“Time spent frail in old age doubles”

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Our last years may not be easy


A Newcastle University study, suggests that elderly people are getting frail for longer as they reach the final years of their life. According to the Seed project men spent 2.4 years on average needing regular care and women three years.  This includes everything from help with washing and dressing each day to round-the-clock care.


Dying is the easy bit.

As I’ve noted before on this blog, we find the concept of death and its consequences manageable. We can talk about it easily and we plan for it financially through life insurance, funeral plans and inheritance tax schemes.

But neither individually or collectively, are we getting our heads round the planning we need to meet the costs of this likely frailty. The study, which you can read here, draws on data from two major UK research projects in 1991 and 2011 and looks at more recent data that suggests that capacity to deal with the physically and mentally frail has recently fallen in absolute terms.

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publishes this research


Meanwhile demand for help is rapidly increasing so that by 2025 there will be another 350,000 people with high care needs.

Clearly this means we will need more residential care homes, better ways to look after the frail in their own homes and a great deal of money to fund the strain not just on social and residential care, but the NHS.

This is the secret side of growing old and the one that they don’t talk about in the retirement planning brochures. This is as far away from Saga holidays as you can get, but the fear of not being provided for is a big elephant clunking around at the back of older people’s head.

Dying is the easy bit, it’s the getting there we worry most about.

Financial solutions

The last Government , to its credit, tried to confront us with the unpalatable truth about the cost of meeting this challenge. For political reasons the Government backed down from its manifesto pledge to ask those at the point of need, to accept the majority of the financial burden. This was politically unacceptable as it seems there was an imputed mortgage on the elderly’s property by a younger generation who considered this a first charge.

But if we are to regard ourselves as having rights of inheritance , we must also accept we have liabilities to do with dependence. The independence of those who become too frail to look after themselves is lost. Who assumes the role of carer? Assuming we are not so callous as to abandon our elderly, there must be an alignment between those who stand to gain from inheritance and those who bear the pain of dependence. In short, I believe that people of my generation (I am 55) have a direct obligation to help those who are losing their independence (my parents may be a case in point).

This financial obligation extends beyond money, it is very much a demand on time. It is one thing to assume the problem can be outsourced through financial payments to care homes or the employment of home carers; but it is another to wash your hands of the very real need for care and attention that elderly people have for those who they have nurtured.

I struggle with these issues as they impact not just on my finances but on my lifestyle; I think very little is made of these important issues when we make our financial plans.

If we continue individually and collectively to duck the issues, we will find ourselves – like ostriches with their head in the sand, unable to cope with the impending threats to our well-being.

Engagement is the solution

Dealing with the problems surrounding increasing frailty cannot be done by pretending it doesn’t exist. Well done the people behind this study. This study should remind us individually and collectively that we cannot carry on kicking these issues down the road.

The Government decided to back down on its tough stance on funding, much to my regret. I suspect – in retrospect – they know they would have been better – stronger.

They now have a wafer thin hold on political power and may consider this issue just too hard. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be putting pressure on it – to return to the reality this report talks of.

Actually – the Government can only really act on the financial implications of the evident problem, if we pay the issue urgent attention.

Thanks for reading this blog- that’s what you have just done.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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5 Responses to “Time spent frail in old age doubles”

  1. Adrian Boulding says:

    Maybe we need a long term care task force?

    I agree with you Henry that a minority Government is not well placed to tackle the issue but it cries out for the skills that our industry has.



  2. henry tapper says:

    Very well put – and precisely right – Adrian

  3. Con Keating says:

    This problem is real and clearly likely to grow. I have first hand experience of it – my nanny spent her last eight years in a care home because we could not care adequately for her within the family – she had severe dementia. I also spent the last three years of his life living with and caring for my father. It seems to me that the scale and cost of this is well beyond the means of most. For me, that is an overwhelming argument for the creation of a National Care Service. Apart from anything else, as a complement to the NHS, it would remove some significant pressures from the NHS.

  4. Ian Neale says:

    I agree this is a crucial issue which is not going to be resolved by politicians alone. In less atomised societies the issue hardly arises: it is assumed that younger people take responsibility for the care of the elderly. The disintegration of the UK over the past 40 years makes the achievement of consensus on any issue challenging, and inter-generational issues more so. But we must advocate a start. I have argued for the creation of a Later Life Commission, to develop long-term policy integrating financial and healthcare provision for the post-employment phase of life. We need to engage with the difficulties of a more hoiistic approach.

  5. nigelbarlow1 says:

    Interesting article, Henry, highlighting the wide range of factors affecting care needs provision. Newcastle University has supported a lot of valuable research into issues around ageing. Numerous committees and consultations have reported on care and its funding but little progress has been made as governments have been unwilling or unable to do anything due to the sensitivities, political and personal. In elections in 2010 and 2017 both major parties, alternately, shamelessly exploited peoples’ fear/greed to stifle debate or action.

    Aside from immediate and deferred needs annuities, the financial services industry has proved unable to develop products that will both provide reasonable cover for care needs AND prove attractive to customers. It would be interesting to see how those insurers providing cover via protection and critical illness policies are faring.

    Pension freedoms, if used unwisely will reduce the funds or income people have available to help pay for their care and smaller families render the task of looking after parents more difficult. Absent an all-encompassing (and probably expensive) national care solution, savings and investments, including your home, will be required to cover the cost and arguments about rights to an inheritance or payment via the tax system will continue to rage.

    I wonder if another commission will have any more success in driving progress or will it all end up in the long grass? Clearly elections are not the time to introduce discussions about care of the elderly. Unless another government with a strong majority (as you hint) will grasp the nettle, people will remain unsure and fail to take action.

    It would be useful to share your article in the LinkedIn Society of Later Life Advisers group to obtain comment from expert advisers dealing with these issues daily.

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