s 83rd birthday lunch at the weekend. We also celebrated my elder daughter Holly’s forthcoming 18th. 18! How on earth…?

The chances are that Holly, with a fair wind and touching lots of wood, will make it to 83 too. As will her sister, Lara, also 17 this week. Life expectancy is increasing exponentially. It is currently 81.5 years (ONS 2012), up from 77 when Holly was born (1996) and an astonishing whole decade better than in 1964, the year of my birth. The gap between women (82.5) and men (79.5) is closing.

The concept of “three score years and ten” is now almost as outmoded as the language. But, are we, as a society, prepared for this seismic change? The Queen is going to have repetitive strain injury, the way the number of centurions expecting a letter is going.

My girls’ great-grandmother will be 100 later this month. Mary was in remarkable health until relatively recently; driving and socialising into her 90s. In the last three years, her deteriorating physical health has necessitated a full-time live-in carer. We know she is one of the lucky ones.

In Italy and America, branches of my family have been stretched to breaking point by tough decisions on what type of care to provide for our elders, at what cost, and how it would be paid for. We are not alone.

The average UK care home cost is now £28,500+ (2013). That’s more than double the average pensioner’s income. And, of course. that is the national average. It rises to £32,000+ in the South East!

With the 2011 Census telling us one in six in the UK is already a pensioner, and surveys suggesting that within a decade, 50% of the UK population will be 50+, the cost of care provision is a subject that is only going to be more pressing.

It should be very much front of mind amid all this talk of next year’s changes to pensions and annuities announced in the last budget, - and then there’s the proposal to scrap the “death tax” on inherited pensions announced by David Cameron last week.

Why am I telling you this? Like I said, recent family events plus my own upcoming 50th have forced me to address all this “stuff” for the first time. There is no avoiding it, there are several tricky conversations to be had between generations: putting houses in trust; seeking power of attorney, wills and planning for both care and funerals, and their respective costs to name but a few. That’s the half of it.

But, so much better to take the pain in the form of awkward conversations and lots of paperwork now, rather than leaving it until tragedy strikes. Trust me, on this one I write from personal experience. Let’s not be repressedly British about it: take your head out of the sand, and talk to your loved ones.  Before it’s too late!

Stefano Hatfield is editor in-chief of High50

Twitter.com: @stefanohat