Andrew Selous, a senior Tory MP, has warned that the rising number of people heading to the divorce courts as they approach retirement age is leading to ‘escalating’ costs for the social care system are more people live alone.
He says that GPs should talk to those over the age of 50 about their relationships and direct them to counselling services and that older couples should be encouraged to take ‘relationship MOTs’ with a counsellor.
Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, gave his support to Mr Selous's intervention, describing it as ‘very significant’.
In an article for The Telegraph Mr Selous, who is Mr Duncan Smith's Parliamentary Private Secretary, said:
‘A friend recently told me that between them his parents had one set of eyes that worked, one set of ears and one set of legs.
They lived together with minimal support. Had they split up the care costs for both of them would have been significant.
The number of divorces for the over 60s has increased by 30 per cent in the last decade and the number of over 75s living alone has increased by over a fifth since 1996.
This says to me that local authorities and the Department of Health should recognise the very big interest they have in strengthening marriages and couple relationships in order to stop adult social care costs from increasing even more rapidly than they are expected to.'
According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people over 60 getting divorced has risen by three quarters in just 20 years.
This has been attributed to people living longer and more relaxed attitudes to divorce among the 'baby boomer' generation.
The figures suggest that in some cases it could be the result of a 'silver fox' phenomenon with men increasingly living longer while still retaining a wandering eye.
Separate ONS figures suggest that the number of people aged between 45 and 64 who live alone has risen by more than 50 per cent since the mid-1990s to 2.5 million.
Mr Selous said:
‘The point at which people retire is often hugely stressful. The whole business of family life is behind them and couples find out they don't know how to talk to each other or have fun together.
Older people are the biggest users of the NHS, and GPs are ideally placed to provide support themselves or signpost appropriate support to couples in or near retirement who are on the verge of splitting.'Chris Sherwood, head of policy at Relate, said that staying in a relationship provided more stimulation than living alone. He said:
‘Being in a couple relationships helps you to stay connected, to contribute and to be active. When people live alone they decline more quickly than they would otherwise because they are not connected and contributing. If you have two people you have a more independent unit.’