“The population of the UK is ageing” this is according to the Office for National Statistics; with birth and fertility rates dropping due to women leaving it until later in life to have children and life expectancy going up, due to improved living conditions and advances in medicines, we are becoming a ‘grey nation‘.
In the years following World War II, a period of rapid population growth and social change occurred between 1946 and 1964; with 17 million births recorded, the baby boomers are now coming of age and heading towards retirement.
By 2009 the population aged 65 and over had grown by 1% compared with 1984. Not very much you may say, but in real terms this equates to an increase of 1.7 million people. During the same period, the percentage of the population aged below 16 decreased from 21% to 19%. With the trend continuing, the projection for 2034 is that 23% of the population will be aged over 65 with just 18% under 16.
The greatest increase is amongst those aged 85+ with around 660,000 in the UK in 1984 that doubled in size to 1.4 million by 2009. This figure is likely to increase to 3.5 million by 2034.
You may think ‘these are just numbers, it makes no difference, that’s all part of life’ but our aging population is unparalleled in the history of mankind and the implications of this demographic time bomb will have an impact on everyone’s future.
There are two areas for concern: financial and medical.
In 2004 the dependency ratio of working age people (aged 20-64) to those aged 65 and over was approximately 4:1. By 2056 this ratio is predicted to fall to 2:1.
It’s not rocket science to understand the consequences of this drop in the working population.
This quantity of non working people will put a far greater demand on the working age population, with higher taxes likely to maintain a stable flow of benefits to the older groups and to pay the costs of caring for the elderly which is generally much higher than that of supporting the young.
The coming generation of over 65’s can no longer rely on the state pension to support their financial needs and whilst there has for some years been a drive to finance private pensions plans, many of these plans are either facing crises themselves or are going to fall short of the predicted payouts that people were expecting.
There are essentially three ways for the ageing population to prepare:
- Lower consumption during working life i.e. save more or pay more tax
- Lower consumption during retirement i.e. more frugality
- Work for longer i.e. raise age of retirement
A difficult choice, but to make no choice is not an option.
The other area of concern is that of health care; when Aneurin Bevan set up the NHS in 1948 he asked ministers and doctors to “take pride in the fact that, despite our financial and economic anxieties, we are still able to do the most civilised thing in the world: put the welfare of the sick in front of every other consideration”.
Bevan’s vision was that everyone should have unhindered access to complete medical care “from the cradle to the grave”. What he also banked on was that demand for the service would decline as illnesses were cured.
It was a grand and admirable attempt to take care of the nation’s health, however not only is the money to finance the service now running short, but due to the improvements in medicines, whilst people are living longer, they are now facing the prospect of suffering from many of the diseases associated with old age, a situation that Bevan could not have foreseen.
75% of NHS patients are aged over 65 and Age UK predicts a big rise in cancers, coronary heart disease, diabetes, dementia and other age related illnesses that half a century ago did not figure so highly due to our shorter lifespan.
There has been a marked increase in the number of dementia and Alzheimer’s being reported; Age UK has found that there are over 800,000 people aged 65 and over in the UK with dementia and whilst there are methods to slow the progression of the illness, there is no cure.
I’m afraid there is no escaping the fact that unlike Peter Pan, we all face old age but whilst the statistics make depressing reading, our future doesn’t have to be such a bleak prospect.
If we plan our finances sensibly and realistically, future plans and dreams need not be scuppered and if we treat our minds and bodies with respect i.e. healthy diet and exercise, then we can better control the ravages of time; and contrary to the younger generation’s belief, with age comes years of experience and knowledge that can be of great value to everyone.
‘Wisdom outweighs any wealth’ Sophocles
Age Concern and Help the Aged organisations have combined forces to create Age UK and their vision is “to have a world in which older people flourish”. You can find out more about their work and activities here: www.ageuk.org.uk/health-wellbeing.
They also have a blog you can follow that details all the latest developments: ageukblog.org.uk.