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2,000 older people’s requests for care turned down every day

Published on 11 February 2020 12:43 PM

Over the last year half of all older people’s requests for care were unsuccessful

New Age UK report on how older people increasingly have to battle for care

New Age UK analysis finds that in the last 12 months, about 700,000 requests for formal care and support, equivalent to 51% of all requests, have been made by older people and yet have resulted in them not receiving formal care services. This is equivalent to 2,000 claims from older people being unsuccessful each day, or 80 every hour.[1]

In some of these cases the older person was found by their council not to meet the eligibility criteria set for the social care system and that was the end of it (23% of all requests for help); while in others the older person was found ineligible but their council then referred them onto other services in the hope that they could assist, including their local Age UK (46% of all requests for help). [1]  

The Charity says that these figures show how very difficult it is now to qualify for care within our shrunken social care system: between 2010/11 and 2018/19 total spending on adult social care fell by £86 million in real terms, representing a 4% reduction in local authority spending. While spending has now largely recovered from its lowest point in 2014/15, the older and disabled population has meanwhile significantly increased, meaning social care spending per head of the adult population has fallen by 6% per person over the same time period. Because councils are so stretched it is very concerning but not at all surprising that so many older people who are asking for help are being turned away.

Age UK’s new analysis also helps to explain why the numbers of older people living with some unmet need for care are so high and continuing to rise: 1.5 million over 65s in England are going without all the help they need to carry out at least one essential ‘Activity of Daily Living’ [2]. If you ask for help from your council and are turned down for it and you don’t have family or friends to step in or enough money to fund your own service then you are likely to find yourself included in this growing army of older people who are soldiering on unsupported, despite having some need for care.

Age UK is drawing attention to these findings as it publishes a new report highlighting the battle that older people and their families often face in trying to secure social care. In ‘Behind the Headlines: Battling to get care’, the Charity describes the social care system as being “woefully inadequate for the job now required of it, despite the best efforts of the good people working in it.”

Over a fifth of all the calls to Age UK’s information and advice line concern social care, a figure approaching 35,000 last year. The report draws on the content of these calls and recounts the very difficult experiences older people and their families are going through as they try to secure the help with everyday tasks like washing, eating and toileting they badly need. 

Caroline Abrahams, Age UK's charity director said: “The fact that 2,000 older people are being turned down for care every day demonstrates both the enormous numbers impacted by our ramshackle care system, and how serious the problems it faces have now become. We don’t know what happens to these older people whose applications are rejected but inevitably some have no choice but to struggle on alone. Good social care helps to keep older people fit and well, so if you are forced to go without it’s a recipe for emerging health problems to turn into crises, possibly leading to a hospital stay that might otherwise have been avoided and a decline in your health from which you may never fully recover.”

“Faced with too much demand and too little supply, our social care system is effectively under siege. Councils do their best with the resources they have but there are simply not enough to go round. One result is this vast number of older people whose applications for help are rejected and another the long waits for an assessment to have your case looked into at all. Our report is heart-rending stories of older people in need who are being comprehensively let down, and the nightmarish situations created for them and their families. Real suffering is going on, with older people’s lives being diminished and, in some cases we fear, being cut short.”

“The Prime Minister has promised to fix social care and our new report shows why it’s so vital for our older population that he keeps his word. For some, tragically, it is already too late.” 



The following stories are representative of calls received to the Age UK Advice line  Names, gender and certain details and characteristics have been changed to preserve our callers’ confidentiality.



  • Jim is over 100 and has recently had a fall. Jim has been moved to a local care home for his safety that his family are funding. When Jim fell they contacted their local adult social services team who advised that a needs assessment for Jim would happen within the week. Jim’s son has subsequently received a call from the social services team to tell him Jim’s needs assessment will not be carried out for another month and that the family would have to continue funding his care or find alternative arrangements – both of which are unsustainable for his family to arrange.


  • Zahra has been supporting her father, alongside other family members and carers funded by the local authority for a while now. Last year Zahra enquired with the local adult social services team as she felt her father’s needs had deteriorated and that he needed additional care at home. Trying to organise informal care within her family has put a strain on the family because they all have work commitments. Zahra has been waiting more than  8 months for her father to be reassessed and the social services team have told her that her father is moving slowly up the ‘pending list’. Unfortunately for Zahra and her family, they are not in a financial position to self-fund care themselves so all they can do is wait.


  • Over the last few months, Agnes, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has needed more help with personal care, and has become increasingly agitated and distressed when care home staff support her with this. The care home have told Sharon, Agnes’ daughter, that they can no longer meet her mother’s needs. Sharon has found it very difficult to find another home that will agree to accommodate her mother. She found one that seemed promising, but they will not take Agnes without a new assessment from social services, who have stated that they will not be able to assess her mum for several months, long after her notice to leave her current home comes into force. What is Sharon to do?




No-one should be left without the care they rely on to live well. This is why we asking people to sign our letter to the Prime Minister urging him to keep his promise to ‘fix care for good’. Care should free, fair and available to everyone when they need it. Join over 55,000 people who have already signed to ensure that our parents, grandparents and ourselves can access care that allows us to grow old with dignity.


The figures in this press release are based on 2018/19 data from NHS Digital which provides the number of older people (aged 65 and over) who died before social care services could be provided or who were not provided any services after requesting help.  This data spans a 12 month period and is the most up to date publication of this dataset. We have assumed for the 12 month period referenced in the text that the average number of people who died each day was the same as the average per day identified by the 2018/19 data. Data can be downloaded here:


[1] NHS Digital, (2019), Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report, England - 2018-19 [PAS]: Adult Social Care Activity and Finance Report, Accessible via:  


[2] Age UK (2020), Analysis by Age UK using The English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), Wave 8.

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Last updated: Mar 18 2020

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