The ageing face of British Society

The Revd. Mark Bailey writes

Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the population of the United Kingdom now stands at 65.64 million and if current trends continue will reach 73.2 million by 2035. Within the mix of population, the balance is shifting with the percentage of older people increasing. This increase has a direct impact upon the village communities within the Dever Valley. In 2016, 21% of the population within Winchester Borough were aged over 65. This is set to rise to 24% by 2026 and 28% by 2036. The figures for Test Valley Borough are marginally higher with those aged over 65 accounting for 25% of the population in 2026 and 30% in 2036. Those aged over 85 are one of the fastest growing groups in our society and particularly so in our own village communities.

The ageing face of British society is challenged with many practical issues that impact upon all. The changing ratio between those who are retired and those of working age effects the provision of pensions. Younger generations must expect to work longer for less. The funding of healthcare for the elderly and infirm is under ever increasing pressure, not least in relation to mental health and the ‘epidemic’ of dementia related illnesses. The need for more development of appropriate, affordable housing has been brought into sharp focus locally with the closure of several care homes. Why do elderly residents of the Dever Valley, who have lived here for much of their lives, have to leave -forced to abandon friends and neighbours they have known and loved for many years? And who will care for and love those in our midst who, in their nineties, have no next of kin? Such practical concerns stretch the capacities of government authorities at all levels.

But there is perhaps an even deeper impact of ‘ageing’ that affects the way we begin to see and view ourselves. Overwhelmed with the cry of increasing need and dependency it is tempting to want to step back from the ageing process altogether. I heard a young person recently say, “I hate old people.” Such a statement brings into focus a starker reality, we are all ageing and the challenges of ageing are ones from which none of us can escape. If ‘I hate old people’ in my youth, how will I love and care for myself when I’m older? Christian teaching centres on charity and the ethic of ‘loving our neighbour’ – no matter how old our neighbour happens to be. Loving and caring for my ageing neighbour is the key to helping me to learn to love my ageing self.  A good model for grandchildren!

God Bless