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.
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.
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.