About a third of all men and half of all women will, after the age of 65, need long-term care and support. The reason? Levels of dementia and long-term conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and stroke, are projected to increase dramatically as our population ages.
And medical advances have extended life-expectancy and improved quality of life beyond what could have been expected even a decade ago.
If so many of us are living longer, often with disabilities and long-term illnesses, it is likely that we will need some form of support. We need to consider how we would like to be cared for.
Yet many people don't know how the care and support system works and don't feel that it is relevant to their lives.
Many have made no provision for their old age. And among those who have there are many who feel that the current means-testing of certain services is unfair.
Every day adults, young and old, are supported through the care and support system.
We are now spending over £800m each year in doing so. This can take the form of support at home, such as domiciliary care, day care, direct payments, respite care and housing adaptations, as well as residential, or nursing home, care.
My priority is that people should be supported to remain independent at home where possible. And we are doing just that: in a single week last year, more than 23,000 people received domiciliary care. We also support thousands more in residential and nursing homes.
Although there is much that is good about current services, we must recognise that the system is coming under ever-increasing pressure.
Each generation is living longer and, as we get older, our need for care and support will increase. By 2021, the number of people aged 85 and over is projected to increase by 67%.
We must ensure that our care system is keeping pace with these changes in society.
But we focus too much on doing things for people and not enough on enabling people to help themselves.
We don't focus enough on respecting people's privacy and dignity. And we don't offer them choice, or control, over how their needs are met.
And it is not just a question of the type of support provided, but how that support is funded. The global recession we are facing will not end anytime soon.
If we are to have a fair and sustainable system of care and support in the future, we must face up to these challenges now, so that we will be able to provide the care people need, when they need it.
I want to see change happening in a way that everyone has had a chance to consider and a genuine opportunity to help shape.
Changes implemented following the review of health and social services will go a long way to improving services here.
But, in the longer term, we need to undertake a fundamental review of our policies around adult social care to ensure a sustainable framework is in place.
That is why I am launching a public consultation on the future of care and support in Northern Ireland. I encourage you to read the consultation document Who Cares? The Future of Care and Support in Northern Ireland, and join what I believe is a much needed-debate.
Over the next six months, the review team will be hosting a number of consultation events across the country and I hope that you will take the opportunity to attend.
This challenge is not unique to Northern Ireland, but the solution might be. This is your chance to influence the development of a new care and support system. I urge you to make your voice heard.