The needs of elderly people have been on the political radar this week. 10 million Britons are over 65 and the number is expected to rise to 19 million, or one in four, by 2050.
Within these statistics those over 80 are expected to double. However, the reliability of these projections is questioned in light of an unexpected increase in the death rate in the past year. 23,400 more people died than in previous years and many of them were pensioners. No explanation of this has yet been offered. A mystery virus or cuts in council care services are possibilities but it may simply be that we have reached a plateau in life expectancy.
Nevertheless, politicians are now asking how prepared the Government and society is to cope with an ageing population. This relates to the quality and funding of health, housing, social care and pensions so it cuts across at least four Whitehall departments. 65% of the Work and Pensions budget goes to people over working age and they also need twice as much of NHS expenditure than younger people. An average of two wards in every hospital is occupied by elderly patients who cannot be discharged because there is nowhere else for them to go. They may have special needs. Some stroke victims need stair lifts. Those in wheelchairs need everything at their level and no stairs to climb. With this in mind the Department of Health has allocated funds to build 3,544 new affordable and supportive homes that meet these needs. It is a start.
An adequate governmental response requires high levels of inter-departmental coordination. It also needs a growing slice of tax payers’ money. 78% of the over 85’s report poor health and pain preventing them from coping on their own. 81% rely primarily on their families but 13% seem to have no family or friends. Three quarters of over 85’s are relatively satisfied with life but the rest are not. So who is responsible to provide the caring support that enables every elderly person to grow old with dignity and enjoy their final years in this life?
There are four potential contributors. The first is obviously the individual themself through paying taxes, saving in a personal pension plan and intelligently preparing for old age. The second is their family if they have one that is able to help. This will depend to some extent on location but some employers like banks, supermarkets and Government departments operating nationwide may allow relocation. Their capacity to help financially will depend on their income and other priority commitments. The third contributor is government, central, local and NHS, which inevitably includes taxpayers. Finally, the local community including churches and friendly neighbours can help with relational and practical kindness. Civilised cultures respect their senior citizens but our individualistic and youth orientated culture struggles to do this. Christians will surely want to differ from that and show respect for the elderly as they revere God (Lev 19:32).