MM 2001: Family & Demography - Research

December 21, 2000

Simulating policy for an ageing society (Sage)
Building a UK population model from now to 2020

The population is ageing, and the implications for future social policy are massive, spanning pensions, care structures and health service provision.

Using a microsimulation model, the Sage team from the department of social policy at the London School of Economics and the Institute of Gerontology at King's College London will map the effects of various social policy options for future generations. "We are going to build a simulation model of the UK population from now to 2020," says the group's co-director, Jane Falkinham. "We will build in big changes to the social fabric and demography."

The government predicts that by 2026 there will be 17.1 million people in Britain over 60, compared with 11.7 million in 1996.

"People retiring in 2030 will have different life histories from today's old people," says Falkinham. "There will be more people retiring who have not had children or, if they have had them, they may have had discontinuous contact with them. And fewer people will be in partnerships - with implications for the supply of informal care from spouses and families."

Key questions the group hopes to answer over the five-year duration of the Economic and Social Research Council funding under the Future of Social Policy initiative include: what will be the capacity for paying for one's own retirement and will the ageing society become more polarised?

Study of care, values and the future of welfare
Frameworks redefined

A Leeds University research team is seeking to redefine the framework for the welfare state at a time of "major welfare resettlement".

Project director Fiona Williams says: "When Beveridge developed the post-war welfare state, he did so assuming that certain areas of life were relatively fixed - gender roles, marriage, steady jobs, firm moral and national boundaries. We are interested in the way that social changes - such as increases in divorce, changes in men's and women's employment, different expectations of close relationships and cultural diversity - have changed the contours of our day-to-day lives."

Just one year into a five-year study, the group has few empirical findings. But key to the work, Williams says, is accepting various new forms of family and community care.

One emerging priority area is the growth of multiracial families following long-term migration changes. "Most people assume that families are located within one society," Williams says. "But with second-generation Asians or Caribbeans, family networks span continents."

Another area of interest is the growth of single-person households. "It's an assumption that when someone is ill, there is someone from their family to look after them," she says.

"The networks of care are changing, and it has major policy implications."

Williams will be joined by Carol Smart, a professor of sociology at Leeds, who will bring to the project her experience of running the Centre for Research on Family, Kinship and Childhood.

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