Author Archives: José Luis Iparraguirre

Social care expenditure in the context of informal caring

The funding of the social care system is very much up in the policy and political agenda, but it is seldom related to or put into the context of informal, voluntary caring. Let’s have a look at some numbers.

Public spending on social care services on people aged 65 and over, net of any fees and charges paid by clients, amounted to roughly £7.5 billion in 2010. This includes the assessment and care management, the placements in nursing and residential care homes, the provision of supported accommodation, home care and day care services, equipment and adaptations, community meals and other community services, as well as any direct payments.

We looked into the Survey of Carers in Households in England 2009/10, which reports the prevalence of informal caring –that is, excluding people providing care in a professional capacity. In this survey, carers are defined as those people who identify themselves as having extra responsibilities of looking after someone who has a long-term physical or mental ill health or disability, or problem related to old age.

The survey shows that around 8 per cent of people aged 65-69 provide informal care for at least 20 hours a week (the preferred measure for statistical reasons), and this figure goes up to 15 per cent among those aged 75 or over. Incidentally, only 3 per cent of informal carers look after someone due to old age.

Using the population estimates from the ONS, we estimated that around 1 million people aged 65 and over are providing care for at least 20 hours a week -equivalent to 11% of all people in this age group.

If we adopted the most conservative figure of only 20 hours a week (and remember that the survey measures ‘at least 20 hours’), we would estimate that in a whole year, people aged 65 and over provide around 1.04 billion hours of informal, voluntary care.

When economists are pressed to translate voluntary care in monetary terms, we tend to use the minimum wage, which currently stands at £6.08 an hour. Multiplying the minimum wage by the number of hours of informal caring annually provided by the 65 plus, we get a grand total of £6.3 billion. That is, £6.3 bn worth of services foregone by older people. Over six billion pounds that are not computed in the gross domestic product, and that tend to go unnoticed in the current discussions about the care system.

More to the point, it is equivalent to 84 per cent of total net expenditure on social care on older people. In other words, the 65 plus are generating for free services equivalent to 84 per cent of all the public spending on social care on this very age group. 84 per cent! And that’s a very conservative estimate…

Age UK are calling on the Government to reform the adult social care system. Find out more about Age UK’s Care in Crisis campaign and how to sign up to our petition.

The work well done

As the State Pension Age rises and people are being encouraged to work for longer, more and more employers (and the public too) are going to have to change their perceptions of older workers. Instead of believing the negative stereotypes and considering that older workers are likely to be less effective at certain jobs than their younger colleagues, perceptions need to change to recognise that each person is an individual with different skills and capabilities.

I came back from a short break in Catalonia, Spain, last week, where I learned about a common thread through the Catalonian culture: the ‘feina ben feta’ –or ‘work well done’.

I read about a local artistic movement by the turn of the last century which made of the quest for properly accomplished tasks one of its leitmotivs. In the park surrounding the monastery of Montserrat I came upon the monument to Joan Maragall, a poet, which includes the following call: “Strive in your endeavour as if the salvation of humanity depended upon each detail you think, each word you say, each piece you assemble, each blow of your hammer. Because it does depend on them, believe me”.

The following day I watched a programme on national TV about Teodoro Gómez. Mr Gómez takes the bus to work every morning. Nothing unusual here. He works at an industrial bakery set up by his grandfather –again, not uncommon for a long-standing family-run business. He weighs each baguette, for either the needle in the scale has to stop at 230 grams exactly or they are not sold. Well, a good example of ‘feina ben feta’ you might say, but still not much to make it on national TV.

One of his grandsons runs the ‘cakes and buns’ department and one of his granddaughters is in charge of one of the retail outlets. Grandson? Granddaughter? Oh, yes, for I forgot to mention that Teodoro is 100 years old. He still loves passing on his wealth of experience and expertise to the younger generations (some of his great-grandsons are already part of the staff). And not just his experience and expertise, but his values and work ethos too.

I came back from Spain with a whole new perspective of my own work. It goes beyond professionalism. It goes beyond doing proficiently what is expected. Señor Gómez is not from Catalonia, but he rolls his kneading pin as if human life as we know it depended on it.  I want to be part of his bunch.

Back in the UK, there are increasing numbers of people working past their State Pension Age. As pension values declines and the State Pension Age goes up, the longer-term trend will almost certainly be for more people to stay in work. Of course, most people won’t want to work until 100, but as we may have to work longer that expected it is essential to break down such negative stereotypes, especially that older workers will not perform as well.

Do you know of any British Teodoro’s? I would love to know about them, and perhaps they could even help Age UK to get this message across. What a privilege it would be to meet them.

Find out more about work and learning

On the myth of age and voting intentions

The other day I caught myself singing “it’s just one of those myths…” to the well-known song by Cole Porter which actually goes “it’s just one those things”. I wondered whether it had been a Freudian slip, until I realised it had to do with the many ‘myths’ which we, at Age UK, have set about to demolish and are charging against daily. ‘Older people this’, ‘population ageing that’. One of these myths is that the age of voters is, by and large, related with their political preferences.

It is usually voiced that it’s the relatively older voters who tip the balance in the General Elections in the UK, for the turnout among those over 55 is bigger than that of under-25s. Whereas this is true, the relation between age and voting intentions is often overlooked – it is simply accepted as a matter of ‘fact’ that such a relation exists: “older voters tend to go for the Conservatives”, for example.

Obviously, we don’t actually know how people finally vote, but we do know what they said they intended to vote shortly before each election –thanks to Ipsos-Mori, which has been collecting these data over the last 30 years. And thus I could test whether there has been any statistical association between age and voting intentions for the three main political parties (plus a fourth catch-all category, ‘other’) since the 1987 General Election – for previous years, the breakdown of the data by age varies. For this purpose I used a fairly common statistical test: the chi-square test of independence, which I’m sure you either know a lot about or do not want to know anything of right now, so I’m going to omit any details here. Continue reading

Reading too much into the label?

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) recently published a paper claiming that ‘households receiving the winter fuel payment are almost 14 times as likely to spend the money on fuel than would have been the case had their incomes been increased in other ways’. They said this would come as a result of how the benefit is labelled: it’s because it’s called ‘winter fuel’ that people spend it disproportionately more on heating their homes in winter –an example of the fashionable ‘nudge’ theory (i.e. behavioural economics) in practice. For once, the IFS may be wrong.

The IFS economists are very competent, and this paper has been covered in the national media, so the possibility that they may have got it wrong took me by surprise.

Statistical regression analysis investigates whether one variable depends on a number of factors. Needless to say, there are always more potential factors influencing the variable under study than the number any researcher can get hold of. Provided none of the aspects excluded from the analysis are highly relevant, the results would be valid nonetheless. Instead, if some crucial factors were left out, then you cannot say anything about what’s being looked into –preferably, you would not even start crunching the numbers.

The IFS investigated the change in expenditure on fuel as a proportion of total household budget following the receipt of the winter fuel payment benefit. Through various statistical techniques they came to the conclusion above. But –and this is the killer ‘but’- the winter fuel allowance is automatically paid… at the onset of winter.  Would people spend the extra £200-£300 in heating their homes if the allowance were paid in, say, June? Hardly so, even if it were re-labelled ‘the extremely polar conditions mother of all winters payment’. The IFS did not take into account one decisive factor: the time of year the payment is given. True, no-one can disentangle the likely influence of labelling and timing on how the winter fuel allowance is spent –but the consequence of this impossibility is that the existence of a labelling effect is far from established.

We, at Age UK, welcome the fact that recipients of the winter fuel payment spend more on fuel, of course, but this is beside the point: this extra spending may not come as a consequence of the word ‘fuel’ but of the allowance being paid when people need to heat their houses most –it’d be more the ‘winter’ side of things than the ‘fuel’. Hence, it’d be very premature to draw the conclusion that benefit recipients could be nudged towards consuming this or that by merely labelling and re-labelling allowances. It might work, it might not. The IFS paper didn’t prove it.

In some countries in Latin America, the annual salaries are divided into 13 payments –not because there are thirteen months, just in case you wonder. The 13th instalment –known as ‘aguinaldo’ in Spanish- corresponds to a payment given a couple of weeks before Christmas. What do people do with their ‘aguinaldo’? They spend it disproportionately on Christmas gifts, dos and dinners, and the vacations they tend to take shortly after. I remember one year in Argentina the government decided to postpone the payment of the ‘aguinaldo’ until the beginning of January. That year, Christmas dinners lacked some of the usual trimmings and retailers saw their seasonal sales plummet, but the following month there was more pocket money to spend by the seaside than usual. Continue reading