HL Deb 03 April 1990 vol 517 cc1251-3

Lord Stallard asked Her Majesty's Government:

What studies they are conducting into the longer term implications of an ageing population for the economy.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Social Security (Lord Henley)

My Lords, the Government draw on a wide range of information, including demographic factors in considering the implications of the elderly population on the economy. Many other sources of valuable information, including the general household survey, the family expenditure survey and the occupational pension scheme survey, contribute to the Government's appreciation of this subject.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Is it not a fact that debates so far on the implications of an ageing society have focused primarily on the social security burden and the prospects of meeting the financial costs of the demographic change? Does not the Minister's reply seem to indicate that what is needed is a government-sponsored comprehensive survey of all the aspects and implications of an ageing society; and is not the best way of doing that to set up a Ministerial committee to look at the effects of an ageing society on the economy?

Lord Henley

My Lords, we know that the ageing part of the population is going to expand. It is fairly easy to predict the size of the elderly population for a number of years. Similarly, we know how many entrants there will be into the workforce for at least 16 years. Thereafter it becomes a matter of speculation because the issue depends entirely on the number of children who are born. It is very difficult to make predictions about the size of the birth rate.

There are various estimates that the ratio between those of working age and those of pensionable age is falling. We accept that that will have an effect on the economy. It is very difficult to make any precise estimate as to what extent the ratio will fall because it is difficult to know how many children we shall have.

Lord Renton

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that not all old people are a burden on the rest of the community? Instead of retiring, a great many people continue with their active lives. I ask that the Government do everything possible, if necessary by offering financial incentives, to ensure that as many old people as possible make the greatest contribution they can for as long as they can.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that the elderly are not a burden now or in the future. I accept that the elderly have contributed much to the economy and public life, particularly in this House, during their working lives and as of now. My noble friend will also know that we have recently abolished the earnings rule. We hope that this may encourage a great many elderly people back into the labour market.

Lord Somers

My Lords, being part of the ageing population myself, I ask that the Government do something for the slightly more ageing part of the population. The Government seem very ready to deal with the over-60s, but can they make a few more concessions for the over-80s?

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord will remember that last October we announced improvements in income support for the over-75s. That was a package worth an extra £ 200 million a year for the less well off elderly pensioners.

Lord Carter

My Lords, is the Minister aware that as one of the longer-term implications of an ageing population a recent independent report has calculated that there will be a need for an extra 81, 000 places in residential and nursing homes in England alone by the year 2000? Is he further aware that less than 10 per cent. of elderly people will have sufficient income to pay for that care without public support? In the light of those figures, does the Minister not agree that it is extraordinary that the National Health Service and Community Care Bill which we shall be discussing later today includes deliberate financial disincentives for placing old people in local authority homes and deliberate financial incentives for placing them in the private sector?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as the noble Lord has quite rightly said, we shall have time to debate these matters this afternoon. In fact, we shall be debating them at very great length. My understanding is that there will be a great many occasions when there will be positive incentives to produce a package that will provide both better care for the elderly staying at home which will not only cost less but will also provide better value for money and a better service.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I say to the Minister that the term "elderly" is inappropriate because by Act of Parliament one becomes elderly when one is over 80 years of age but one is ageing when one is over 60. Indeed, one can be ageing when one is over 50.

A Noble Lord

Or over 30!

Baroness Phillips

— or over 30 or even when you are born! Is the Minister aware that many of us feel that there is a great need to use much more the talents and skills of the older people instead of always talking about them being a burden? They are an asset and it would be very foolish for us to waste that asset.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness is a shining example of that asset and I hope that we shall hear a great deal more from her in this House.

Lord Stallard

My Lords, the Minister did not reply to or did not accept my suggestion for an inter-departmental ministerial committee. The supplementary questions have all tended in that direction. Will the Minister not now reconsider and support the proposal for this inter-departmental ministerial committee to look at all aspects of this problem?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I take on board the noble Lord's suggestions. I shall pass them on to my right honourable friend, but I make no promises.