Nearly 1 in 3 elderly people struggling with essential tasks of living, amidst breakdown in social care


Age UK calls on all political parties to put social care at the heart of their manifestos as new figures reveal high numbers of over-80s going without the help they need


New findings from Age UK reveal that 794,000 of the ‘oldest old’, those aged 80 or older, are unable to carry out at least one activity of daily living (ADLs) and are either receiving inadequate care or no care at all. These simple and essential tasks include washing, eating, getting out of bed, going to the bathroom, dressing, or walking.


Shockingly, of all those aged 80 or older who are coping with at least 3 ADLs – meaning they must have really substantial difficulties – more than half (56%) are either receiving help that does not fully meet their needs, or does not meet their needs at all.


In the run up to the General Election, the Charity is calling on the next Government to address this situation as a matter of urgency. It says it is another example of our social care system in freefall, where significant numbers of our ‘oldest old’ – who include some of our most vulnerable citizens – have effectively been abandoned by a system that has been chronically underfunded for too long.


In England, there are approximately 2,622,000 individuals aged 80 or older. Age UK’s new analysis shows that:

Among people aged 80 or over with at least 3 ADLS:

  • 260,000 have difficulty with 3 or more ADLs (10% of the entire age group).
  • Of these 260,000, around 86,000 (33% of all with 3+ADLs and 3% of the entire age group) receive no help.
  • Of these 260,000, around 145,000 (56%) have unmet needs: they either do not receive any help or help that does not always meet their needs.


Among people aged 80 or over with at least 1 ADL

  • 926,000 have difficulty with at least 1 ADL (35% of the entire age group).
  • Nearly half a million of them (491,000) do not receive any help (53%).
  • Of those who do receive help, 70%[i] (303,000) do not receive help that fully meets their needs.
  • 794,000 (equivalent to 86% of those with one or more ADLs and 30% of the entire age group) do not receive any help despite their needs, or receive support that does not always meet their needs.


These figures build on Age UK’s previous work on social care and highlight just how miserable a time this is for those older people in need of social care who are not able to get enough help, or sometimes no help at all.


Earlier this year, the Charity’s landmark report ‘The Health and Care of Older People in 2017’ also showed that:


  • 37% of older people aged 80 and over, who themselves are providing informal care, are providing 20 hours or more of care a week, while 34% are providing 35 hours or more.
  • Nearly two thirds of older carers themselves have a health condition or disability, while 72% report feeling pain or discomfort, rising to 76% for those who provide 20 or more hours of care a week[ii].
  • Additional research by Age UK also finds that carers aged 80 and over are between them saving the health and care system a massive £5.9bn a year by providing unpaid care[iii]”.


Today’s research comes as Age UK launches its own manifesto for change, ‘Dignity in Older Age and a Later Life Worth Living’, with a particular focus on ensuring that older people receive dignified care at home, in hospital and in care homes. The Charity is urging the next Government to continue to pursue a twin track approach towards social care: being prepared to invest emergency funding in the short term to save the system from complete collapse – a real risk in some areas; while also developing an effective plan to ensure a sustainable financial future for social care in the longer term.


Caroline Abraham’s, Age UK’s Charity Director said:


“These figures do not so much reflect a social care system which is sometimes performing less well than we would like, but instead, a complete breakdown in the way we care for our growing older population, with even some of our ‘oldest old’ being left to manage with help that is grossly inadequate or sometimes offers no help at all.


“With over three-quarters of a million people aged 80 or beyond having some element of unmet need for care, and more than half of these coping with as many as three problems of daily living – like getting out of bed, washing and dressing – it is shocking and unacceptable that they are not getting the support they need. I hate to think what life must be like for them and how they manage to get through each day.”


“Older people in their eighties and beyond have spent many decades contributing to our society as workers, parents and grandparents. But too many who are in declining health and who need help are now being expected to fend for themselves amidst the unprecedented challenges facing our care services. For many this is a blow not only to their health and wellbeing, but to their dignity and self-respect too.


“Some of the stories we hear from older people and families on our advice line and in our local Age UKs are shameful and are not what anyone should expect in a civilised society. Quite simply, at the moment in this country we are letting many of our oldest old down.”


“At this General Election we urge all the political parties to defy history, to put the needs of the older people who need our help the most at the heart of their plans for government, and to resolve the crisis that is engulfing social care, once and for all.”


The stories below reflect just some of cases outlined in the release and are representative of calls received. Names, gender and certain details and characteristics have been changed to preserve our callers’ confidentiality. 


  • Maureen is in her late 90s, and lives alone after her husband – and sole carer – died a few years ago. She is finding it difficult to wash, struggles to eat and appears increasingly frail. As a result, she is embarrassed to go out and see friends, fearing that they will judge her negatively for her appearance. After her pet died earlier this year, she has also begun to express feelings of chronic loneliness. Her family spoke to her GP, but he said there was little that could be done, and that he was unable to offer any advice.


  • Arthur is in his early 80s, and is about to be discharged from hospital following a fall. Arthur will be unable to get upstairs once he returns home, so has had to have his bed moved downstairs, and some equipment has been provided to help with going to the toilet and eating. However, owing to the difficulty Arthur has with using his hands and getting around, he is unable to prepare a meal or wash himself. As Arthur also struggles to get around his house, he still finds it difficult to get to the toilet, and has frequently been found in a state of distress, having been unable to get to the toilet in time. Despite these challenges, he has been told that he will not be provided with a carer as he still fails to fulfil the eligibility criteria necessary for being provided with care.


  • Janette and Simon have been married for 60 years, and are both in their late 80s. Janette was diagnosed with dementia ten years ago, and her only carer is her husband who himself has chronic arthritis and must walk with a frame. When we spoke to Simon, he was keen to highlight how devoted he is to his wife, but it is clear that he is finding it increasingly difficult to cope with his wife’s needs, with her often becoming violent and confused about who Simon is. More recently, Simon has contacted the Social Services for support, only to be told that there is no respite available at present, and that he must ‘do the best he can’.


[ii] Briefing: Health and Care of Older People in England 2017 – (2017


[iii] New figures from Age UK show “Invisible but invaluable army” of the oldest carers saving state billions–campaigns/new-figures-from-age-uk-show-invisible-but-invaluable-army-of-the-oldest-carers-saving-state-billions/ (2016)



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