Tuesday 10 April 2018

Future Wales - Population Shift - Older and wiser?

We are living longer. In Wales not quite as long as our neighbours in England but now longer. on average, than our parents or grandparents. Statistics show the trend clearly {ref my last blog Future Wales-How Long Shall We live?} Add to this a low birthrate and the result is a growing  proportion of the elderly. By 2030 most people in Wales , it is projected, will be over 50 years old and in many communities outside of our cities, the majority of adults may well be even older.

What are the likely consequences of this population shift?

The Health Service is most energised by the demographic predictions from the current data. The number of people aged over 75 years is expected to double in the next 10 years.  At a recent conference leading GP Dr Clare Gerada  asserted that over 65's will, in the near future, be the largest population group in the UK.

Currently more and more of the medical care of the elderly is being provided by general practitioners. As this age group visits a GP for a consultation 12-14 times on average the GPs are concerned whether they can cope. There is little sign of a sufficient  increase of GPs and old age specialist doctors in the pipeline to cover this expanding need but there has been a shift to offer more services in the community.  Many common,chronic conditions are already monitored by nurses and other allied medical staff, rather than doctors. Despite long waits, occasional failures and regional inequality, the NHS is, though imperfect. still the best overall health service in the World. 

The increase in lifespan is, for most people, likely to be an experience of better health in middle and later life, so the actual amount of and length of disability and ill health in individual lives may  not increase in direct proportion to  our longer lifespans. 

It is the increase in the numbers of  elderly people in our populations which has to be planned for. Increasing pension age and so keeping the fit elderly working, makes them economically active for longer. but also occupying jobs which would have been vacated in favour of younger workers in the past

As in many things, Wales has less primary health care provision per head of population. According to  BMA figures the number of GP's per head in Wales is low.

GP numbers in the UK :

England 7,613

Scotland 958
Northern Ireland 349
Wales    454

How will the elderly vote and what for?

World Economic Forum Report 2015

An old saying goes, “If you’re not a liberal when you’re young, then you don’t have a heart – but if you haven’t become a conservative when you’re old, then you don’t have a brain.”

In the UK home ownership is said to shift your views to the right and certainly older voters are thought to be less radical. 

 By 2030 the majority of voters in most European Countries will be over 50.

This is part of the conclusion of the World Economic Forum report in 2015. After noting that the elderly are currently politically more likely to support pensions, healthcare and even crime fighting over provision of jobs and housing there is uncertainty as to which way this growing group will act politically.. 

"However, our results also suggest that we should be cautious when projecting age patterns, since they are far from deterministic. In other words, some young liberals may become old conservatives, but it also depends on the economic circumstances and events through which they live".


There is little doubt that there is a significant  growing  expansion of the elderly populations of the developed world. Whatever their  personal politics, in democracies the issues which effect and influence our older citizens are likely to become more and more important as their numbers grow.

Democracy will ensure that the elderly have a bigger voice in the future here in Wales. Already older people vote more often than younger ones, but their growing numbers should significantly affect the political outlook. A 60 year old in wales today can expect, on average, to live a further 25 years. Life expectancy is still increasing, although the rate is slowing, so it could be even more.

In later life will people still follow the tribal politics of their youth or will they mobilise to form powerful groups to represent their own interests? 
Probably a bit of both, but to win power, no party can ignore them. In fact, as the majority of voters will be elderly, every political organisation will be tailoring their message to the mature voter. 

The elderly used to be a relatively easy for governments to ignore. A nod to social conservatism or community policing was all that was needed.

 Closing care homes, reducing social care support , giving the elderly free bus passes while reducing bus services, reorganising health services for the convenience of Health Boards, not patients, planning new home builds for the maximum profit of the developers. not the needs of residents, the elderly have seen these things played out all over Wales. They may decide to use their electoral power to knock some sense into the shallow politicians whose lies have usually gone unchallenged. Many criticise politicians as untrustworthy, self interested and having poor memory of their electoral promises. Now those with the most experience of successful and failed political delivery have the most power to chose their elected representatives. 

Importantly, the older citizen is not only more likely to vote but also more likely to be geographically settled and have more concern for their homes, community and environment. Many financially and practically support younger family members. They will have developed an overview of their local areas and economies based on their personal observations and experiences. 

I doubt the older voters will continue to tolerate the politics of spin, the endless manifesto promises which were never going to be delivered and the same old "jam tomorrow" story of a better, fairer society which has failed to materialise over their long lives. It would be good to see more honesty and candour in politics, with an electorate who, in large part, really have heard it all before! 

Siân Caiach 

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