New research by Which?, looking at consumer behaviour in the social care sector, suggests that just one in 10 adults (12%) aged 55 or over have put aside money to pay for care needs as they get older.
The consumer champion found more than half (55%) of these adults are prioritising other things they want or need to do now over planning for care.
Only a third (34%) had discussed their preferences for care in later life with a friend or relative, while a fifth (19%) said they did not even know where to look for information about care.
People aged 55 and over were divided about whether they will get good quality care through the social care system. Three in 10 (30%) said they expected they would, while around a third (36%) said they thought it was unlikely.
As the Government prepares its forthcoming green paper on social care, Which?’s report Beyond Social Care: Keeping Later Life Positive, signals that any policy proposals that put the burden of planning for care on ordinary people may be doomed to fail.
A survey carried out as part of the research found that, when asked what would be their first port of call when looking into care options for themselves or a relative, Google was the most popular option among all adults - ahead of speaking to the local GP or friends and family.
One in four people (23%) said they would turn to the search engine first when looking for information about social care for themselves or an older relative.
Just one in seven (15%) said they would turn to their GP first, one in 10 (9%) said they would speak to a family member or friend, while less than one in 10 would contact their local authority (8%), the Care Quality Commission (8%) or a social worker (6%) first.
Overall, the top sources of information people said they would use to explore social care options were Google (46%), the GP (45%), a local authority website (45%), family and friends (41%) and social care providers (39%).
The GP is still the most trusted source of advice on care and support for older people, along with friends and family - despite local authorities being responsible for providing consumers with advice on social care, according to the research.
Both the GP and friends and family were trusted to provide good advice by four in five people (81%). This was followed closely by a relevant charity in the sector (78%). Six in 10 (60%) said they trusted local authority social services staff.
When asked to think about what changes they may make if their health and mobility did deteriorate, nine in 10 (92%) people aged 55 and over said they would be willing to make adaptations to their homes to aid mobility and a similar percentage (89%) said they would be willing to use mobility aids outside the home. More than eight in 10 (85%) said they would be willing to use a gardener, cleaner or handyperson.
Which? is calling on the Government to use its forthcoming social care green paper to take these insights on real consumer behaviour into account and create a social care system that works for the people that will come to require support in later life.
The system must recognise that people are unlikely to plan for their care and should be designed to act quickly and effectively at times of crisis - when many people interact with the care system for the first time.
It should also encourage people to think about small but significant lifestyle steps they can take to continue living independently and enjoyably at home for as long as possible.
The Government should also ensure people can get high-quality, tailored advice about their care options and have access to information from sources they trust.
Alex Hayman, Which? Managing Director of Public Markets, said, 'The broken social care system can not continue to fail older people and their families in delivering high-quality, affordable care when they most need support.
'The Government must recognise that most people won’t have made extensive plans for their care, so the system must be designed to help people get the support they need at a time of crisis and stress for themselves and their loved ones.'
George McNamara, Director of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age, the older people’s charity, has responded to the report, saying, 'Planning for your possible future care needs is important, but the social care system can still be bewilderingly difficult for older people and their families to navigate. We regularly hear from people who tell us they don’t understand whether care is free, what they are being asked to pay for from care providers, or how to choose good care services. A social care system that works for everyone is about more than money. The Government needs to take this research seriously and ensure the social care green paper sets out a plan for a system that clearly shows what people will have to pay and what they will get in return, and supports and allows them to thrive, not just survive, in later life.'