People aged over 65 as a percentage of the total population in Spain is very similar to the proportion in the EU (19.2% and 19.8% respectively), although in our country elderly people (aged 80 or over) represent a slightly larger stratum of the population than across the EU. While the proportion of senior citizens is very similar, there are a number of major differences in the way these people meet their social needs, with indicators in Spain that are better than the European average.
One of the most important pieces of data to emerge from this comparative analysis is that, unlike what happens among the population as a whole, the poverty situations found among senior citizens are similar in magnitude to those on average in EU countries. It should also be noted, however, that the poverty rate among this age group is higher in Spain than in other lower income European countries. This relative position is made all the worse, moreover, when the risk of financial poverty is measured by adding the likelihood that there is a problem of material deprivation in the same household. The rates of consistent poverty among senior citizens are higher only in countries in eastern Europe and in Portugal and Greece.
In the remaining selected indicators, the comparative analysis reflects a positive situation for senior citizens in Spain. The percentage of people in this age group with excessive housing cost problems is less than half of the average in the EU, with Spain one of the countries where this indicator is lowest. As in the other two indicators mentioned, this relative situation is better than that of the population as a whole.
Also to do with housing, homes that senior citizens live in offer better conditions and facilities than in other European countries, with this problem being a third less significant than the EU average. Nevertheless, in relative terms, this position is worse than that of the population as a whole, which, despite recording a higher indicator than senior citizens, is appreciably lower than that of various countries in the EU.
Lastly, the percentage of senior citizens with severe limitations in Spain is also better than that of most European countries. In all countries, population ageing presupposes rising demand for long-term care, though senior citizens’ state of health has an impact on the evolution of this. Even though the recorded tendency is positive over recent times, and the reduction seen in Spain exceeds that observed across Europe, it should be noted that the figures are based on a single question that has a certain subjective element to it, as a consequence of which this improvement should be viewed with caution.
There is no European statistic that makes it possible to analyse how the degree to which this social need is met is changing in different countries. However, the OECD offers comparable data for 18 Western countries (OECD, 2017). According to their data, the percentage of senior citizens receiving long-term care in Spain rose between 2005 and 2015 but it nevertheless remains lower than the OECD average (8.5% and 13% respectively). Moreover, a higher proportion of senior citizens are cared for in their own homes. In part this reflects people’s preferences, but also limitations associated with the lack of sufficient places in residential homes and day centres.
SENIOR CITIZENS AND LONELINESS
The usual aspects that measure senior citizens’ social needs pay little attention to the relational aspect. There are few databases with information about senior citizens’ perceptions of the affective and personal support in their daily lives. The National Health Survey explicitly asks the extent to which they receive love and affection. In their answers, 3.1% of senior citizens state that they receive less than they would like, a percentage only slightly higher than that of everyone over the age of 15 (2.9%).
European information on similar issues is very limited, and there is no data for all countries that can be compared. Of the twelve countries that do have information (through the SHARE [Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe), Spain is among the 30% or so of countries where there is a greater incidence of problems to do with isolation and loneliness.
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