As we all know by now, the UK is getting older. While one-in-six of the population is aged 65 and over today, by 2050 official figures say one in four will be. Within this total, the number of very old people will grow even faster with the number aged over 80 projected to almost double by 2030 and reach eight million by 2050. Recent new data showing that births in the UK in 2011/12 were the highest since 1972 may change the picture over the very long term. But we will be near the end of this century by then.
Such a demographic shift has implications all over the place. Health and social care systems are two obvious areas but the implications go much wider across the public services. Worryingly, a recent Lords Select Committee concluded in its report Ready for ageing? that 'the Government and our society are woefully underprepared for ageing'.
Our fear is that the same is true for the voluntary sector and so we at charity sector think tank NPC have this week announced that we will be launching a commission on Ageing and the Voluntary Sector. Chaired by former WRVS boss Lynne Berry and working with academic experts the International Longevity Centre-UK (ILC-UK) the commission will provide long-term, strategic thinking about the implications of an ageing population for the voluntary sector, drawing together existing research and engaging and consulting with the sector through a series of events. We will then work with voluntary organisations to develop answers as to how the sector can lead the way in adapting to an ageing population, and publish a final report with recommendations for the future. Our aim is to give the sector a gentle kick up the pants. We all know the population will look different in 20 years time and we need to start thinking what that means for charities and their funders now.
Clearly this is a huge issue for organisations working directly with older people, such as Age UK, Parkinson's and Carers UK many of whom have already got their thinking caps firmly on. But it goes much, much wider. Our ageing population will have an impact on many charities and funders which don't work directly with older people. For example youth charities might see their service users have an increasing number of caring responsibilities or environmental charities may see the age profile of their volunteers go up. NPC's recent work with Relate showed that the demand for relationship advice for older couples was growing, placing new demands on the charity. Our ageing society will also impact on HR practices in the voluntary sector as well and recruiting and better supporting older workers will form part of the solution, which will require changes in recruitment practices. There will be many challenges, but equally there will be many opportunities--as illustrated by recent research by the Royal Voluntary Service (formerly the WRVS) which found that two in five over 60s volunteer for charity.
No commission or report can give us all the answers and charities will have to find their own way through this changing environment - exploring what works, and what does not. But we hope that our commission , as it develops over the next two years, will help the sector think about these issues and start to get planning in place.
Watch this space for the full launch of the commission and the in the autumn and the announcement of our other commissioners. It is going to be an exciting time.