Today’s report from the IPPR think tank paints a worrying picture for British society. In the next three years, the report estimates, the number of elderly people needing to be cared for at home will exceed the number of adult children or other relatives able to care for them.
There are about 1.2 million people over 65 in the UK, 800,000 of whom may be in need of care by 2017, including 20,000 with no family to care for them. By 2030 this could climb to 2 million over 65s, around 230,000 of whom will be in need of more than 20 hours’ care a week and will have no informal support.
Informal care from family, friends and neighbours is reckoned to be saving the NHS and social services billions each year, and even then a falling proportion of the over 65s are getting that care. The Baby Boomer Generation are now retiring, but the generations that followed are much smaller in number as family sizes have shrunk and social and geographical mobility have broken up traditional patterns of familial support. The Boomer generation are also likely to live longer and need more care in the long run than any generation before.
This is nothing new – we have blogged on this before, and since the Dilnot Report of 2011, it has been on the political agenda in a big way, as Parliament has woken up to the fact we are sitting on a social care crisis that is only going to deepen over the coming decades.
There is a definite need to change our structural and funding approaches to care – a King’s Fund Review is already suggesting we de-segregate health and social care budgets; the IPPR report is recommending single care coordinators, and joining care of the very young and the old together rather than keeping them separate. Local community social networks are also being seen as key to helping maintain independence and pick up health and social care needs before they hit crisis point. And of course, we will need to find new ways of funding this expanding care need – all with a shrinking tax base!
These social changes and policy changes are going to have to happen, and we need to hold the government and legislatures to account to make sure there is some radical thinking and action taken. But we also need to own up to our own responsibilities here. The Boomer Generation was shaped by the invention of the ‘teenager’ in the 50s. Mostly a marketing category cashing in on the fact that more young adults had money to spend than ever before. Out of that grew not only a new youth culture, but a wider cultural obsession with everything new and young, and a concomitant mentalhealthdrugs ativan devaluation and marginalisation of everything old.
At the same time, as this generation has aged, they have continued to prosper – becoming property owners profiting from rapidly rising house prices, looking forward to good final salary pension funds, enjoying the benefits of free healthcare and strong social security nets. The generations before them, and the generations following on have not been so fortunate. The current generation of young adults face unaffordable house prices, failing social security nets, high unemployment (and even fewer jobs offering long term career prospects and job security), and poor pension opportunities. In short, the social contract that one generation bequeaths to the next has broken down. Our children and grandchildren will be poorer than us, have less social mobility, fewer choices in life and may even face poorer health and shorter life spans.
There is a huge challenge that the church must rise to in all of this. We have a lot to contribute to creating social networks for the elderly in the community – from drop in centres, domiciliary pastoral care (including Parish Nursing), to creating communities where young and old interact and support one another. So many churches already do this, without seeing it as a big deal. But at the same time the church too has become youth obsessed, seeing (rightly) that investing in the next generation is vital to our future, but often at the expense of neglecting the older generations (who make up the majority of most congregations). We need to challenge the wider culture’s youth obsession and the inter-generational conflict that, at least in the media, is beginning to stir up so much anxiety and resentment.
We are enjoined by the Bible to be burdensome to one another – being a burden is not a curse, but part of the very nature of what it is to be human. Not independent, autonomous individuals fighting our way through the world, but interdependent people living in communities that are stronger than the sum of our parts, working together with God to see his kingdom come to life in our midst. We are enjoined again and again to care for each other respect each other across generations.
We need to see that the old and young are not just a burden, but people with much to contribute. We share our burdens, learn from and grow stronger together, rather than writing each other off. Those who are now cared for as children will become carers themselves, and one day will again be cared for, so we need to build that mutual respect and care across the generations now.
The church cannot solve this crisis, but we must be part of the solution.