Every day, the proportion of our community who are elderly grows. In fact, The UN estimates an ongoing increase in the ageing population worldwide until at least 2050. Alarmingly, they quote a doubling of the number of over 65’s. Further, they indicate a tripling in the number of over 80’s! Therefore, it is only going to become more and more important to develop strategies that address this ageing population’s needs.
An ageing population is an indicator of progress
The trials of World War II, and the subsequent financial hardships, are distant memories for most people these days. Furthermore, double incomes have brought more financial prosperity to families that used to rely on a single income. Combine that with a growing emphasis on exercise throughout the community (gymnasiums, local councils and pools have all developed specialised programs for over 50’s) and you have a happier, healthier community. Furthermore, providing better access to education and employment means that people tend to eat and live more healthily in general.
In short, people are enjoying their lives more than in the past, eating better and living longer.
What’s the good news?
Better general health and medical care for the aged means fewer elderly people in aged care facilities or hospitals. That in turn means a lower burden on the taxpayer and families. Also, a shift away from seeing ageing as a negative is causing a societal mind-shift. Too often in the past the emphasis was put on the illnesses, the aches and pains, and every other negative related to old age. Now, more emphasis is being put on the wisdom, heritage and contributions the elderly bring to society. Also, they are now recognised as an important, wealthy demographic companies can market services too.
What’s the bad news?
The increase in elderly people might place untenable pressure on our tax & health care systems. Planning for aged care services needs to be relative to this anticipated increase and that means more spending. However, the biggest changes probably need to occur within the family circle. The children and grandchildren of ageing citizens will need to accept more personal responsibility That means a likely return to more families caring for their relatives at home.
In fact, many world governments are now actively obligating families to take fiscal and personal responsibility for elderly family members.
The effect on your inheritance
Your inheritance could be negatively impacted or even wiped out. That’s because family wealth could get swallowed up with end-of-life expenses that governments just won’t want to cover. Therefore, careful management of wills, trusts and the such will become priorities. Conferring with financial advisers about estate planning should also be looked into seriously.
Worryingly, about 1/3rd of older Australians are said to live on less than one third of the national median income. They say a nation is judged by the way they treat their children and their elderly. Ignoring this statistic is not only a reflection on good management, it looks ugly. Impoverished elderly citizens may not look after their health as well as others, and this could lead to more costs on the state through medical and support bills. That means we all pay more taxes, which is ironic since it was the lack of spending that caused the problem in part in the first place!
Where to from here
From government’s perspective, these statistics need to be inserted into their budgets. More importantly, they may need to create a sovereign fund to ensure we have the means to support our elderly when they need it. Also, families need financial and social incentives to make caring for their elderly relatives more viable. Examples of these might be tax breaks and care subsidies.
However, government will also need to penalise families who do not care for their elderly relatives properly. For example, families who abandon elderly relatives to go on holidays could be held accountable if the relative then becomes a burden on the State. This may sound draconian but it is law in many countries in Europe. In fact, France is introducing even stricter laws to force family members to take responsibility for their elderly relatives.
If all this is done now and correctly, the impact to future generations can be minimised. Ignoring this issue until it becomes an irreparable problem would be the worst strategy. It will require courage on the part of existing governments not to leave this problem for successive generations. After all, apart from an increasing population, the problem is an ageing population. It is simply untenable for fewer and fewer young people to have to look after more and more old people. Ironically, it would help to balance things out if we start encouraging families to have more children.
Perhaps more importantly, we need to emphasise traditional family values. Wealth needs to be pooled in family units to ensure continuity of living standards and lifestyle for all generations outside of government support. For example, a family home can grow to house both the ageing and the younger family members, rather than selling property when someone dies. This way, everyone gets a home, generation after generation.