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Older people are often waiting far too long for the social care they need

Published on 06 March 2023 10:27 AM

Older people are often waiting far too long for the social care they need, warns Age UK, due to serious shortfalls of money and staff

New analysis by the charity finds 79 older people died every day in England in 2021/22 while waiting for care

Age UK is handing in a letter to the Chancellor this week, signed by more than 30,000 people, urging him to use the Spring Budget to direct more Government resources towards reducing these distressing delays 

New Age UK analysis shows that 28,890 older people died in 2021/22, the latest year for which figures are available, without ever receiving the care and support they were waiting for. This equates to 79 deaths a day, 554 a week, and 2408 a month. (1)

The Charity says that this is just the most glaring example of the long waits that increasingly characterise how some unfortunate older people experience our social care system in England. Age UK pins the blame for these long delays squarely on a lack of public money to allow local authorities to assess older people speedily, and on there being insufficient care workers to staff the care services a growing older population requires.  

By way of example, Age UK’s research has also found that the number of unfilled posts in the home care sector jumped by 20,000 between 2020/21 and 2021/22. Furthermore, Skills for Care were reporting a vacancy rate of 14% across the whole of England, rising in some areas to over 17%, in the same year. If the care workers aren’t there in sufficient numbers then home care agencies and care homes cannot provide enough services to meet increasing demand.

Today the social care system remains under extreme pressure and if anything the situation seems to be getting worse. A growing ageing population means that the demand for social care is rising, and health and care experts also say that older people are now often presenting with more significant needs, following the experience of living through the pandemic. 

Age UK analysis shows that in England, more than one in four (28%) people who had asked for a social care assessment had been waiting six months or more to get one.  These assessments are just the first step in securing social care, suggesting that some older people in desperate need are waiting even longer before they actually receive support. For some, it clearly arrives too late.

Delayed assessments have helped to precipitate a situation in which an estimated 2.6 million people in England aged over 50 are now living with some unmet need for care. That means millions struggling to do ordinary things like going to the toilet, eating, dressing or washing because they require some help to do so. In the absence of a formal service being available families and unpaid carers often have to do their best to fill the gap, placing them under huge pressure and strain. The Charity says it is especially worried about older people living alone, who do not always have friends or family who can rally round.

The Association of Directors of Social Services surveyed its members in 2022 and found that more than six in 10 councils said they were having to prioritise assessments and respond to people only where abuse or neglect was highlighted, or when they were being discharged from hospital[v]. This helps to explain why some older people living in their own homes are stuck waiting for the care and support they need for month after month.

Social care statistics tell a clear story of a system under acute pressure, generating long waits even for those with a compelling case for support. For example, in the last decade the demand for care has increased as the population has grown: there are now 2.1 million more older people[i] and 857,000 more adults with disabilities[ii].  The consequences of the failure to recruit and retain enough care staff are also clear: during the first 3 months of 2022, for example, almost 170,000 hours a week of home care could not be delivered because of a shortage of care workers, seven times more than in Spring 2021[vi]

Age UK is handing in a letter to the Chancellor on Thursday 2 March, with the help of some of its older campaigners, asking him to provide the resources in his Budget to cut these long waits for care. The letter has been signed by over 31,000 people, with these signatures gathered over just the last few weeks.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK said: “There isn’t enough social care to go round and so some older people are waiting endlessly for help they badly need. It is heart breaking that on the latest figures, more than than five hundred older people a week are going to their graves without ever receiving the care and support to which they were entitled.

“These long waits are causing huge distress to older people as they struggle to carry on living their lives, and placing intolerable pressure on their families. And what happens to those with no one to step in and help? At Age UK we are deeply concerned about the plight of all the older people with an unmet need for care, living alone, without any family or friends. We fear there are many tragedies playing out silently behind closed doors.

“Good social care, provided by kind and skilled staff, can transform older people’s quality of life, helping them to stay fit and well and giving them morale boosting companionship too. It’s incredibly sad that it is becoming more and more routine to have to wait for months to receive care, even when you have been found eligible for it.  That’s why we and more than 30,000 others have written to the Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging him to use his Budget to help alleviate these delays, by directing more resources towards social care.

“No older person should die waiting for care that could have made their final days more comfortable and better supported, and no family should have to watch their loved one going through that bitter experience either. The Chancellor can help change this situation for the better and we call on him to act.”

More information on Age UK’s social care campaign here:

What some older people have recently told us here at Age UK:

  • “I did have social care until my care company withdrew their support because a carer resigned from the company. They said there wasn’t enough staff to cover shifts. The Social Worker can’t find the equivalent care to cover.”
  • “I've had 4 assessments since Christmas, and still have not gotten any help i think the SS has taken me off their books.”
  • “GP put in request to adult social service 10 weeks ago. Still waiting.”
  •  “I'm waiting for a social worker for 3 months.”
  • “ Always a trial getting any sort of help. You get pushed from pillar to post with nobody ever taking responsibility.”
  •  “Once district nurses were involved things improved a lot.  Care was eventually available but it took far too long to set up.”
  • “ Despite asking several council depts to refer us we are being ignored. A complaint is ongoing.”
  •  “There isn't any who cover this rural area. Waited almost a year with no Help. Then she broke her hip, 3months in hospital now in temporary care home waiting to be assessed.”
  • “ It is almost non-existent in our authority.”
  •  “Care provision was sufficient between carers and wife but since decline in health more carers are needed but not available, lack of staff in all local care agencies.”

Notes to editors

Photos of the  hand in at the Treasury of the letter to the Chancellor this week can be seen  Photographer credit is Jamie Lau.


Analysis of trended adult social care sector and workforce vacancy figures by region, prepared by Skills for Care Workforce Intelligence Analysis Team on behalf of Age UK

[v] ADASS Waiting for Care Report May 2022

[i] ONS estimates of the age 65+ population of England for mid year 2011 and mid year 2021. Accessed and

[ii] Age UK analysis of data drawn from the UK Household Longitudinal Study. Data were collected 2009-11 (wave 1) and 2018-2020 (wave 10) and accessed here: Estimates of the proportion of people aged 18+ in England with a disability were scaled up to the age 18+ population of England using ONS mid-year population

[vi] ADASS Waiting for Care Report May 2022

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Last updated: Mar 06 2023

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