Over four million elderly will have no children to look after them in 20 years

Elderly people - Realimage / Alamy Stock Photo
Elderly people - Realimage / Alamy Stock Photo

More than four million elderly people will have no children to look after them within 20 years - putting huge pressure on the care system, peers warned on Wednesday night.

A Parliamentary report said the future looks "extremely hazardous" for the growing number of people who do not have children to look after them in their old age.

The House of Lords adult social care committee said the country’s health and social care systems would "collapse" without the help provided by unpaid carers to the elderly and vulnerable.

It urges ministers not to assume that families will "simply step in" to support relatives who cannot wash or dress themselves, particularly as more and more pensioners do not have relatives to look after them.

It cites estimates that there are already 1.2 million over-65s without children, set to rise to two million by the end of this decade and to double again to reach four million by 2040.

"For them, we were told that the prospect of ageing causes great fear, as the current system is ill-prepared to respond to their needs," the study states.

"This fear is not just of loneliness—ageing without children brings tangible challenges, such as in undertaking low-level support tasks, personal tasks and navigating the complex social care system.

"The future looks extremely hazardous for people ageing without children, and yet they are a fast-growing group."

'Invisibility of adult social care sector'

The report points out that the adult social care workforce, with 1.62 million filled posts, is bigger than the NHS, which has a workforce of 1.37 million. The system involves a staggering 17,900 organisations and also has a record 165,000 job vacancies.

However the publicly funded budget for elderly care is just £17.1 billion this year, compared with £153 billion for the NHS, and spending has dropped by 12 per cent over the past decade as council budgets have been squeezed.

The gap between demand and supply means as many as 2.6 million people have "unmet needs" and are left with the "stark" choice of having to go without help, pay for it themselves or rely on family and friends.

Baroness Andrews, the committee chairman, said on Wednesday night: "In this report we have revealed the impact that the invisibility of the adult social care sector as a whole has on the way we perceive and provide for adult social care.

"Our recommendations are intended to bring those who draw on and provide unpaid care into the daylight and that starts with changing the perceptions around care, providing the realistic financial and workforce strategies that are long overdue, and planning for a system responsive to present needs and resilient for the future."