Nicola Hill - The demographic Time Bomb

Diffusing the demographic time bomb

Nicola Hill, former Health Editor at Sky News,

takes a look at caring for an older population, a clear challenge in Richmond.


How many of you reading this are juggling caring for elderly parents with raising young children? Perhaps you are struggling to find qualified and reliable support for older members of your family, or well-run care homes with daily activities designed to stimulate and entertain.

Despite an ageing population and the rising number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, there is a major shortage of care on every level. No-where is the aging demographic more evident than in Richmond.

Those of us living in the Borough will have recently received our new council tax bills and may have noticed a precept to fund adult social care. Since we live in an ‘ageing borough’ and the council’s highest spend is on social care this explains the need for an increase in local tax.

Surrey Council threw the spotlight onto the problem when it threatened to hold a local referendum to see if it could raise council tax by a whopping 15% to fund adult social care. Seen as a bold political move, it eventually backed down after receiving re-assurances from the government that it would move quickly to tackle the crisis.

We are living longer and the burden of care is an unavoidable challenge that will only grow over the following decades.

Richmond may already have an older than average population but this is a nationwide trend and needs a nationwide solution; according to the chair of the Local Government Association, social care will be underfunded to the tune of £2.6bn by 2020. Many private care homes have closed down: According to the Care Quality Commission, the number of care homes in England has fallen from 18,068 in September 2010 to 16,614 in July last year. And the number of companies providing care at home has also fallen.

We need to prioritise the matter, making it a top concern. A friend of mine, a former Queen’s Nurse, set up such a company 25 years ago. But the introduction of the national living wage, and local authorities’ inability to pay higher fees meant her business was no longer viable and so 120 people lost their jobs and the elderly they cared for had to seek support elsewhere. Certainly, there was a lack of intuitive thinking in this case.

The devastating effect on the care provided for older people has a major impact on our hugely over-stretched NHS.

The Government hates the term bed blocking, but that is exactly what is happening; many elderly people who no longer need to be in hospital cannot be allowed home as there is no package of social care support available for them. It means longer waits in A&E for all of us and few hospital beds available at the end of the line.

There are more news stories about frail and vulnerable pensioners spending days alone, with a hurried visit from a carer who has only a few minutes to ensure someone is fed, bathed and has taken their medicine.

If we are lucky we will all grow old so we should ensure proper care provision is put in place now. We need to protect our older people. I am a trustee of the charity Action on Elder Abuse, and we hear horrific stories of half a million older people being abused in the UK every year, physically, mentally and financially.

We are campaigning for a change in the law, to make elder abuse a separate crime. By realising that elderly people are a vulnerable group who need protecting, maybe we will open our eyes to the need for the proper investment in adult social care. After all, an advanced and equitable society is measured by the way in which it treats older people.


Nicola Hill @ncmediatv