This is a ‘first thoughts’ off the top of my head ranking based on a combination of what I know about these social issues and social theory/ research evidence.
Also, this isn’t comprehensive – I’ve taken the above from the Ipsos-Mori September 2019 survey – so really this is my ‘top 14’ social issues as identified by 1027 members of the British public in 2019.
This is what the British public thought were the most important social issues in September 2019….
Actually not quite, I’ve added in mental health and sexual inequalities just because I think they deserve a mention, unlike at least 95.5% of the British population sampled last September!
A broadly Marxist Rationale for my Ranking
I’ve put pollution and the environment at number 1 as if we don’t stop living within planetary limits soon we’re just lining up more social problems in the future – the more we consume and pollute the fewer resources there are to go round and the fewer resources the more inequality, the higher the cost of living, the more social unrest and so on.
Inequality comes second following Wilkinson and Picket’s work in the Spirit Level – inequality seems to be the number one variable correlated with all other social problems. I’ve included poverty with inequality as (simplifying to the extreme) in Britain we only really have relative poverty, which is a function of inequality.
At three is the ultimate economic challenge – keeping the cost of living down. I think this is fundamentally related to inequality – for example landlords owning several houses and renting them out make themselves rich while impoverishing their tenants.
I’ve included unemployment and underemployment at four as these is these are not only fundamentally linked to inequality, but also a future challenge as technological change strips out jobs from the economy.
Race relations goes in at five because Racism does still exist and it is the most common tool for scapegoating the causes of all other social problems. If we can just get rid of silly notions of Racism, the masses might direct their attention at the elites who create most of our social problems.
The ageing population is next as it’s something of a ticking time bomb – we haven’t yet addressed as a society how we are going to pay for the increased health and social care costs of people in old age in the context of a less favourable dependency ratio in future years.
To skip to the final two, I regard these as positive things – lack of faith in national politics I think is a necessary precursor to more decentralized, autonomous solutions to social problems and as to immigration and migration more generally, not only can this solve the ‘problem’ of the ageing population, I think in general we need more of it – if nothing else to combat the problem of racial prejudice!
Last year Japan’s population declined by 300, 000, to 126 million, and and its population is predicted to decline to 87 million by 2040.
Japan also has an ‘ageing population’ – it is already one of the world’s oldest nations, which a median age of 46, and its predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under 15, the opposite of the situation in 1975.
This is an interesting case study relevant to the ‘ageing population‘ topic within A-level sociology’s families and household’s option (AQA 7192/2).
Why is this happening?
Excluding Monaco, Japan has the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. However, these figures are not too dissimilar from some European countries, so what really explains Japan’s declining population is it low immigration rate – only 1.8% of Japanese are foreign, compared to 8.6% in the UK for example!
What will the consequences be:
Nicholas Eberstadt argues that we already seeing some of the consequences:
Labour shortages, especially in care work, hospitality, construction and agriculture.
400 school closures a year.
The emergence of ‘ghost towns’ as the population decreases
Increased burden on elderly welfare – by 2060 36% of its population will be 65 or older.
Eberstadt suggests that Japan’s future has only been imagined in Science Fiction (perhaps Kim Stanley Robinson can offer some help?).
Why is the Fertility Rate so Low?
It’s basically a combination of two factors:
Economic problems – 50% of the population are in precarious jobs, and economic insecurity is a key reason for not having children. Also, if couples were in a position to have children childcare is too expensive for both partners to remain in work, so this may scupper the desires of even those in permanent jobs!
Traditional gender values remain intact – Japan is the 114th most gender unequal country in the world – traditional and patriarchal values remain in-tact – women don’t want children out of wedlock or with men with no economic prospects – which is about half of all men in Japan!
Why is Migration so Low?
Japan is geographically remote and culturally homogeneous. Japan has long discouraged immigration – they see it as a threat to Japans’s culture and low crime rate – in fact they point to migration across Europe as an example of its negative impacts.
How is the government going to tackle the crisis?
There are a range of measures…
Government sponsored ‘speed dating’ services.
By providing longer maternity leave and childcare
To offset the shrinking labour force through a ‘robot revolution’.
Is there an Upside?
Well, there’s more land per head, and because Japan is the first to transition into what will likely become a global trend, it’s an opportunity for it to become a world leader in technologies that can assist an ageing population.
A couple of not very pleasant news-items which relate to the problems of the ‘ageing population’:
The U.K. is on the brink of a social care crisis according to The Independent (November 2016) – with local authorities saying they could face a £2.6 billion funding gap by 2020.
According to The Guardian (December 2016), this is because funding has been slashed by 10%; there has been a 25% reduction in the number of people receiving help, and a third of all care homes face bankruptcy after cuts in the fees paid by local authorities.
All of this of course means that elderly people receive a lower quality of care, either in care-homes, or through reduced numbers of home-visits, but Age UK (Sept 2015) further calculates that up to a million people who have difficulties with basic activities such as getting dressed get no help at all.
All of this suggests that the problems of the ageing population are very much real, and given the present government’s neoliberal ideology, seem likely to get worse.
Populations across Europe are getting older which can create social problems related to higher levels of poor health among older people and a greater financial and caring ‘burden’ on younger generations.
But careful social planning can help to overcome these challenges.
What are the consequences of an ageing population?
In 1850,half the population in England were dead before they reached 46. Now half the population in England are alive at 85; and 8 million people currently alive in the UK will make it to 100 years or more. And if we extrapolate that to Europe, we can say 127 million Europeans are going to live to 100.
Hans Rosling points out that: We reached the turning point five years ago when the number of children stopped growing in the world. We have 2 billion children. They will not increase. The increase of the world population from now on will be a fill up of adults.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt: The two biggest issues that we face as an ageing society are the sustainability of the NHS and the sustainability of the pension system; and within the NHS, I include the social care system as part of that.
The basic problem we have in Northern European countries is the generational tension between individualism and communal responsibility – Across the generations within a typical family we have become more individualistic and less collective/ communal:
People in their 80s (who grew up in the 1960s) are generally very individualistic – they have retired into property wealth and are unwilling to relinquish the independence this gives them. They have also socialised their children into being more independent: most people today in their 50s (the children of those who are in their 80s) have bought into this – The family norm is one of the typical 50 year old living an independent life with family, miles away from their own parents.
Grandparents today of course help out with childcare occasionally and pay regular visits, but they are generally not taking a day to day role in childcare, and finances are kept separate. This arrangement is mutual – People in their 80s don’t want to be burdens on their children, they want them to have the freedom to live their own lives – to be able to work and raise their children without having to care for them in their old age. (So I suppose you might call the 2000s the era of the individualised family).
(This is very different to what it used to be like in the UK, and what it is still like in many other parts of the world where grandparents live close by and are an integral part of family life, taking an active role in raising their grandchildren on a day to day basis. Various interviewees from less developed countries testify to this, and to the advantages of it.)
Within this context of increasing ‘familial-individualism‘ a number of problems of the ageing population are discussed:
Firstly, one of the main problems which this increasing ‘familial-individualism’ creates for people in their 80s is one of increasing isolation and loneliness as their friends and neighbours move away or die.
One proposed solution is for older people to be prepared to move into communal supported housing where there are shared leisure facilities, like many people do in Florida. However, people are quite set in their ways in the UK and so this is unlikely. A second solution, which some immigrants are choosing is to return to thier country of origin where there are more collectivist values, trading in a relatively wealthy life in the UK for less money and more community abroad.
A second problem is that healthy life expectancy is not keeping pace with life-expectancy, and there are increasing numbers of people in their 80s who spend several years with chronic physical conditions such as arthritis, and also dementia – which require intensive social care.
As with the first point above, this is more of a social problem when children do not see it as their duty to care for their elderly parents – It is extremely expensive to provide round the clock care for chronic conditions for several years, and this puts a strain on the NHS. Basically, the welfare state cannot cope with both pensions and chronic care.
On potential solution to the above is mentioned by Sally GREENGROSS: The Germans in some cases now export older people to Eastern European countries because they can’t afford – or they say they can’t – to provide all the services they need in Germany itself. Could this be the future of chronic elderly care in the UK – Exporting dementia patients to poorer countries?
However, the idea of care-homes themselves are not dismissed when it comes to end of life care – the consensus seems to be that the quality of care in UK elderly care homes is generally very good, and better than your typically family could provide (despite all the not so useful scare programmes in the media).
A third problem is for those in their 50s – with their parents still alive and ‘sucking money out of the welfare state’ there is less left for everything else – and this has been passed down to the youngest generation – As a result people in their 50s now face the prospect of their own children living at home for much longer and having to help them with tuition fees and mortgage financing, meaning that their own plans for retirement in their late-50s/ early 60s are looking less likely – In other words, the next two generations are bearing a disproportionate cost of the current ageing population.
Worryingly, there is relatively little being done about this in government circles – Yes, the state pension age has been raised, and measures have been taken to get people to bolster their own private pensions, but this might be too little to late, and it looks like little else is likely to be done – The issue of the ageing population and the cost of welfare for the elderly is not a vote-winner after all.
The programme concludes by pointing out that pensions and care homes are only part of the debate. What will also be needed to tackle the problems of the ageing population is a more age-integrated society, a possible renegotiation at the level of the family so that grandparents are more integrated on a day to day basis in family life (trading of child care for a level of elderly care) and also social level changes – to make work places and public places more accessible for the elderly who might be less physically able than those younger than them.
A related topic in the Global Development module is the question of whether ‘overpopulation’ is a problem – an informed view on this topic is that of Hans Rosling’s who argues that ‘overpopulation’ isn’t really a problem at all because of the rapid global decline in birth rates.
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