I know I did a post on our ageing population quite recently but I make no apologies for returning to the subject because it’s important and it affects us all, no matter what our age. The more elderly people we have in our society, the higher the percentage of the public ‘pot’ that will need to be spent on caring for them, leaving less of that ‘pot’ to be spent on health, education, transport and a host of other areas crying out for investment. The more retired people we have then the more people we need in work, paying taxes to cover the unavoidable (in a civilised society) expenditure on an ageing population.
This fact is universally acknowledged, and is currently causing great concern in some of the most advanced economies in the world, not least Japan. Which goes some way to explaining why the Japanese are pushing ahead in robotics and similar fields. In neighbouring China, there is a real fear that the economic progress made in recent decades could be dramatically slowed, if not reversed, by a growing imbalance in the population, as the single child policy introduced in 1971 starts to take effect, and China faces an ageing population supported by a workforce that is, in relative terms, shrinking.
So we have a problem universally acknowledged . . . except, apparently, in Wales. For here, not only do we have an ageing indigenous population, but we also have to contend with the activities of the short-sighted and the selfish who add to the problem by attracting retired and elderly people from outside of Wales. To make things worse, the areas most likely to experience this are often areas losing their own young people, thereby further exacerbating the population imbalance. (With one, rather curious, consequence – the resultant need to attract younger immigrants to ‘service’ the older immigrants!) The map will help explain what I mean. (Click to enlarge. For a fuller breakdown by local authority area look to the table below.) The famous ‘Costa Geriatrica’ shows up clearly on the north coast, while the other areas with large percentages of non-Welsh in the 65+ age bracket are all rural or coastal areas. The region with the highest percentage of Welsh born elderly is the central Valleys and Swansea Bay. Inevitably, the local authorities in this region are also among those with the lowest absolute percentages in the 65+ age bracket.
I often used to wonder about people wanting to spend their later years somewhere other than where they had lived their working lives, their homes. The more I thought about it, and the more I learnt from first-hand experience, the more I realised that there is more than one answer. For a start, it’s worth remembering that many people move prior to their retirement. If you plan to move to Ceredigion when you retire, then it makes sense to spend your final working years there to get acclimatised. Easy enough if you work for an Englandandwales body like the Post Office, or a company with outlets in both England and Wales. For most such organisations have policies of filling vacancies ‘internally’, which means that a vacancy in Aberystwyth or Cardigan could be filled by someone already working for that company or government department somewhere in England. This is frequently what happens; resulting in Welsh people being denied employment, and transfers to Wales creating vacancies in England. Yet another example of the unequal and damaging relationship between Wales and England.
(Of course our enemies – those who argue they want the ‘best for Wales’ and always end up supporting English interests – would tell us it’s a two-way street, Welsh people can move to jobs in England. Of course they can. Just remind yourself of all the government departments headquartered in Wales, all those Welsh supermarket chains with hundreds of outlets in England, those behemoth Welsh banks, global media empires, etc., etc. Back in the real world . . . remember Wales’ population of three million and England’s fifty-three million. And how are Welsh people supposed to get transferred to England if they can’t get recruited in Wales in the first place?)
In addition, many people retire to where they’ve spent regular holidays, especially if they’ve bought a holiday home or a caravan in the area. So tourism plays a massive part in creating the generational imbalance we see in rural and coastal areas. But there are other routes, especially in the older age group, as I learnt from observations made while my late mother was a resident at a local retirement home. New residents, usually women, would regularly turn up, seemingly out of the blue. I’d ask the staff, ‘Where is she from?’ The usual response was, ‘No idea’. So I made further enquiries as to why women with no real connection with an area would suddenly appear in a Welsh retirement home.
The most common reason was that many of these residents, women in their late seventies or eighties, were ‘placed’ there by their families. Let’s say Mrs Blogg of Birmingham had a son in his fifties, due to retire himself in a few years, and planning to move, once retired (or before), to the Meirionnydd coast; well, if mother needed to go into a home then it made sense to put her into a home in Tywyn rather placing her in a Birmingham home and then hoping there was a vacancy for her in Tywyn when he retired.
The simple rule adopted by retirement and nursing homes seems to be, ‘As long as someone is paying the bill, then it doesn’t matter where they come from’. Which I supppose is fair enough, up to a point. But it’s surely short-sighted. Because while the home’s costs may be covered, an elderly person will need attention from many other quarters, so who pays the local doctors’ surgery, the medicines and drugs, the ambulance service, the hospital, etc? Multiply that by tens of thousands, add it to the Welsh elderly, in areas where the undertaker’s hearse – even if horse-drawn – is likely to arrive before the ambulance, and we can see the insanity of allowing into Wales every year thousands of people who have spent their productive years elsewhere.
To put this into some kind of context, a friend of mine in Swansea has taken a few holidays in New Zealand, and would seriously consider moving there but, as he told me recently, at his age (66) he’d need close to a million dollars before he would be allowed in. New Zealand, like many other countries, will not consider non-working immigrants unless these are self-sufficient, with money in the bank, private health care, or other guarantees that they will not be a burden on the country. Here in Wales, we welcome anyone, including those it can be predicted with certainty will be a strain on health and other services.
So why do we allow it? There are three main reasons. First, there are an awful lot of powerful interests making money from people who are close to retirement, or who have retired, moving to Wales. Estate agents, lawyers, house builders, owners of care homes and retirement homes and others. Second, local authorities see this influx as a way of disguising their shortcomings because it maintains or raises population levels. Further, an influx of retired and elderly people does, to some extent, generate its own jobs: hairdressers, taxi drivers, gardeners, etc. All low paid and usually precariously self-employed jobs. Third, we have a ‘Welsh’ Government that is terrified to even debate the subject, for these are English people we’re talking about – what would the Daily Mail say?
Here are some figures that might help you appreciate the problem. The 2011 census told us that 18.4% of the population of Wales was over the age of 65. The figure for England was 16.4% . . . and England is much richer. That gap is widening. While the map shows the obvious problem of the ‘Costa Geriatrica’ there are countless other pockets or concentrations of English born elderly. In the five south western wards of Gwynedd (roughly Barmouth to Aberdyfi, see table, click to enlarge) the Welsh born account for only 31% of the over 65s! When the native-born account for less than one third of the population then it should be time to admit there is a problem. Across all age groups, the English born account for 20.8% of the population of Wales. Yet in the 50 – 64 age group the percentage rises to 25.7%; while in the 65+ age group it goes up even higher, to 26.5%.
The fact is that despite the political orientation of this blog what I’m discussing here is not really nationalism at all. It’s not even politics. (And it’s certainly not ageism.) This is economics, pure and simple. Perhaps the most intractable economic problem facing advanced societies today is caring for their ageing populations. Therefore, for a poor country with a health service already close to collapse to allow in from outside of that country large numbers of retired and elderly people is economic suicide. If an ageing population is a serious problem for Germany and Japan then here in Wales it’s a disaster waiting to happen. The truth is that our politicians are too fearful of the backlash from England’s political establishment and media to raise the subject; as a result, we are, effectively, being intimidated into accepting a situation that can only result in further impoverishing Wales. Which is, of course, what many wish to see.