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Rural elderly 'push services to limit'

An unprecedented boom in the elderly population is pushing local services to breaking point, say councils.

The number of elderly people in county areas has risen by half a million in just three years alone, according to a recent study.

Council leaders warn that the population increase is creating ‘unprecedented’ pressure on local services due to ‘outdated’ government funding.

    See also: Rural elderly 'face social care crisis'

The figures were published by the County Councils Network in conjunction with Pixel Financial Management.

They show that the population of over-65-year-olds in rural areas rose on average by 10% between 2013 and 2016 – higher than any other part of England.

This was ten times steeper than average county population growth of 1.74%.

In total, the over 65s population has swelled in rural county areas by 485,648 in that period, with Northamptonshire seeing the highest percentage increase of 12.5%.

    Intense pressure

This has helped fuel the current NHS “winter crisis” with hospital and social care services under intense pressure, argues the CCN.

CCN health & social care spokesman Colin Noble said rural local authorities were dealing with n elderly population boom on an unprecedented scale

“Of course, people living healthier and longer, not to mention choosing to live in our historic counties, should be celebrated,” he said.

“But this growth – and therefore extra demand – is not reflected in the way that our councils are presently funded. This is outdated, unfair, and unsustainable in the long-term.?

Dan Bates, from Pixel Financial Management, who helped collate the data, suggested that rural local authorities had a real battle on their hand.

“Population data, the most significant driver in funding formulae, won’t have been updated for seven years by the time the local government funding is recalculated in 2020/21.

    Demographic shifts

“Over this same period, there have been significant demographic shifts particularly in respect of older people which have not been fed through to local authority funding allocations.

“Looking forward, a fair funding system needs to be sufficiently dynamic to reflect changing population patterns so that increasingly limited resources are targeted according to needs.”

In total, 28 out of 37 counties had a higher over 65s population increase than the national average.

Like the Rural Services Network, the CCN argues rural local authorities are losing out because the population boom is not recognised in the way government funding is distributed.

    Disproportionate cuts

This means rural residents will face ‘disproportionate cuts’ compared to England’s urban areas, as they are being left tens of millions short to keep up with demand.

The situation is forcing many councils into considering introducing new charges for social care and cutting other services elsewhere – such as children’s centres and libraries.

The government has recognised that its methodology funding for councils needs updating, and is currently consulting on a new system, scheduled to be implemented in 2020.

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