The ageing population of the UK

The biggest population challenge that many governments face, particularly in the richer countries of the world, is how to support an increasingly elderly population.

Increasing life expectancy is due to the following factors:

FactorReason for increase in life expectancy
Free health careThe development of vaccinations and the National Health Service reduced deaths from diseases such as TB and measles. This increases the number of people living to 65 years and older.
Medical technologyThe development of new drugs that treat cancer and other degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's has increased life expectancy and so increased the number of people aged 65 and over.
Decrease in manual employmentMany primary and secondary jobs such as coal mining and steel making were arduous and dangerous, which reduced life expectancy. There has been a decline in the number of people in these jobs and an increase in office-based jobs.
Increased wealthImproved living conditions and healthier diets.
Awareness of healthy livingMore people exercising and a decrease in the number of people smoking. Compulsory education has taught people about the risks of transmission of diseases.
Safety measuresMeasures in both the home and work have increased life expectancy.

Benefits of an ageing population

  • Many pass on their experience and knowledge.
  • Some may be wealthy, having lots of leisure time and are therefore good consumers.
  • Many retired people do voluntary work in schools and for charities.
  • Many fulfil childcare roles for their grandchildren.

Concerns

  • There are decreasing numbers of economically-active people in the population.
  • The increasing number of very old people has put a strain on healthcare services.
  • Many countries face a pensions crisis whereby there is not enough money to cover the increasing pension demands of a population.
  • The bill for social care is also increasing as the elderly sometimes need outside help, eg meals on wheels.
  • Maintaining a dignified quality of life for the elderly is also a moral issue.
  • Fewer people of working age means a lower number of workers and a shrinking tax base.
  • Housing problems develop as there will be an increase in demand for more retirement homes. These are expensive and will increase taxes paid by the working population.
Care home for the elderly
The need for social care is set to rise

Solutions

  • People are being encouraged to save for their retirement.
  • The age at which people are retiring is rising.
  • Facilities such as nursing homes and care workers will be needed, perhaps in preference to schools and nurseries as the population gets older.
  • Educated and skilled migrants could be encouraged to fill labour shortages.
  • The country could adopt a pro-natalist policy, encouraging people to have more children by offering them benefits, such as better access to childcare, better conditions for maternity leave and maintaining child benefits.