The ageing population

A message from Daniel’s mum.
.

Our ageing population

We are all getting older! The line of our rulers is that we need more money to cope with more older people, and that we need more population to provide this tax revenue.

A treadmill policy

Of course the new immigrants also get older. What then? Bring in more immigrants to provide more tax revenue? We are running faster to stand still.

Elderly people – problem or part of society?

At the Imagine Jersey 2035 exercise the discussion was framed entirely about money, and the theme was stated in terms of: How on earth will we cope? This is pretty insulting, when you think about it.

The true starting point is: What do older people need and what do they have to offer? No research was offered on these topics. Why? Could the answer be that the exercise was not about how to run our society in a supportive and fulfilling way, with respect to older people, but about growing the population?

At a guess, what elderly people need is a degree of care or support (which varies of course from individual to individual), security, connectedness to their family and friends, connectedness to the wider society. A sense of being valued.

So the proper question, and the one we should have addressed was: how does society as a whole fulfil these needs? Could relationships be built up between the generations? Could the elderly be a resource to help us cope with what they have lived through – getting by on far lower consumption levels, especially regarding energy. Are there ways of acting in advance to reduce the need for intensive care, which causes professional health care costs to spiral?

Some examples

A young man carrying the shopping for an elderly lady, a picture I saw a long time ago in a German magazine. Quite touching, but the point was that he was her lodger, and carrying her shopping was part of general helping out and general helping out was part of his rent. A relationship now existed where none existed before. I suspect that there was some enabling work done for such a scheme by government.

An older person finds it a bit heavy to take her newspapers to the bring-bin by the parish hall when she goes to catch the bus into town. So a Brownie from the local troupe collects it for her. Nothing to it you might say. But in this simple encounter lies the seed of a relationship outside the normal and which connects old and young with lasting benefits to both sides.

The need for health promotion

The most expensive times of our lives, in healthcare terms, are the very beginning and the very end. And with a rising elderly population,  this requirement for professional health care and the associated cost will indeed rise.

The first response must be to urgently promote good health across the population as a whole, and especially in middle age, so that more and more people arrive at their later years in a good state of health physically and mentally.

OK so we do need to find some money

We were offered just one solution for finding more money: grow the population. But there is another. a) move to a less costly way of living in every aspect of our lives (which we have to do anyway, to combat climate change and resource depletion, and b) apply some of the vast savings to whatever professional care is needed. See sections 3, 4, 5, here

And finally

Here is what I wrote in reply to one of the JEP “questions to all the candidates”

Ageing population

Should Jersey adopt the Guernsey system of making extra social security payments to provide for an ageing population?

Any system should reward those who have saved, but not reduce anyone, whether unwise or unlucky, to unacceptable living standards. Older people should not be anxious over whether their care needs will be met.

We age differently, our care needs, and the associated cost, very widely. Our physical and mental health will determine our care needs so health promotion is vital.

If we build social networks, where care becomes part of the informal economy, the need for paid care declines.

The answer to the question is yes, provided it is the technically best option, bearing in mind the above points.

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Responses

  1. Part of the problem with the “aging population” doomsday scenario is that it makes a number of assumptions which don’t really make sense.

    One is that the demographic timebomb is permanent. Unless birthrates are falling to the point of extinction, at some point the population is going to rise again. The problem seems more of a cyclical one – how can we cover the years in which there is an older population needing more support from a younger one. When the baby-boomers generation is gone, the problems may well go away too; the question is – how long is the tunnel, and if cyclical, what kind of period do we need to face. If the population is in permanent decline, then we are facing a different order of problem, and it is primarily biological rather than purely economic.

    The same kind of cyclical effect occurs with schools, when a bulge ripples through the system over a number of years, but then is gone. Our organisations are not really well constructed to adjust flexibly to these effects.

  2. One additional comment on raising social securty thresholds. I’ve nothing against that, but earned income tax is on GROSS income, and as you raise the levels on social security, NET INCOME is reduced, and it becomes more and more a kind of double taxation, taxing income already taxed. Perhaps the answer would be to raise thresholds enough to cover excluding it from taxable income.

  3. Two good comments by Tony

    First, demographics:

    I read the demographics paper which was done in preparation for Imagine Jersey 2035, before attending the consultation day (probably one of the few there who did). At the time I thought it was “not bad” – it seemed reasonably aware of the problems within population estimating, and also seemed pretty thorough. (And there was a lot of other stuff to read, and an alternative policy approach to put forward.)

    Now I am not so sure. First, Tony’s point about the birth rate. And second the real possibility of a recession within the Finance Industry and very possibly a higher rate of emigration for a while (as happened before in our last economic slowdown around 2002).

    I haven’t got the time to reread the paper now, but if elected, it will be one of the first things to revisit!

    Second, social security and tax:

    A classic case of what I repeat to anyone listening. Be clear about the principles which you want to see and stay focussed on them. These are, in this case, a) the need for a progressive, fair, transparent and simple (as simple as possible, bearing in mind the other requirements) tax and benefit system, and b) everyone must have an adequate income (not one that is arrived at by taking the result of Loughborough University’s survey into how much it costs to live in Jersey, and then setting income support at a lower rate!

    So, sticking to the principles, then look carefully at the system to make it comply with your principles.

    I am perfectly capable, intellectually, of doing this. And I am afraid that is what it boils down to – having the intelligence to work out complicated stuff and check that it actually does work the way it is intended.

    The other things you need are:

    a) the ability to listen to what people tell you about how the system actually does work,
    b) oh and then to take it on board
    c) and remember it (and not forget all about it)
    d) and then the desire to take effective action.

    Stick to the principles, listen to what people tell you, analyse, and take action.

  4. Dear Tony…

    Done quite a lot of research on this one.

    Firstly it isn’t quite cyclic and is already more than a ‘bulge’. Don’t forget the added factor that people are simply living longer. Secondly whichever way you look at it the fact is that continued population growth can’t be the answer to help us cope with the increased costs involved with having a larger proportion of older people in our society. Only then does it become a timebomb.

    We have to level out. And yes there will be a difficult gap, a period of transition as people readjust society to cope with a different demographic.

    What is important is to readjust society in a way that understands and values this new demographic for the potential it might offer. They are not a ‘burden’, with scientific proof and many social, gerontological, and economic studies to suggest that older people can be of great benefit in the future, not just within the confines of their families.

    “Speaking of the ‘burden’… will only be valid if we fail to restructure society and its institutions to reflect these new realities.”
    (OECD’s Berglind Asgeirsdottir)

    “In vielen psychologischen, philosophischen und soziologischen Untersuchungen ist bereits deutlich geworden, dass vor allem die Gruppe der soziokulturell bevorzugten Alten eine Ressource aufweisen kann, die keine andere gesellschaftliche Gruppe in diesem Maße besitzt: das Potential der Weisheit. Ob und wie das Alter mit dieser Ressource zu Lösungen sozialer, philosophischer, auch ökonomischer Fragen der Zukunft beitragen will, auch dies ist eine Frage der Kultur einer Gesellschaft.”
    (Dr Kinsler, Margrit (2003), Alter – Macht – Kultur)

    “There is nothing inherently problematical about growing old. And yet in most nations of the world, old age is increasingly understood in “social problem” terms. As we all must age and eventually die, any cultural belief system that cannot provide security, meaning, and self-esteem for those who reach the conclusion of life’s natural sequences will eventually have to change.”
    (Trinity University gerontology department, San Antonio)

    With numbers on their side, they could of course take things into their own hands.

  5. People are living longer, but we are going to reach a plateau sooner or later unless someone invents some kind of anti-aging drug to extend lifespans drastically.

    At the moment there is a lot of talk about declining birthrate, but the birthrate measures such as the “crude birthrate” themselves are related to total population (= n/p x 1000, n=births per year, p=total population). If more people live on longer, and n is static, then the CBR appears to decline. But if the age they live on longer to reaches a limit, then it will rise even if the actual births for year is the same.

  6. Daniel,

    It seems to me the logical outcome of progressively raising the social security cap is to come clean and treat it as tax. At than point you might as well merge tax and social security. That way you have a realistic chance of putting an asbolute floor under someones income. Doing so would also make it easier to get over the double tax problem, and remove inconsistencies.
    I suspect one department would also be cheaper to run than two.


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