England's ageing population

The challenge we face is to decide where responsibility for care and support will lie in the future

Everyone talks about climate change being one of the biggest challenges we face, however, I believe demographic change will be just as big an issue in England.

Right now, about 10 per cent of the population provides some care for a relative or friend. More and more I hear of families - predominantly women - who are holding down jobs, bringing up their children, and looking after elderly parents. Today, there is also a far greater emphasis on independent living for people with disabilities, but we recognise that living independently requires support.

The challenge we face is to decide where the responsibility for care and support will lie in the future between the government, families and the individual. Care and support is about the activities, services and relationships that help people to be independent, active and healthy throughout their lives. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a substantial proportion of social care services are provided by the private sector and voluntary organisations. Unlike the health service, social care is currently means-tested.

In 20 years time, 20 per cent of the population of England will be over 65 and the number of people over 85 will have doubled, so we need to decide now how the care and support system must adapt. The current system is simply not sustainable.

As well as addressing the financial side of the care and support system, we need to look at other issues, too. For example, one area that I would like to hear people’s views on is how the care and support system can promote human rights and equality.

We intend this reform to benefit everyone who will need care and support in the future, enabling people to be more in control, so that they can lead active and healthy lives. England has a diverse population and we need the new care and support system to recognise the different histories, experiences and circumstances of our population.

People must be able to access the type of support, which will best suit them as an individual.

We are considering the radical reform of the current system, and this is about helping to bring to life what it could mean to promote equality and human rights.

We announced a national debate on the future of Care and Support in May and we intend to publish a Green Paper on a new care and support system in early 2009.

It's vital we hear people’s views on how we can create a fair, high quality, affordable system in a way that promotes independence, choice and control for everyone. I urge people to get involved - the debate affects us all.

Ivan Lewis is Care Services Minister in the Department of Health

If you want to contribute your views to the debate on the future of care and support, log on to the website http://www.careandsupport.direct.gov.uk