Analysing The Political Economy

Ten Million Middle-Aged In Elderly Care Trap

By Graham Vanbergen: In late 2022, the Financial Times reported that – “New analysis shows older workers are choosing to retire early rather than leaving their jobs due to ill health.” That article was littered with quotes, graphs and commentary from all manner of sources that effectively blamed new post-pandemic thinking from the over 50s as simply those reevaluating their lives, cashing in and retiring, without mentioning that ten million are now caught in the elderly care trap.

The FT stated in the same article that – “A sharp post-pandemic rise in economic inactivity — people who are neither working nor looking for work — is an acute concern for UK policymakers, because it has added strain to a tight labour market where many employers are struggling to recruit. The Bank of England fears this will make high inflation persist for longer if employers end up paying higher wages and raising prices further as a result of tightening Labour supply.”

Many national newspapers and broadcasters went with this finger-pointing narrative. Nowhere in that FT article was there a mention about an elephant in the room that has been fattening up every day for decades.

Digging a little deeper than shallow reporting by the media, we find something else. A staggering 600 people every day gave up work between 2010 and 2020 – over two million people in paid employment became unpaid carers for their elderly relatives. But that is the number of people who gave up work. Then there are those who gave up full-time work and went part-time for the same reason. By late 2023, the number of people over 50 working part-time had hit a new record high of 3.6 million, ONS statistics reveal.

The statistics for this group of people, those looking after an ever-growing demographic, are truly sobering.

One fact alone tells you all you need to know. In the 2021 Census, it was found that there were 5.7 million unpaid carers in the UK. However, further research by Taking Care, a subsidiary of AXA Health, found that there are more than 10 million working-age people looking after an elderly relative, almost a third of the entire workforce of 33 million.

For those who attempted to get some assistance last year, 28,890 or 550 people a week died without any services being offered. And it’s not like the government is not aware. By February 2019, more than 50,000 older people had died waiting in vain for care during the 700 days since the Government first said it would publish a Care Green Paper, which it failed to do. It has since rolled back the intended increase in national insurance to help pay for this ever-burdensome and tragic crisis.

Part of the problem is that one-third of the elderly who could be in care homes can’t be there simply because they can’t afford it, and even if they could, there’s another problem. According to figures from the Care Quality Commission (CQC), at the end of 2023, there were 518 fewer care homes in England than at the same time the previous year – a closure of 14,169 beds. There are not enough beds in care homes in England, which helps drive the price up – a vicious cycle of despair and death.

The reality is that successive governments have been ducking and diving around the elderly social care problem because if they forced all those workers back into full-time employment – the taxpayer would see a very rapid deterioration in public finances – which is already at breaking point. And just to reiterate this ducking and diving – a cut in National Insurance has just been announced for ‘hard-working’ families – without seeing that many of those same families are standing in the quicksand of demographics and will have to give up work. It’s nothing more than sleight-of-hand political chicanery.

The State of Ageing report of 2022 highlights just how problematic that quicksand really is. There were 11 million people aged 65 and over in 2022 – 19 per cent of the total population at the time. By 2032, in just eight years’ time, this will have increased to almost 13 million people or 22 per cent of the population. And being very conservative with figures that would involve another 1.5 million workers retiring early or giving up full-time to help them. By 2043, that 11 million will have expanded by 32 per cent.

If ever you were wondering why governments have allowed immigration (young taxpaying workers) to occur at such volume, just look at the replacement requirement of those retiring early to look after relatives as a good starting point.

The Taking Care report finds that one in two adults feel they will have no choice but to care for their elderly parents when they become too frail. Many raised concerns about access to care options in their area. In addition, an Age UK report of last year states that nearly 74 per cent of people aged 65 to 74 years have long-term chronic health conditions, which increases to 86.5 per cent for people aged 75 and over.

Findings from the 2021 Census and Taking Care report only goes to show the undeniable challenges that working-age adults face when considering care options for their elderly relatives.

The average age of unpaid carers is 57, and for them, this is not just about caring for someone close but is also about money. As many as 1-in-3 adults state they cannot afford the care home costs for their parents.

Then there is another outcome of another crisis. The UK’s housing crisis also forces many middle-aged adults to have their own children at home who are themselves in their late twenties and early thirties. Juggling the care responsibilities of an elderly generation alongside work and having children at home is simply not feasible. And the numbers of people trapped in the ‘sandwich generation’ aren’t good here, either. This exact scenario affects one in eleven middle-aged workers in households in the UK.

A survey by Carers UK and Employment for Carers found 42 per cent of carers were struggling to cope or were at breaking point. At least two-thirds thought their caring responsibilities had affected their relationships.

One in three people surveyed also said they would have to consider giving up work to care for their parents when they become too old to care for themselves, and one in two people agreed they would have no choice but to care for their elderly parents when they become too frail.

The reality and guilt traps of looking after the elderly are not deniable. Research found that one-third of middle-aged adults believe it is their responsibility because there is “no one else who can help” and that their elderly relative would not be able to afford a typical four-year stay in a care home anyway.

Other responses highlight a typical problem, a lack of available support, including ‘There isn’t enough support from my local authority or council’.

The responses also highlight challenges around care home costs and attitudes, with ‘my relative (or partner) does not want to go into a care home’ and ‘I can’t afford care homes’ hitting the top five reasons that Brits choose to leave work to take up unpaid care responsibilities.

The Unpaid and Under Pressure report also highlighted that one in five adults surveyed acknowledged they’d realistically need £400 a week to care for an elderly parent and cover their costs in the economic climate of 2022.

Currently, Carer’s Allowance in the UK can only be claimed by carers who perform over 35 hours a week of unpaid care. At less than £80 a week, it is the equivalent of £2.20 per hour – which is five times lower than minimum wage. Needless to say, this is hardly compensating for giving up work. The fact that pensions are not being contributed to to the age of normal retirement for that individual is another disaster waiting to happen.

In addition to all this, of those working, almost 5% are providing 20 hours of unpaid care or more every week. This works out to 67,300,000 hours of unpaid care work every week in the UK.

The government are quiet about this crisis other than blaming the over 50s for not enagaging in the economy. One example is Tory welfare chief Mel Stride who said older Brits should consider jobs “they might not have otherwise thought of” as ministers battle to get more people back to work after the pandemic. He made the comments on a visit to food delivery firm Deliveroo’s London HQ, which has seen a 62% increase in riders aged over 50 since 2021.

Given the reality of the number of people in their 50s and 60s who are caring for an elderly relative, it is hardly surprising that this is a crisis on so many levels for so many people.




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