Go West, old man
Over-50s flock to the South-West, putting strain on health care... but they claim fewer benefits
THE peace and sunshine of the West Country has attracted so many retiring couples that almost half the population is now over 50, an official analysis has found. And the growing concentration of pensioners in the south-western peninsula – the oldest population in Britain – has led to worrying strain on health services, it warned.
Two out of every five people in the region are over 50 and more than one in five – 1.2million people – are over retirement age.
They are largely middle-class, claiming fewer state benefits than their counterparts almost anywhere else in Britain.
For example, pensioners in the South-West are a third less likely to claim means-tested pension credit than in the North-East.
But, conversely, they need more NHS hip and knee replacements per head of the population than anywhere else in the country.
The Office for National Statistics, which produced the report on the lifestyles of older people around the UK, said: ‘With a rapidly ageing population there is cause for celebration that people are living longer but also a realisation that there are new challenges to face regarding housing, health and welfare services.’
The report in the ONS journal Regional Trends said the population of the South-West had increased recently, partly due to ‘internal migration from elsewhere in the UK’.
Most of the new arrivals are retirees, with the great majority from the crowded South-East or from London, although thousands also move from the West Midlands or East Anglia.
Their presence has made Taunton in Somerset and Christchurch in Dorset the only towns in England where more than a third of the residents are retired, while Dorset is the county with the oldest profile in the country, with 29 per cent of its people over pension age.
And as well as the existing pensioner population, the number of over-65s in the South-West is likely to double in the next 25 years, with places such as Exeter and Weston-super-Mare particularly affected.
Few of the West Country retirees depend on the state for their living.
While means-tested Pension Credit is claimed by a quarter of the pensioners in Britain, only 21 per cent of pensioners in the West Country claim it compared to 33 per cent in the North-East. Only the wealthiest part of the country, the South-East, has fewer elderly benefit claimants.
Only 6 per cent of retirees in the West Country claim Disability Living Allowance, half the percentage that do so in the North-East and North-West.
Michelle Mitchell, of the charity Age UK, welcomed the growth of an older population, but warned that it would mean ‘significant challenges for policy makers in terms of funding and investing in the sort of services which an ageing society will rely on’.
A sight to be old: The harbour at Torquay in South Devon