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Older people with care needs not getting crucial help

Published on 13 August 2014 11:01 PM

Nearly one third of older people with care needs do not receive crucial help 

New research from Age UK reveals that nearly 900,000 (870, 000) older people between 65 and 89 now have unmet needs for social care[i]. The research uncovers the fact that nearly a third (31.1 per cent) of people who have difficulty in carrying out some essential activities of daily life do not receive any help formally from care workers or informally from family, friends or neighbours and are left to struggle alone. These are older people who require help with everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, washing, using the toilet or eating. 

This overall figure of older people with unmet needs includes:

  • Four in five who need help taking their medication (200,000 out of 240,000)
  • Over two thirds who find it hard to eat on their own (160,000 out of 250,000)
  • A half who struggle to wash/get in the bath (500,000 out of a million - 1,010,000)
  • Over two fifths who find it difficult to get dressed (590,000 out of 1,300,000m)
  • More than one in three who find it difficult to go to the toilet (120,000 out of 350,000)
  • And one in three who find it hard to get out of bed on their own (190,000 out of 570,000)

Between 2005/6 and 2012/13 the number of people aged 65 and over in receipt of social care services has dropped by more than a quarter (27.2 per cent - from 1,231,000 to 896,000[ii]) - even though this age group has grown by more than one million over the same period[iii]. Despite rising demand from growing numbers of people in need of support, the amount spent on social care services for older people has fallen nationally by a massive £1.2 billion (15.4 per cent)[iv].

The result is that today, access to publicly funded social care is more restricted than ever and in most local authority areas it is only currently available for those whose needs are assessed as being ‘substantial' or ‘critical' - leaving anyone who is assessed as ‘moderate' without any help. Yet 'moderate' typically includes someone who has problems carrying out one of these essential everyday tasks listed above.

The new Care Act 2014 means local authorities will have to follow new rules determining who is eligible for care. The Government is currently running a public consultation about this Guidance. The outcome will be crucial because it will determine who will and who will not receive care and support from April 2015 when the Care Act comes into force.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK says:

'It beggars belief that one in three older people who need some basic help with daily living are now having to do without it. And it is important to remember that the figures we analysed for this research only go up to age 89. It makes you wonder how many more thousands of people in their nineties are being left to struggle alone.

'When older people begin to need some help with essential  daily tasks like eating and washing they should expect that it will be there for them, yet it is increasingly beyond their reach. This is profoundly shocking, and it's a direct result of our care system being scaled back at the same time as the population of older people is growing.

'Our national failure to invest properly in social care not only deprives older people of vital support, it also makes no economic sense: for example, an older person who struggles to eat is more likely to become ill and need expensive hospital treatment than if they receive some regular help with their meals: social care helps older people to stay well and keep their independence for longer.

'The Care Act is fundamentally good legislation but underfunding means increasing numbers of older people are being shut out of the care system. The Government's draft guidance on eligibility for care suggests that from now on, the inability to do just one of these essential things like washing or dressing will not be enough to qualify you for support. It is not even certain that people with dementia who need help to continue to live at home with dignity will be entitled to it. 

'Older people deserve so much better. That's why Age UK is calling on the Government to change its Eligibility Guidance so that every older person who requires some help with an essential daily task can get it. ' 



Notes to editors

[i] Reference for ELSA analysis

Age UK Research analysis using Marmot, M. et al. , English Longitudinal Study of Ageing: Waves 0-6, 1998-2013 [computer file]. 21st Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], July 2014. SN: 5050 ,

[ii] Health and Social Care Information Centre (2013); Community Care Statistics, Social Services Activity [source]


Office for National Statistics (2013); Population Estimates for England and Wales, single year of age unformatted - Mid 2006 to Mid 2011 Revised (Subnational) [source 1] [source 2]

Health and Social Care Information Centre; Personal Social Services Expenditure and Unit Costs - England [source]

Department for Communities and Local Government (2013); Local authority revenue expenditure and financing England: 2013 to 2014 budget [source]

[iv] The Better Care Fund  is a considerable amount of money and is very welcome.  However this is not new money and both NHS England and the LGA agree that the fund itself does not address the financial pressures faced by local authorities and CCGs in 2015/16, which remain very challenging. The £3.8 billion pool brings together NHS and Local Government resources that are already committed to existing core activity'15. Efficiency savings cannot make good the reduction in funding that has occurred since 2010/11, let alone address the increased socio-demographic pressure on services.

For media enquiries relating to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland please contact the appropriate national office: Age Scotland on 0131 668 8055, Age Cymru on 029 2043 1562 and Age NI on 028 9024 5729.

Age UK

We work with our national partners, Age Scotland, Age Cymru and Age NI and our local Age UK partners in England (together the Age UK Family). We also work internationally for people in later life as a member of the DEC and with our sister charity Help Age International.

Age UK believes that everyone should have the opportunity to make the most of later life, whatever their circumstances.  We provide free information, advice and support to over six million people; commercial products and services to over one million customers; and research and campaign on the issues that matter to people in later life. Our work focuses on five key areas: money matters, health and well being, home and care, work and training and leisure and lifestyle.

Age UK is a charitable company limited by guarantee and registered in England (registered charity number 1128267 and company number 6825798). Age Concern England and Help the Aged (both registered charities), and their trading and other associated companies merged on the 1st April 2009. Together they have formed the Age UK Group ("we").  Charitable services are offered through Age UK and commercial products are offered by the Charity's trading companies, which donate their net profits to Age UK (the Charity).

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Last updated: Oct 06 2017

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