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Ageing population and increase in later life illnesses.

Published: 07/10/2019

Can the UK social care system survive unaided?

Already under pressure and faced with a seemingly inexorable rise in later-life conditions, VitalityLife’s Deepak Jobanputra thinks it’s time the protection sector offered the state a helping hand.

Anyone with a relative suffering from a later-life condition – such as dementia, Parkinson’s or frailty – knows only too well the current situation of state-funded social care for the over 65s in the UK: often stretched resources competing against ever-growing demands, leading to many older people having prolonged stays in hospital, causing issues for their family and the wider NHS environment1.

There’s a strong case for saying this simply shows how successful public health policy has been over recent decades – we are now, on average, living longer than ever, after all. But, with a quarter of all UK hospital beds currently occupied by over 65s with dementia2, there’s equally no denying that the system – and perhaps, taxation policy – clearly wasn’t set up to deal with volumes such as these.

Looking ahead, these current pressures only look set to further intensify. Taking dementia as an example, around a million people in the UK will have the condition by 2025, rising to two million by 20503. As a result, it’s predicted to cost the UK a staggering £66bn by the same date4 – over half the entire current NHS budget. The country will also need about 1.7 million informal carers by that time, more than twice the estimated amount of people currently providing care5.

It’s not just an issue with dementia. In the last 40 years, the number of people surviving cancer has doubled in the UK6, which naturally brings its own care challenges, during and after treatment. Longevity also produces a gradual rise in frailty: currently affecting around 10% of those over 65, that figure increases to around 65% of people aged 90 and above7.

Where does this all leave us? As far as public policy goes, there’s clearly no way of telling. But when it comes to the private sector – and the protection industry in particular – I strongly feel that with the weight of evidence now in existence, we have what we at Vitality regard as a duty to help. In fact, it’s part of our core purpose.

To illustrate the point, we’ve already launched a world-first benefit with Dementia and FrailCare Cover, designed to help support people as they prepare for their later years, whatever those years may bring.

It’s an integrated product, available on Serious Illness Cover at no extra upfront cost or underwriting, and will help towards the cost of care in later life, particularly for suffers of conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, stroke or general frailty. For the duration of the cover term, members enjoy the highest levels of Serious Illness protection. Then, when the term ends, it automatically converts into Dementia and FrailCare Cover to help pay for their later life care. This means that later life protection needs which, until now, have been largely unaddressed, will be met by customers simply continuing to pay the same premium as they did before. Since launch of the benefit in October 2018, we now see the majority of our eligible Serious Illness customers opting into this unique benefit.

We view this a highly significant first step to try and alleviate the social care burden on the state system, as well as helping offer people a little extra peace of mind as they prepare for later life. As I said, for us this is yet another example of our shared value ethos in action – not only do we provide our members with the option of continuing their protection in later life, but we encourage and incentivise them to make healthy choices that will allow them to lead longer and healthier lives. However, and I say this with the rest of the sector in mind, it’s also a huge opportunity to build public confidence in insurance and fulfil what is currently a clearly unmet need. I can only hope the industry will join us in rising to the challenge.

[3] Alzheimer’s Research UK, Prevalence by age in the UK, 2018

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