Social breakdown fuelling shocking levels of pensioner poverty and social isolation, warns leading think tank
Ministers must take radical steps to tackle looming crisis in social care
The new coalition Government has been urged to tackle shocking levels of poverty and social exclusion in older age in a new report from the independent Centre for Social Justice (CSJ).
Supported by Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.
Its landmark 250-page interim review, The Forgotten Age, outlines how loneliness, isolation and social breakdown have fuelled poverty in later life for millions of Britain’s pensioners for too long.
Although the report celebrates the fact people are living longer, and that many older citizens are “the heartbeat of volunteering and civic participation” in communities, it also exposes how too many face extreme challenges in terms of money, health, lifestyle, communities, housing and care.
As a result it says there is an unacceptably large group of older people that has been left behind, and is in danger of being forgotten, by the rest of society.
The CSJ is also highly critical of the way that the ageing debate, particularly in terms of social care, has descended into “undignified political squabbling” by political parties. It cites the anger and disappointment voiced by many older people consulted for the review.
The penetrating report also laments the previous Government’s failure to help older people in deep poverty, despite its rhetoric, significant financial investment and a sustained period of record economic growth.
In a rallying call to new ministers, the report also reveals the damage of a “planning apathy” within society that leads many younger people to fail to make financial and other preparations for later life.
The CSJ warns that the number of older people in the UK in need of care and support is expected to soar by 1.7 million over the next 20 years and that the number with dementia could double in 30 years.
It warns that this changing demographic pattern poses “significant social and economic challenges”. The report declares: “This constitutes the most serious social policy issue in decades.”
The report identifies two key threats to the well-being of the elderly that, unless tackled imaginatively and radically, will inflict poverty and suffering on even more pensioners.
The first is the looming crisis in social care where demand is set to rise sharply against the background of continuing public spending constraints, the absence of any clear policy remedy from government and a projected severe fall in the number of unpaid carers currently looking after millions of vulnerable old people.
Second, a ripple effect from high and rising levels of family breakdown is impacting the old as well as the young, meaning that in the future fewer old people will have adult children and spouses and partners to turn to when they need help with the simple essentials of everyday life, such as washing, dressing, travelling to the shops and cooking.
The Older Age Review’s Chairman, Sara McKee, says the report?s aim is to champion the contribution of pensioners to the country and to generate a cultural shift in which Britain abandons its fixation with youth and comes to appreciate and celebrate their place in society.
“Debates about ageing in the UK tend to focus on the negative aspects of life in retirement. Our group determined from the review?s outset that older age is something to celebrate and enjoy.”
Gavin Poole, Executive Director of the CSJ, hopes the report will galvanise the new Government into action.
“Poverty and social exclusion in later life remain unacceptably high for a society as relatively prosperous as ours. One in five pensioners lives below the official poverty line. Although ministers are rightly working to deal with our economic deficit, this report reveals there is a social deficit which also needs tackling.”
“The ‘pathways to poverty’ we identified in Breakthrough Britain all extend into older age. The scars of a drug or alcohol addiction will be worn throughout older age in terms of finances and health; the breakdown of a family creates a fragmentation of a potential care and support system for its oldest members; a lifetime of economic dependency translates to a lack of stability and security.”
A glaring example of this devastating social breakdown is family breakdown – now impacting the old. High rates of divorce and the collapse of long-standing cohabiting relationships are weakening the bonds between pensioners and their children, meaning that fewer are able or willing to care for their ageing parents as they encounter the physical and emotional strains of their later years.
The immediate impact has been a spectacular rise in the burden on Britain?s 6 million-strong army of unpaid carers who are currently delivering an effective subsidy to the public purse of nearly £90 billion a year.
In less than a decade, the workload of the most active carers has doubled with more than a fifth providing 50 hours or more care a week.
The report says: “Though the effects of family breakdown are only just beginning to be understood, its impact on care for the older people is a reality (we) have not been able to ignore.
“Family breakdown has led to a significant cultural shift affecting the willingness of many family members to provide care.”
“Fewer family members available or willing to care means that the burden falls more heavily on the primary carer, be they spouse or adult child.”
In previous reports, the CSJ has identified family breakdown as one of the five key drivers of poverty and has called for tax breaks, welfare reform and legal changes to support marriage.
The new report is to be launched at an event at the St Martin?s Hall, St Martin?s-in-the-Fields at 11 am on Tuesday November 23 by Gavin Poole, the CSJ director, Sara McKee, the Chairman of the CSJ Older Age Working Group and Chief Operating Officer of the Anchor Trust, Steve Webb, Minister of State for Pensions at the Department of Work and Pensions, and Mo Smith, chairman of the trustees at Regenerate Rise.
The final report from the CSJ Older Age Working Group, due next year, will set out detailed policy recommendations.
Key findings from the report include:
- One in four boys and one in three girls born today will now live to 100.
- Between now and 2033 the median age in the UK will rise from 39.3 years to 42.2 years and the gap between the number of under 16 year olds and people of pensionable age widen rapidly.
- By the year 2024 one in five people will be of pensionable age: a 32 per cent increase.
Pensioner poverty and social breakdown
- One in five pensioners in the UK lives below the poverty line.
- The Basic State Pension (BSP), with minimum income guarantee or pension credit, is the sole means of support for a third of pensioners in the UK.
Loneliness and social exclusion
- Almost one in ten people aged 65 and over report regularly or always feeling lonely.
- Many also face social exclusion; in particular, those over 80 years old, those who have never been married or who have experienced family breakdown, and those who live on low incomes.
- A recent study calculated the number of malnourished older people at three million. Furthermore, a recent survey found just under a third of care home residents were malnourished.
- Older people dominate the number of alcohol-related hospital admissions each year and people aged 65 and over are the most likely age group to drink every day.
- Approximately one person in ten between the age of 65 and 74 was a victim of crime on one or more occasions last year. For those 75 years old and over it was approximately eight per cent.
- Almost two-thirds of pensioners living below the income poverty line are outright home owners and a third rent.
- Three quarters of a million older people need specially adapted accommodation. Their quality of life would seriously deteriorate if they were to have a fall.
- Approximately 2.5 million older people in the UK have a care need and almost half of those aged 75 and over have a disability.
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NOTES TO EDITORS
The Centre for Social Justice is an independent think tank established, by Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP in 2004, to seek effective solutions to the poverty that blights parts of Britain.
In July 2007 the group published Breakthrough Britain. Ending the Costs of Social Breakdown. The paper presented over 190 policy proposals aimed at ending the growing social divide in Britain.
The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP stood down as Chairman of the Centre on his appointment as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in May 2010 and is now the Founder and Patron.