The growing population's impact on social care

The growing population over the last quarter century brings social care challenges in both early and later years of life.

Rapid population growth is placing mounting strain on health and social care systems in the UK, amid continued pressure on funding which is making it increasingly challenging to deliver the support people need.

The UK’s population explosion has seen the number of people resident in the country grow from 57.8 million[1] in 1994 to an estimated 66.9 million in 2019.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the UK population is expected to keep growing, rising to an estimated 72.9 million by 2041.

Advances in technology, healthcare and lifestyles have meant people are now living for much longer.

Around one in six people were aged 65 or over in 1997, which increased to one in five over the twenty years to 2017 and is expected to grow to close to one in four by 2037.

By 2066, the ONS has estimated more than 20.4 million people living in the UK will be aged 65 or over – more than 26.5% of the population. This means an additional 8.6 million people aged 65 or above will be living in the UK – the equivalent to adding a population roughly the size of present-day London.

An ageing population brings additional challenges for the local authorities who provide adult social care, with the elderly having some of the most complex care and support needs to maintain their health and wellbeing. 

A study by Age UK has shown 1.4 million[2] older people in the UK do not have access to the care and support they need, with more than 300,000 needing help with essential daily tasks such as getting out of bed, getting dressed or going to the toilet.

It is not just the elderly driving the increase in social care challenges, with an increasing number of younger adults living with complex, chronic or multiple conditions, and a rising number of children in the care system.

The number of children looked after by local authorities in the UK has been rising steadily for the past 25 years. Government data shows 75,420[3] children were looked after by local authorities in 2018, up 4% year-on-year. In 1994, the figure was below 50,000.

The most common reason for children being looked after was ‘abuse or neglect’, with children aged between 10 and 15 accounting for 39% of those in care. Looked after children are five times more likely to offend than other children, with around 4% identified as having a substance misuse problem.

One of the challenges facing the social care system is staffing. For children and young people’s mental health services, for example, a government report has warned low staffing levels are the most common reason for delays in children and young people receiving care.

In adult social care, the highest vacancy rates are for regulated professions that include registered nurses, allied health professionals and social workers.

Amid continued funding uncertainty, health and social care services will need to pool resources to use technology to deliver common goals and improve the quality of care.

A government report has found some adult social care services are using[4] innovative ways to utilise technology to improve the quality of care they can provide.

One care home, for example, is using assistive technology such as eye gaze or ‘head mouse’ software that enables young people with a physical disability to express their views, control their living environment and maximise their independence.

In the NHS, several measures have been introduced - digital monitoring devices for patients’ clinical observations have been cited as saving thousands of nursing hours, e-prescribing has led to reduced waits for pharmacy services, and electronic immediate discharge summaries have been introduced to help improve patient safety.

Technology is expected to play a wider role in social care in the future with the increased use of robotics, ranging from automated vacuum cleaners to the provision of social and cognitive assistance to care receivers, as well as physical assistance to both caregivers and care receivers.

The UK government will have invested £300m[5] in researching the benefits of robotic technologies by 2020, according to the National Audit Office, with a further €700 million invested by the European Commission.

The use of robotic technologies presents ethical, social and regulatory challenges, and will present new risks to local authorities, such as increased cyber and privacy risks. New insurance products will be required to help manage the risks these technological developments will present,

Emerging technologies are not the only changes taking place to the risk landscape. With a wave of historical abuse allegations having emerged in recent years, local authorities now have a heightened awareness of the need to prioritise safety of the most vulnerable, as well as facing a potential liability risk from historical claims. 

And climate change also poses a risk to the health and social care sector, with the potential need for infrastructure adaptation to ensure vulnerable people are not exposed to overheating, as well as existing risks being multiplied at times of extreme weather.

Against this challenging backdrop, local authorities must prioritise better risk assessment and ensure they have the most appropriate insurance coverage in place to mitigate against these emerging risks.


Published date: 21st May 2019

This article and related document links do not purport to be comprehensive or to give legal advice. While every effort has been made to ensure accuracy, Risk Management Partners cannot be held liable for any errors, omissions or inaccuracies contained within the article and related document links.

Readers should not act upon (or refrain from acting upon) information in this article and related document links without first taking further specialist or professional advice.


Risk Management Partners Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Registered office: The Walbrook Building, 25 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AW. Registered in England and Wales. Company no. 2989025


Risk Management Partners Limited is authorised and regulated
by the Financial Conduct Authority.
Registered office: The Walbrook Building 25 Walbrook, London EC4N 8AW.
Registered in England and Wales. Company no. 2989025.