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England faces crisis in care for older people by 2032

Elderly-woman-140-pixelsUp to 160,000 older people in England will be left vulnerable in the next two decades as the country faces a huge shortfall in unpaid care, according to new LSE research published today.

As the proportion of older people rises, traditional caregivers – mid-life women – will be placed under increasing pressure to juggle work and care for their parents, creating inequality in the workplace and potentially at a big cost to the labour market.

The shortfall between demand and supply for unpaid carers will be evident by 2017 and then grow rapidly, says Dr Linda Pickard, a senior research fellow from LSE Health and Social Care at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

In a report published in Ageing and Society today, Dr Pickard says a projected 1.1 million older people in England will require care from their children by 2032, placing enormous pressure on their families who won’t be able to meet the demand.

The parent support ratio - the 85+ age group relative to the 50-64 demographic – is expected to treble by 2050 in the UK, underlying the crisis in care for older people.

“The demand from frail, older people requiring care from their adult children is projected to increase by 60 per cent in the next two decades, yet we anticipate only a 20 per cent increase in people able to provide care for their older parents.”

In England, approximately 675,000 frail, older people living in their own homes currently receive unpaid care from an adult child.

Yet the continuing rise of mid-life women in the workforce in England and a sharp increase in the older population will contribute to a shortfall in unpaid care in coming years, Dr Pickard says.

Care giving responsibilities will increasingly fall to spouses, with improved mortality rates among the older population making this possible.

Technology, to some extent, may also help bridge the unpaid care gap. Monitoring services, social alarm systems and care robots are allowing increasing numbers of older people to live independently, although more research is needed in this area.

Dr Pickard says based on current projections, England – along with other developed countries – will need to provide more formal, paid care services in the decades ahead, reducing a reliance on families.

Current estimates put the public expenditure costs of carers leaving the workforce in England at around £1.3 billion a year, based on the costs of the carers’ allowance and lost tax revenues on foregone incomes.

“Although we have been aware for some time that the gap between demand and supply for unpaid care is increasing, we now have scientific evidence that we are fast approaching the tipping point,” Dr Pickard says.

A growing care gap? The supply of unpaid care for older people by their adult children in England to 2032 is published in Ageing and Society.


For more information contact Dr Linda Pickard on 07969 385 494 or at l.m.pickard@lse.ac.uk or LSE Senior Media Officer Candy Gibson on 020 7849 4624 or c.gibson@lse.ac.uk

Additional Notes

• By 2032, there will be a projected shortfall of 160,000 care givers in England

• 65 per cent of unpaid care givers are women and 90 per cent are under the age of 65 (i.e. working age)

• To meet the projected demand, numbers of unpaid care providers will need to increase by nearly 60 per cent from approximately 400,000 in 2007 to 645,000 by 2032.

• The supply of unpaid care to older parents is likely to be sensitive to a number of factors, such as rising divorce rates, a higher proportion of mid-life women in the workforce, and an increase in older workers generally

Dr Linda Pickard is a Senior Research Fellow at the Personal Social Services Research Unit within LSE Health and Social Care at the London School of Economics. Linda has, in collaboration with colleagues at the LSE and elsewhere, conducted research on projections of unpaid care in future in the UK and internationally.

The research was undertaken as part of the Modelling Ageing Populations to 2030 (MAP2030) project, funded under a grant from the New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, a cross-research council programme. 

23 August, 2013