28/04/2014 09:47 BST | Updated 28/06/2014 06:59 BST

Mind the Family Care Gap: How Can the Care Sector Respond to the Needs of a Booming Older Population?

A report issued this week by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) told us that most care for older people is not provided by the state or private agencies but by family members, at an estimated value of £55 billion annually. As the baby boomer generation ages, we face a shortage of adult children who could be able to take on the care responsibilities, which in turn will put pressure on health and social care services. Although many family members are taking on care responsibilities, the report notes that older people increasingly live alone or have fewer family members to rely on. Modern time pressures have also had an impact; recent research by Anchor found that many people struggle to make time for their elderly relatives. Over two thirds of respondents said that busy work, kids' schedules, personal commitments and household chores have forced them to cancel visits.

The IPPR's report recognises that older people are increasingly living alone and are at risk of social isolation. That's why I agree with the think tank's recommendation that we should all work to strengthen communities and recognise the role that neighbours, friends and other volunteers can play. At Anchor we are committed to combatting loneliness. For example, people living in our retirement housing often find that they are able to live independently but in a close-knit, thriving community, and in our care homes, we have a strong emphasis on arranging activities that people of all ages can enjoy. From Christmas parties to summer fetes and dancing competitions, we know that our residents enjoy inviting their loved ones to events that take place in their homes.

We can't expect informal carers to shoulder the load alone. The increasing rates of long term conditions that come with an ageing population mean that the care sector will play an ever more important role. But demographic change is creating challenges for the professional care sector too. Research by Anchor and the International Longevity Centre-UK earlier in the year found that if current trends continue, England could face a shortfall of 718,000 care workers by 2025.

It is time for the care sector to step up to the challenge. With more than 900,000 young people unemployed, care providers need to examine factors that will encourage young jobseekers to join the sector. We as care providers must also ensure that employees have the right support structures in place to drive career development, to encourage valuable care workers to stay in the industry and enjoy a long and stimulating career.

The challenge now falls not only to families but also to the adult social care sector and Government, to inform and encourage every individual to plan for their own future care needs. We're living in an ageing society and would all like to think that we'll always be surrounded by loved ones. While it's not always possible to grow old with family nearby, it's vital that there are viable and (just as importantly) desirable services available for people in need of companionship or care.