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Estimating needs in older people

Many older people face disadvantage in their lives every day, often without the support they need. Major challenges include ill health, lack of help with the basics of daily life, poverty, poor housing, loneliness and isolation.

Official statistics can tell us how many older people are living with some of these challenges, but can’t tell us about all of them, or about combinations of them. Nor can statistics tell us what life is like for people living with them.

Read the full report

What did we do?

We wanted to find out more: how many older people are living with each of the challenges, how many are living with more than one, and in what combinations?

In 2019, we researched these questions by estimating the numbers and proportions of older people in England who face these challenges, which we called ‘needs’ for the research, and collated insights from older people’s own voices about the experience of living with the needs.

You think you'll be alright, but then all of a sudden everything's a struggle.

What we found

Our estimates revealed the sheer scale of disadvantage among people aged 65 and over in England. Nearly six million live with one or more of the six needs at the core of the research  ill health, unmet needs for care and support, poverty, poor housing, loneliness and isolation. And the proportion with needs increases markedly with age.

The table below shows the number and proportion of people aged 65+ in England with one or more of the six needs.

  Number Proportion
Age 65-74 2.8 million 52%
Age 75-84 2 million 63%
Age 85+ 1.1 million 80%
Total - everyone 65+ 5.9 million 100%

We also found that:

  • For every 20 people aged 65 and over living in England, two people have three or more of the needs – that's 0.7 million older people – three have two needs and seven have one need.
  • At age 85 or over, the chances of facing three or more of the needs are more than double that of someone aged 65-74.
  • Each need is often combined with ill health. For instance, of the older people living in poor housing, poverty or social isolation, at least four in ten are also in ill health.

"I feel discarded, I feel left out by society."

Living with needs in later life

The numbers that we found in our research are stark. Equally stark is the impact that living with the challenges can have in later life.

Age UK talks extensively to a wide range of older people living in an array of different circumstances. Many are struggling. What they tell us illustrates the reality of living with needs. Our report illustrates the reality through quotes from formal qualitative research, and presents insights drawn from these projects and other conversations with older people.

  • Living with a single need can be as profoundly difficult as living with multiple needs.
  • For some people who are worried about a range of issues, the cumulative effect can be overwhelming. One or two challenges can be weathered but multiple challenges lead to a downward spiral.
  • People with high needs may not know how to, or feel able to, make change in their lives, and are sometimes reluctant to seek support or to accept help, support or advice.

We're here for older people who need us

We help millions of people every year, providing support, companionship and advice. Find out more about our national and local services to support people in later life across the UK.

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Last updated: Dec 24 2019

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