Skip to content
Please donate

New analysis shows number of older people with unmet care needs soars to record high

By: Age UK
Published on 09 July 2018 12:00 AM

Numbers of older people who don’t get the care and support they need soars to record high of 1.4 million – up nearly 20 per cent in just two years

Meanwhile, delayed discharges due to the lack of social care costs the NHS more than £500 EVERY MINUTE

New analysis by Age UK highlights the enormous cost to the NHS of delayed discharges due to a lack of social care, and how more older people than ever are missing out on the vital care and support they need.

The numbers of older people in England who struggle without the help they depend on to carry out essential everyday tasks (ADLs), such as getting out of bed, going to the toilet, washing and getting dressed, have increased to a new high of 1.4 million, meaning nearly one in seven older people (14 per cent of the entire 65+ population) now live with some level of unmet need. This equates to a 19 per cent increase since 2015 [i].

Age UK also found that among the 1.4 million people with unmet care needs, 307,581 require help with three or more essential activities, of whom 164,217 receive no help whatsoever from paid carers, family members or friends.

Taking into account other necessary tasks (IADLs) such as shopping, cooking or managing medication, the numbers of older people who don’t get the help they need rise to nearly 1.6 million people (1,597,150), a five per cent increase in the last two years. Among this group over half (56 per cent) didn’t get any help at all.

The Charity has also calculated that delayed discharges from hospital due to social care not being in place costs the NHS £289,140,954 a year equivalent to £550 per minute [ii].

This new analysis needs to be seen against a context in which between 2009/10 and 2016/17 spending on adult social care in England fell by eight per cent in real terms [iii]. As a result, over the same period, the average spend per adult on social care fell by 13 per cent, from £439 to £379, [iv] and an estimated 400,000 fewer older people received social care as the eligibility criteria tightened in response to insufficient resources.[v]

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said:
“Age UK’s new analysis shows the huge impact on older people and on the NHS of our wholly inadequate system of social care. The Government often says they have invested more in social care over the last two years, but it’s not been nearly enough since the numbers of older people going without the support they need are continuing to rise – and quite sharply.

“If an older person needs social care but can’t get it this is a sure fire recipe for them to become weaker and less well. They are at far greater risk of not eating enough and of falling and hurting themselves because of trying to do more than they really should. And it goes without saying that their lives are likely to be diminished and made more miserable. Is this what we want for our parents and grandparents, husbands and wives, older neighbours and friends in 2018? We have to do better.

“The Government will no doubt point to the fact that they hope to publish a Social Care Green Paper in the autumn, but a Green Paper will not in and of itself deliver any new funding for social care for several years and it is obvious that the system needs a major injection of cash right now. The responsibility for fixing this lies firmly with the Treasury: the Chancellor must take action to shore up social care in his Autumn Budget. The experts say there is a funding gap of about £2.5bn and that’s the kind of extra money that our older population needs to see. Anything less means the numbers struggling alone without help will keep going up.

“Age UK’s new analysis also shows that delayed discharges due to a lack of social care is costing the NHS a staggering £550 every minute. The extra funding announced recently for the NHS is warmly welcome, but it will do a lot less to help our GPs and our hospitals than it should do for as long as the Government allows social care to continue to decline.

“Taken together these numbers show the folly and sheer wastefulness of the Government’s failure to invest anything like enough money in social care. We all depend on the NHS so we all lose out if it has less money to spend due to the lack of social care, but there is no doubt that it’s our older population who are paying the highest price of all – with their health, their happiness and sometimes even their lives.”

[i] Estimates of unmet need are Age UK analysis based on data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, Waves 7 and 8. Full methodology available upon request.
[ii] The cost of under provision of social care is based on the difference between the estimated cost of delayed days in hospital due to social care for the NHS and an estimate of the equivalent cost to provide the same amount of social care out of hospital. Based on the NHS England publication ‘Delayed Transfers of Care- Time series’ published 10th May 2018. Available at Full costing methodology available upon request.
[iii], [iv] Institute of Fiscal Studies (2017). ‘Public spending on adult social care in England’. Available at
[v] Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (2015). ‘Distinctive, valued, person: why social care matters in the next five years’. Available at

For more information

Contact the Age UK Media team on 020 3033 1430 during office hours (Mon-Fri 08:30-17:30) or for out-of-hours media support please email 

See media contacts

Share this page

Last updated: Feb 18 2022

Become part of our story

Sign up today

Back to top