AN UNFOLDING crisis is set to hit the elderly in South Lakeland as the number of working age people plummets.

A new report has concluded the working age population will fall by 8,300 in the next two decades while the number aged 65 and over will rise by a similar amount.

And a leading health expert has warned these trends will cause huge problems with tremendous pressure being placed on medical facilities and the care home system along with serious economic issues.

"Urgent action is needed and we are staggering towards a real crisis," said former regional director of public health Dr John Ashton.

Dr Ashton, who was made an CBE for his service to the NHS, has long flagged up the dangers of the population's rapidly changing age demographic, and said the latest report underlines the scale of the imminent crisis.

"People need to realise if this goes on, there will be nobody to look after them when they are older," he said.

"We are depending on Eastern European labour in the hospital and care home sector. We have to have a plan."

The South Lakeland District Council report, which is based on figures from the Office of National Statistics, states that “South Lakeland has the lowest proportion of young and working-age people in the county and both are in decline.”

The report also notes that in the last decade, the fastest rising age group in South Lakeland has been those aged 90 or over, with the number increasing by an incredible 140 per cent.

Pam Lewis, client services manager at Age UK South Lakeland, said the organisation had long been aware of the steep rise in the proportion older people living in the area.

"Older people are living longer, many of them with long term conditions, and many of them having had no significant increase in their pensions after years of austerity," she said.


"All this impacts their quality of life and, subsequently will increase the demand even more our services at Age UK South Lakeland, the NHS and social care.

"At the other end of the scale, with a fall in numbers of working age people we have, once again we have found it very difficult to recruit staff, with the number of applications for specific roles falling considerably.

"The shift in demographics will have a serious impact on both recruiting staff in the area and delivering support to an increasing number of people who need it."

Dr Ashton said the fundamental issue was attracting more young people to the area, and he stressed that the provision of affordable housing and a strategy to reinvigorate the job market for young people were crucial factors in tackling this issue.

"The housing issue has to be addressed," he said.

"We need to have the type of housing that will enable young people to move to the area and we need to develop a decent job market to encourage young people to settle in Cumbria.

"In addition, a lot of young people go off to college and never come back.

"Cumbria must adopt a strategy for dealing with these issues."

South Lakeland District Council economy and assets portfolio holder Cllr Graham Vincent said the council was fully committed to addressing what he agreed was a serious and growing problem.

"We are already well aware of the age demographic issue and the problems it will cause and we are doing everything we can to attract young people to the area," said Cllr Vincent.

"There is no doubt there is an urgent need for young people to come to Cumbria.

"We need to provide affordable housing and this really is a key issue as it is all about making our area into one where young people will want to live."

He stressed that the SLDC had developed a strong partnership with Lancaster University which also involved more than 200 local businesses and said he believed the council's strategy was beginning to achieve results, though he conceded that the county in general faced growing problems.

"I believe that there are now early indications that we are starting to attract more young people into our area," said Cllr Vincent.

"But the Cumbrian position in general does show that as a county we are not hitting the mark in attracting young people."

Dr Ashton called for a more imaginative approach across the board and suggested a number of groundbreaking initiatives which he hoped would head off the crisis.

Among his suggestions were better provision of health services so people of all ages with pre-existing health conditions would not be dissuaded from moving to the area, and also the development of housing schemes where the elderly lived independently but co-operated together to tackle the problems they faced.

Dr Ashton also pointed out that older workers had experience and abilities and importantly often had excellent social skills and it was vital these were utilised as much as possible.

He said countries such as Singapore had polices to adapt workplaces to allow older workers to continue their employment on a flexible or on a part time basis, and this was an area well worth exploring.

And pointedly, he concluded by commenting that in his view the people of Cumbria were well used to receiving minimal support from central government so the onus was on both the private and public sector in the region to work together to address a potentially catastrophic situation.