Ageing population is not a problem
Published 24 July 2012
Leading statistician Andrew Dilnot is not concerned about Britain's ageing opulation. Speaking at the Keswick Convention, he said it was "peculiar" to talk of the "burden of ageing".
"The alternative to the burden of ageing is the burden of being dead," he said.
The reason for his positive attitude? His belief that time on this earth is time that can be spent doing something useful.
"Our earthly lives are good things: we have work to do while we are here. It is a marvellous thing that people are living longer," he told Christians at the Convention.
"We easily forget how flexible we can be. It is true that the number of those who are aged 65 or more is going to rise over the next twenty to thirty years.
"But it has also increased massively over the last hundred years. And that hasn’t led to our economy and society falling apart."
He noted that in 1901, there were 61,000 people aged 85 or over. Today, there are 25 times as many - 1.5 million.
The change is "astonishing", he admitted, but it is also one that society has "adapted to".
"We have found appropriate ways round it. We have developed pension regimes, health services that provide the right sorts of health care," he said.
"This astonishing change that we have experienced in the last one hundred years - far more dramatic than anything we are about to see – has been, by and large, coped with."
He said it should come as no surprise to people that we are living longer.
"Part of the creation mandate was that we were put here to look after the world," he asserted.
"There are lots of examples in the biblical world of the way in which God’s people have changed – going to Egypt, the exile, rebuilding the wall in Jerusalem."
While some argue that the country cannot afford to have such a huge elderly population, Mr Dilnot said this was the "wrong way" of approaching the issue and that it may mean spending less on something else.
"Of course we hear stories of bad care, of care going wrong, but there is a huge amount of astonishingly marvellous care, delivered by loving, dedicated people, sacrificing their time and their energy to look after other people," he said.
"Some of that care is provided by family and friends, but much of it is care provided in formal settings, by people who are being paid.
"Much of it is touching and a marvellous example of the love people have for one another – and that is the love that we can celebrate, because we know it is a reflection of God’s love for all of us."
He admitted that it made no financial sense to care for the frail but added that the motive behind care provision should not be profit.
"We do a huge amount that makes no sense at all if we think that financial self-interest is what is driving the world," he said.
"It does not make the economy work more efficiently, to look after the care of an elderly person who is unlikely to go back into the paid labour market. We do it because it is right … these actions reflect God’s love for every single individual."
The lack of financial support to cover the cost of care was making people "very, very frightened", he continued.
He suggested Christians had a responsibility to respond to the need by building caring communities.
"The biblical record again and again tells the story of God trying to help people to set up appropriate communities," he said.
"I think it is clear that community, making it possible for individuals not to be on their own when they face enormous risks, is part of the way we need to set up the world.
"The current situation leads to enormous fear – if you are getting increasingly frail and may need care, you want to be able to plan, to organise yourself. But at the moment, you can’t do that because you have no idea what the worst case scenario might be."
He said the current system in England, where those with assets above the value of £23,250 receive no support, was in desperate need of replacing.
"We have a system that positively encourages people to cheat, to give their assets away to their children, so they appear not to have any wealth when it comes to the means test. Any system that encourages cheating is surely a bad system."
The Care Quality Commission recommended in 2011 that a cap should be put on the amount any one individual should have to pay for their own social care in old age.
"In many ways we have the state reflecting Christian values… We can do better," he said.
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