A Second NHS
In the UK there are 10.6m people providing unpaid care. This compares to the 1.37m people employed by the National Health Service. “ They represent a Second NHS”, according to Madeline Starr, of the charity Carer UK . 8000 people a week become new unpaid carers. A medical diagnosis can convert a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband or wife instantaneously into a carer. Many of theses carers are of working age and this is a drain on the UK economy. Many have retired.
The third part of the Longevity Dividend is the unpaid work supplied by those over 65. In earlier Newsletters we have looked at the world of work (#083 The Longevity Dividend I). How older people are increasingly wanting to stay in work. To stay on past nominal retirement age. How economically they are the only way to fill the shortage of workers. That shortage caused by the changing demographics.
It is only recently that “retirement from work” became the norm. In 1881 74% of the UK over 65’s worked. In 1931 the percentage had dropped but was still nearly half of all over 65’s working. Even by 1971 nearly a quarter of over 65’s were working. They could expect 14.1 years of life after retirement age. It was only in 1991 that the percentage working dropped to 5%. That was the era of “early retirement incentives” and final salary pensions. Since then it has started to rise. Earlier this year 17% of the over 65’s were working but their remaining life expectancy was close to 21 years. Last year the the state retirement age was raised to 66. This accelerated the trend and is thought to have added an extra 7% .
The second part of the longevity dividend was the contribution of the over 65’s as shoppers ( #83 The Longevity Dividend II). They already account for a huge percentage of expenditure. Moreover they are forecast to be the major driver of any increase. They are expected to contribute two thirds of all European growth in consumer expenditure this decade. They are forecast to control 33% of disposable income.
The over 65’s also contribute to the economy through their unpaid work. They are carers. They take care of relatives, volunteer and “care for other households”. The over 65’s spend more time caring and volunteering than any other group. In the UK they average over 100 hours a year caring. This compares to the 60 hours per year across all age groups. These are of course averages and there are huge variations. Only Spain amongst the G20 European countries has a higher number of hours devoted to unpaid caring by the over 65’s.
On top of that, in the UK, we can add the other 60 hours per year spent “caring for other households”. This is usually the care of grandchildren but could also be neighbours and friends. Finally the over 65’s in the UK will spend another 35 hours each volunteering for charities and communities.
The over 50’s contribution from unpaid work to the GDP of the European members of the G20 is 1.4%. That is, it represents 1.4% of GDP, which is more than spent on defence by those countries. Germany gets to 2.7% of GDP and the UK 2.2% of GDP. The over 65’s alone are still making a huge contribution. In the UK they contribute 1.2% of GDP, when their work is valued. Care and volunteering also help the economy indirectly. They reduce the demands on those people who are working.
All the data shows that being a carer has personal and economic costs. It drains time and energy. It reduces productivity at their work. It reduces the availability of the workforce as they take time off. Full time caring has its own personal costs. It is bad for your health. It affects careers. Returning to work after a gap is never easy. Employers may not recognize the life skills learnt. Resilience increases as an inevitable part of taking on a carer role. Will this be valued by a prospective employer?
The most important policy implication of this third part of the longevity dividend is that it needs to be recognized. If the contribution is not quantified it is not real. If it is not real then we are over- estimating the societal costs of ageing. It also reinforces the stereotypes that come with the “dependency ratio”. It implies the dependency of the over 65's. It needs to be measured and tracked.
The economy needs the over 65’s to work. These unpaid roles are a barrier to people returning to work. One of the reasons cited in the UK for people not returning to the workforce post COVID is that they have become carers. Many are choosing to take early retirement instead. Those 8000 people becoming carers this week will start work without any “training”. Given the potential complexity of the task and the emotional stress involved that is an amazing failing. A few leaflets given out at the hospital is no preparation. Investment here would increase productivity.
The catch phrase of the Longevity Week I reported on in the last Newsletter ( #87 Thought Provoking Week) was “Health Equals Wealth”. It recognized that across the age bands health was the key driver of economic prosperity. The unpaid contributions of the over 65’s are part of the same story. Healthy ageing enables people to continue working if they wish. It also enables them to continue in their caring and volunteering roles. Health is important to both these groups.
An Update on #053 Fertility has a Best Before Date
In these Newsletters I have discussed many reasons for the drop in fertility. Two thirds of the worlds population now lives in countries were the fertility is too low to replace the population. One emerging explanation was the decline in sperm counts in a number of countries reported in a 2017 analysis. This week that analysis was updated to include 53 different countries. The results were the same , if not worse. Sperm counts across all these countries were in decline. Not only that but since 2000 the rate of decline has increased from 1% per year to 2.5% .
Previously the authors argued that the root causes are a number of commonly used plastics. They can have a direct impact on the hormones of men and women. The sperm counts are only an indicator. These changes are happening to the reproductive capacity of women as well. People are choosing to have children later. Their reproductive systems are already getting close to their “best before” dates. With these effects on top of that, the birth rate is bound to fall.