Today is International Older People’s Day, which aims to raise awareness of an ageing population and the need to ensure people can grow old with dignity.

Over the next 50 years, the number of older people will grow from about 600 million to almost two billion worldwide. Today, one person in ten is 60 years old or over; by 2050, we’ll be looking at one person in five, and by 2150, an unbelievable one in three.

In the UK, nearly a quarter of the population will be 65 and over by 2033, tipping the balance between the number of working people and those retired as birth rates decline. We’re also seeing a huge growth in the oldest old—those in their 80s, 90s and even 100s. This week the Queen has had to take on extra staff to ensure all those reaching 100 get their card on time, as Clintons report an almost 50% increase in sales of 90th, 95th and 100th birthday over the last year. (They should probably stock up: the number of people over 100 has jumped by 70 per cent in a decade, and with over 500,000 nonagenarians currently in the UK, many more look set to join them).

Within this older population, we’re seeing much more ethnic diversity, families spread further in geographical terms, increasing numbers of divorces later in life and women who have not had children. But overall we have one of the healthiest, best educated and wealthiest cohort of older people we’ve ever had.

These huge demographic changes provide challenges and opportunities for society more widely, but also for charities in how they engage with people, deliver their services, interact with staff and volunteers, and raise money to do all this. Here at the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing we’ve been ensuring this is on the voluntary sector radar.

There are some big tests ahead: as State Pension Age increases and grandparents step in to provide childcare, their availability to volunteer for charities and community organisations may lessen. On the other side, changes to annuities and increases in childless older women could lead to a big potential legacy opportunity for charities.

We will need a voluntary sector that can support the needs of tomorrow’s population, both young and old. We’ve said it before, but today of all days it’s worth saying again: we need to start thinking about these issues now and considering the implications for our organisations.

Many happy returns Older People’s Day!

Susie Rabin

Project Manager, Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing

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