No time to ignore the ticking timebomb of an aging population

By David Penney

This has been an exciting week for the number crunchers amongst us.

Almost a year after we all sat down and dutifully filled out our forms, the findings of the 2021 census have been published – and the results should give us all pause for thought.

At the risk of upsetting the history buffs, if we ignore the first census on these isles, which was the infamous Doomsday Book carried out by William the Conqueror in the years after 1066, the census on March 21st 2021 was the 22nd full census in England and Wales, having first been conducted in 1801. 

The first census revealed a population of around 9.4 million – the numbers were not exact due to the fact that military personnel and convicts were not included in the census itself. Fast forward 220 years and the population on England and Wales has risen to 59,597,300 – which in itself was a 6.3% or 3.5million increase on the previous census of 2011.

Breaking down the population increase nationally, the East of England has seen the most significant population growth with the smallest increase in the North East, while the West Midlands falls somewhere in between.

In Shropshire the population has increased from 306,100 to 323,600 over the past decade – an increase of 5.7% against a national average of 6.6%. Breaking that down across local authorities in the region, Rugby saw the biggest population increase of 14.3% whilst Hereford saw the smallest population increase of just 2%.

To put this into context, Tower Hamlets and Dartford saw the largest population increases nationally at 22.1% and 20% respectively. This means that in Shropshire, there is approximately one person for an area roughly the size of a football pitch whereas in Tower Hamlets, this number increases to 112 - if you are looking for solitude then Eden in Cumbria has around one person for around five football pitches!

So, for those that enjoy Shropshire’s green and pleasant land, the census suggests that it is not likely to be overrun any time soon. However, the data around the age profile of the population is much starker.

We all know that thanks to better diets, healthcare and other factors, we are all living longer but what the census shows us is that the demographics of our society are changing at breath-taking speed with serious implications for all of us.

Looking at all age groups, the largest cohort in England are those aged 30-34 but in the West Midlands the largest group is now those aged 50-54, which makes sense as in 2011 it was those aged 40-44. 

Nationally, there has been a 20.1% increase in people aged 65 and over but in Shropshire this figure rises to 29.5% and incredibly the numbers of those aged between 70 and 79 has risen by 45% and those living beyond 90 has seen a 41% increase in the last 10 years.

Now of course, the fact that so many people are living longer is undoubtedly something we should be celebrating – after all, every single member of this aging population is a beloved human who will be more than happy that their life expectancy has increased.

Happy that is if they have made the right preparations for living a long and happy life. However, the sad reality is that this is not always the case – and as the results of the recent census make absolutely clear, as the younger generations contract and the older generations expand, the responsibility for paying for retirement and potential care in old age is increasingly going to fall on the individual.

It is not something that any Government likes to publicly admit but if this current trend continues, there is going to be a time in the not-too-distant future when the maths are not going to add up – there just won’t be enough tax payers to sustain the needs of our rapidly aging population.

According to the latest figures, one in six over 55s still have no pension savings of their own and according to the most pessimistic estimate, as stated in recent UK government guidance, around three quarters of adults will face care costs in their lifetimes. 

There is no doubt that the introduction of auto-enrolment has significantly improved the overall situation but there is still huge amount of work to do to encourage people to take matters into their own hands, particularly women where a third of over 50s have no pension provision at all other than what the state will provide when they reach retirement age.

The situation around care costs is of equal concern and there remains a considerable head in the sand attitude with a significant percentage of people still wrongly under the impression that the NHS and local authorities will cover the cost of their care needs when this is far from the case.

The reality is even with the introduction of revised means testing rules and overall cap on self-funded care costs due to be introduced in 2023, the opportunity for families to pass on their wealth to the next generation will, in many cases, be severely restricted.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way and there are steps that everyone can take today to start preparing for those twilight years as well as managing your estate to protect those hard-earned assets.

It is never too late to take action and the latest census should be the signal for everybody to start taking this much more seriously. You don’t need to be a number cruncher to realise that our aging population is a timebomb and the ticking is getting louder by the day.  

The Partner Practice is an Appointed Representative of and represents only St. James's Place Wealth Management plc (which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority) for the purpose of advising solely on the group's wealth management products and services, more details of which are set out on the group's website The 'St. James's Place Partnership' and the title 'Partner' are marketing terms used to describe St. James's Place representatives.

Penney Financial Partners is a trading name of Penney Financial Partners Ltd. Penney Financial Partners Limited is registered in England and Wales, Number 09964340. Registered Office: Kensington House, Knights Way, Battlefield, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, SY1 3AB, UK