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Living longer - how will it affect Northern communities?

Richard Moss | 12:18 UK time, Sunday, 7 November 2010

Woman helping an older man

The North's population is ageing, but will our communities be able to cope.

New research for the BBC contains much good news. It shows we're living longer.

But the work carried out by the information services company Experian also throws up some challenges.

It suggests parts of the North East have large concentrations of some of the most vulnerable older people.

Experian looked at those older people who might be vulnerable to cuts - those on low incomes, and in poor health.

And three areas of Tyne and Wear were amongst the top 20 in the country in terms of vulnerability.

One in four older people in Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland were placed in the most vulnerable groups by Experian.

It doesn't mean they'll automatically suffer from any cuts imposed by government or councils, but it does suggest that our region does has more than average numbers of the most vulnerable older people.

Age UK has warned that government cuts could add to a funding crisis in the care system.

But if its urban areas that have the highest concentrations of the vulnerable, it's rural parts of the North which will see the biggest growth in the older population over the next 20 years.

One in two people will be over 50 in Cumbria, Northumberland and North Yorkshire by 2029, and many other parts of the region won't be far behind.

That will be a test of the communities affected.

Some may be in better shape than others. In the research Eden in Cumbria scored top in the country in terms of social cohesion.

Whereas only 6.4% of people in Eden identified a problem with social cohesion in their area, 16.5% of people in Newcastle thought it was an issue.

There may be challenges ahead though. The research identifies Berwick-upon-Tweed as one area whose population could well become much more unbalanced by 2029.

It suggests that while the older population grows, younger people will be moving away leaving an ageing population more and more dependent on a smaller working population.

Of course in the future one solution will be to ensure older people can work longer, but at the moment the research suggests that isn't happening.

More than 60% of adults over 50 are economically inactive across the region.

That varies from 59.6% in Cumbria to 67.6% in County Durham (the tenth highest in the UK). Something will have to change in that statistic if the older generation of the future are not to be consigned to poverty and dependence on the state.

All these facts were part of a debate on the BBC's Politics Show today.

If you missed it, it will be available on the BBC iPlayer, but we got an interesting perspective from Professor Jim Edwardson from the Institute of Ageing at Newcastle University.

He fears politicians are not doing enough to harness the benefits of us all living longer, and ensure that older people can have a good quality of life.

The BBC's local radio stations will also be picking over the details of this research throughout this week.

You can tune into BBC Tees, Newcastle and BBC Radio Cumbria at 8am every day for headlines, analysis and debate.

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