Editorial: Time for a full review of the needs of the elderly

Responses to demographic change have been piecemeal and badly co-ordinated

Share

The picture of Britain painted by the Census is unequivocal: not only are we more diverse than ever before, we are also older. There are now more than 10 million people over the age of 65, the proportion of the population that is 85-plus has shot up by nearly a quarter in a single decade, and the trend is only accelerating.

Warnings of a "demographic time bomb" are far from new. But despite the dire predictions of ever-rising numbers of the elderly relying on a dwindling cohort of working-age adults, so far all attempts to deal with the consequences have been piecemeal, unco-ordinated or simply put off. That so many people are living longer should be celebrated not bemoaned, and the tendency to cast the elderly as a burden is as misleading as it is offensive. But the issues raised by a change in Britain's age balance are complicated ones.

The Dilnot review of social care funding is a case in point. While the proposals to cap the amount an individual must pay met with broad agreement among politicians and experts alike, progress towards a firm policy has been glacially slow. There are now hints of an imminent deal, but with a price tag approaching £1bn it is unclear where the austerity-racked Treasury will find the money. Nor is that the only demographic black hole in the public finances. There are also the Government's yawning pension liabilities to consider. The Coalition has made a start, instituting controversial plans to crimp public sector entitlements, streamline state pensions and raise the retirement age; but such plans are far from a solution.

Nor do the problems of an ageing population begin and end with cost. The inadequacy of our institutions is no less of a challenge. Looking after the elderly requires a mix of social care and health services; as things stand, however, it is split between local councils and NHS bodies that are often incoherent and may not even cover the same geographical area.

Meanwhile, the NHS is struggling to treat rising numbers of age-related, chronic complaints, such as diabetes, in a system centred on district hospitals and designed to cater for the acutely ill. There has long been talk of a new-look NHS, with more specialist clinics and lots of domiciliary care; but progress is, again, so slow as to be almost imperceptible.

Individually such changes are tricky enough. But there is a broader issue here. An older Britain requires an across-the-board rethink of many of the basic services of the state. Yet different institutions – councils, the Treasury, the NHS – continue to pursue what reform agendas they have in isolation from one another. We cannot afford to continue in so haphazard a manner. What is required is a wide-ranging review of Britain's changing demography and its implications. That means cutting across the public sector's organisational silos, setting out full estimates of the changing profile of the Exchequer's finances, and considering everything from medical research priorities to the suitability of existing housing stock to future demands on public transport.

It also means tackling social prejudice. There may be more old people than ever, but they are too often sidelined, neglected or even abused. Not only are such attitudes shameful in themselves, they also raise practical problems. Raising the retirement age, for example, is only feasible if older people can work. Yet entrenched ageism leaves even those in their mid-50s often struggling to overcome the assumption that they are on the employment scrapheap.

It is a characteristically youthful blindness to assume old age to be a phenomenon that only affects other people. The Census may only have confirmed what we already knew about British society. But it is still a stark admonition to grow up and get our affairs in order.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Nursery assistants required in Cambridgeshire

£10000 - £15000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Nursery assistants re...

History Teacher

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Cover Supervisors Urgently Required In Knowsley **

£60 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Seconda...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Photo issued by Flinders University of an artist's impression of a Microbrachius dicki mating scene  

One look at us Scots is enough to show how it was our fishy ancestors who invented sex

Donald MacInnes
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp  

Oscar Pistorius sentence: Judge Masipa might have shown mercy, but she has delivered perfect justice

Chris Maume
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album