How brands need to adapt to the looming social care crisis

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Opinium consider how the social care industry will have to change as human lifespans lengthen. / Carl Godfrey

Every so often, sometimes when there’s a lull in Brexit drama or the latest effects of climate change, something sneaks into the news agenda to remind us of the looming crisis in social care.

As everyone knows, Britons are living longer than ever before and this means being retired for longer and simply “being old” for longer.

While this is obviously a good thing to celebrate, the side effect of fewer early deaths is that we have more people living with conditions that require care for a lot longer and this has huge implications for how that care is funded.

Social care is a subject that everybody acknowledges is important but nobody in politics wants to actually fix with two previous proposals (Andy Burnham’s “death tax” in 2010 and Theresa May’s “dementia tax” in 2017) being quickly seized on by opponents and becoming a liability rather than an asset.

A child born today has a one in three chance of living to 100 and Opinium’s work with the Social Market Foundation (SMF) and AIG looking into “the 100 year life” spells out some of the potential implications for brands who specialise in retirement and supporting older people.

The average age people want to retire at is 63 while the average age they expect to live to is 82. However, the average age they expect to live a healthy and active life until is 77 so even then they are expecting around five years of infirmity. In fact, people are being pessimistic and there is every reason to believe a person retiring today can expect to live to 85 at least.

However, while they are overly pessimistic about their life expectancy, Britons are “dangerously optimistic” about their chances of avoiding a range of serious conditions such as cancer and dementia which require long-term care.

As the SMF highlights, Cancer Research UK estimates that half of all people born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime, the British Heart Foundation estimates that heart and circulatory diseases cause 28% of deaths in the UK, while the Alzheimer’s Society estimates that 20% of people living to age 85 will develop some form of dementia.

Some 35% of UK adults expect to go their entire lives unaffected by serious illness or long term conditions.

Not only are the public underestimating their likelihood of needing care, they are also placing huge expectations on the NHS to provide such care if they were to need it.

Just a third (36%) believe that the individual themselves should be responsible for any portion of their social care as they get older versus 48%, who believe the costs should be born entirely by the NHS and/or local authorities. Even while they believe that the NHS is cash strapped and ill-equipped to meet this burden, people expect that they either won’t need long term care or that it will be provided for them.

How will brands need to adapt?

  • Overcome the “it won’t happen to me” bias we all have when it comes to longer term planning. This is much easier said than done but given how unrealistic peoples expectations are, a public information and education campaign must emphasise that the risks are very real and greater than people think.
  • Make the risks more tangible. People readily buy insurance to protect themselves against threats they can imagine and which produce a visceral emotional response such as your home being burgled or burning down. Having to sell your home to cover your care costs may be more difficult to imagine but the net result is still you losing your home.
  • Help people protect their loved ones. While people may feel quite gung-ho about taking care of themselves and facing the consequences, they will be more hesitant at inflicting the burden on their families and emphasising this point can make them see the issue in a different light.
  • Lower the barriers to entry. As with any grudge purchase, people will take the path of least resistance when it comes to taking out cover to protect against longer term care needs and the greatest hurdle is joining the market in the first place.

Adam Drummond is an associate director at Opinium.

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