22 March 2019

Planning for an Ageing Population, by Martyn Jenkins

The UK population is ageing, as it is across the industrialised world. This, as well as the well documented financial and social implications for society, is throwing up a range of challenges across many sectors, including those in the planning world. Specifically, how can planners meet the changing demands for an ageing population?

With the Government set to release its Green paper on social care in 2019 (yes, some policy other than Brexit!), I have taken a look at the population demographics behind the trend, the dynamics in the care home market and crucially look to understand what planning policy can do to prevent an impending housing disaster. 

I’ll kick off the first of three blogs, with some context, setting the scene on the UK’s ageing population.

We’re getting older…

This is not a new phenomenon…nor is it one exclusive to the UK.

Statistics and projections produced by the ONS have long shown that the UK’s population is ageing. The latest ONS 2017 mid-year estimates show there are almost 12 million people in the UK aged over 65. This equates to 18% of the total population, up from 16% in 1997. Moreover, as the ‘baby boom’ generation reach old age, this figure is projected to hit 24% by 2038. This is a trend reflected across the western and developed world.

The changing and ageing structure of our population is driven primarily by two factors. Firstly, declining mortality rates (due to better sanitation and healthcare) mean that people are living longer. This can be seen in the evolution of life expectancies (see graph 1).

Graph 1 - Life Expectancies continue to improve

Along with this, since the 1960s, fertility rates have also declined, and now average about 2.5 births per woman of childbearing age globally. This is down from a figure of 5 in 1960. In the UK, the rate is even lower, stabilising since the mid-1970s and now averaging about 1.8 births per woman (see graph 2). In short, people are having fewer children and are having children later in life.

Graph 2 – Declining fertility rate across the world

These trends have contributed to the UK’s population structure shifting considerably over the past 50 years, with a higher prevalence of older residents.

This trend is set to continue

Crucially, these trends are set to continue and have fed into the most recent population projections for the UK which show that older age groups are expected to continue to grow quicker, and consequentially take up a greater share of the population (see graph 3).

Indeed, between 2019 and 2039, residents in the 75-84 age bracket are set to grow by 53.5% and will account for almost one tenth of UK’s population in 2039. This is equal to 8.3 million people. 

Moreover, advances in medication, technology and healthcare will see the proportion of residents living into their late 80s and 90s also increase. The proportion of UK residents over 85 is expected to almost double between 2019 and 2039, rising from 2.4% (roughly 1.6 million residents) of the population to 4.3% (roughly 3 million residents). This equates to an astonishing 90% growth rate.

Graph 3 – growth over next 20 years will come in older age cohorts

It is growth in the size of these older age groups (particularly those aged 85+) which will drive the demand for specialist forms of accommodation such as care homes across the UK. In particular, demand will increase for specialist accommodation providing treatment for chronic age-related diseases such as dementia, arthritis and heart disease.

The case for care homes is clear

The demographic drivers assessed indicate that the UK can continue to expect to see a higher prevalence of older residents in the coming years. This will drive future demand for care home accommodation.

The need to provide suitable housing options for these individuals is therefore more important than ever.

Check out my next blog where I will be assessing how these demographic drivers are impacting on the care home market.

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