At some time in our lives, each of us will very probably, through ill health, accident or advanced years, find ourselves significantly dependent on other people. If and when that happens, the important factors are the quality of life that we continue to enjoy, the degree of dignity we are afforded, the respect with which we and our wishes are treated, and the peace of mind that brings to us and our family and friends.
Unfortunately, the reality falls well short. For many people who find themselves in this system of 'care' the reality is a progressive loss of dignity, autonomy and purpose, coupled with increasing dependence, institutionalisation, and loneliness. In its present form, long-term care looks increasingly unaffordable to individuals, government and society as a whole, while many of those in need live in social isolation and loneliness as a consequence, but fear the loss of privacy and autonomy that moving into care entails.
We did a survey recently and three quarters of the people we asked wanted an alternative to a care home if they become dependent in older age. We believe this means there is a need for innovative thinking to revolutionise long-term care, including how it is delivered and what it should look like. Negative stories in the media about long-term care have led to the overwhelming majority of people fearing it, and our survey also found that four in five people believe that provision is only going to get worse with our ageing population, signalling a clear lack of faith in the system.
To add to this, the number of people in need of long term care is rising steadily and is likely to do so for some time - driven by population ageing. The 80+ age group is the fastest growing in the UK and the majority of people in long term care are in that age group.
Hang on though... why don't we turn all of this perceived wisdom on its head? If we stop seeing all of this as a burden and start to recognise that the ageing demographic represents a market sector with sustained and substantial growth potential. By listening to people and addressing their needs and aspirations directly with products and services that offer real choice in later life, new markets and opportunities will arise for business and industry. Future growth is crucial to the economy and in this case we get to achieve this and improve people's lives - which really makes this a question of why wouldn't we?
At the Technology Strategy Board, we think now is the time to start a long-term care revolution. We need to radically rethink current models of long-term care and dependency and create new and desirable alternatives. It is not about reforming what already exists, but about constructing something new that is fit for desires for the future.
We'll be launching a programme in March 2013 to harness the thinking of the UK research community, the commitment of voluntary and charitable sector partners, and the ingenuity of social, business, design and technology innovators and entrepreneurs. Before we do that though, we'd like to understand what people really want for their futures, so let us know by tweeting using #InnovateForAge or tell us what needs to change to improve later life at www.tomorrowtogether.org.uk.