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RUTH SUNDERLAND: Old are valuable asset to economy

RUTH SUNDERLAND: The ‘young-old’ generation have amassed billions in savings and will be spending it once virus has been tamed

  • As a society, we are conflicted in our attitudes to old age and the economics of an ageing population 
  • We are simultaneously protective and dismissive, a contradiction that has been highlighted by Covid-19 

Longer lives are the greatest achievement of the past 100 years, but judging by the national angst over old people, you wouldn’t think so. 

As a society, we are conflicted in our attitudes to old age and the economics of an ageing population. We are simultaneously protective and dismissive, a contradiction that has been highlighted by Covid-19. 

We were all exhorted to protect vulnerable older individuals, to the point some critics felt the economy was being brought to a halt for the sake of the superannuated. 

Planning ahead: The ageing population will have profound effects on society and the economy, but we seem terrified to confront or discuss it

Yet at the same time, the NHS was decanting Covid patients into care homes, seeding the virus there. The NHS is also slapping DNAR (Do Not Attempt to Resuscitate) orders on people from the age of just 65. 

The ageing population will have profound effects on society and the economy, but we seem terrified to confront or discuss it. 

So a new paper published by insurer Legal & General called ‘Caring for Britain’ to stimulate this kind of difficult conversation is timely. As a starting point, we need to establish that 65 does not equal elderly. That is too young for a state pension and 13 years younger than the new president of the United States, for goodness’ sake. 

L&G’s oldest annuitant is 107, and no doubt considers those in their mid-sixties to be practically foetal. No-one likes to dwell on thoughts of old age but we have our heads in the sand about the need for care and providing for the costs. That results in unnecessary financial trauma. 

Some 1.3million older people request care each year, but only about 700,000 get it, and the average cost is more than £30,000. Yet very few families plan their finances to take into account their own or relatives’ needs, and only address it at the point of need, a time of maximum stress. The banks, the insurance companies and the financial services firms should take far more of an initiative with products and advice. 

On a national level, governments carry on ducking the need to fix the broken care system, which is lurching towards meltdown.

One dirty secret is that many care home chains are or have been financed by private equity and are deep in debt. 

There has already been one huge failure with Southern Cross in 2012 and there will almost certainly be more post-Covid. 

There is a positive side, however. Care facilities don’t have to be dismal: L&G is backing a ‘new model care home’ in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with built-in technology and facilities designed to maximise infection control. Artificial intelligence and robotics are developing fast and should help people live independently for longer. The digital skills learned in the pandemic could bring about changes in the workplace that make lives easier for carers. 

The biggest contribution to care is made by family and friends, mostly women, with an economic value of around £140billion, about the same as the NHS itself. –

One stark statistic is that, pre-Covid, almost 650 people a day gave up work to provide unpaid care – a huge loss of productive capacity to the economy. 

If businesses can offer more flexibility post-Covid to carers, they could save huge amounts on hiring and training new staff. 

Companies often reflexively try to chase young customers, but they should recognise that the over-65s are not just ancient crocks fit only for a DNAR death warrant. 

The affluent ‘young-old’ have amassed billions of savings before and during the pandemic and will be spending it again with gusto once the virus has been tamed. 

Never mind the millennials, companies that cater to them will prosper in the post-Covid world. 



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