an old people road sign

Our ageing society

By Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing 13 August 2013 2 minute read

Lynne Berry is Deputy-Chair of the new Canal and River Trust, a Non-Executive Director of Cambridge University Hospitals Foundation Trust and a Senior Fellow at CASS Business School, City University. She has had several Chief Executive posts: WRVS, the General Social Care Council, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Family Welfare Association and was the Executive Director of the Charity Commission. She has served on many Government bodies including the Office of Civil Society Advisory Board and several Better Regulation Task forces. 

What are the implications of an ageing society for the voluntary sector in England? It’s a big question, but as society experiences falling birth rates and steep growth in the number of people over 60 in the next 20 years, it’s one which the sector needs to consider. There will be opportunities and challenges for all charities and their funders in their services, as well as for their interactions with volunteers and donors

It’s time to think about what the impact of over 15 million people of pensionable age by 2035, and a reducing proportion (and quite possibly number) of young people, will mean. Whatever else the voluntary sector is about, it is known for both innovation and quick thinking as well as for being wedded to tradition and familiar ways of working. As we announce the Commission on Ageing & the Voluntary Sector (established by NPC and ILC- UK and supported by the Big Lottery Fund and the Prudential), and prepare for its launch in the autumn, we’ll be hoping to hear about practical initiatives that can help the voluntary sector prepare for the impact of an ageing population and understand the strategic thinking that our great organisations—new and old—are developing. We’ll draw together existing research and consult widely. We’ll report the best ideas and develop that strategic thinking.

I believe that an ageing society offers a huge array of opportunities for us all. It is exciting that older people are living longer and, in many cases, better lives. This is a great chance for society, the voluntary sector and individuals to rethink how we view ageing, and consider how we can harness the potential of this extraordinary social change. And it won’t just affect organisations of and for older people—as Dan Corry of NPC has said this is something that will affect us all, including for instance those  working with young people that ‘may see changes in their workforce and funding as the population ages and the profile of older people changes.’

Developing strategic thinking is all of our responsibility. Sally Greengross, of ILC-UK, said ‘the responsibility for adapting to demographic change does not lie exclusively with Government or indeed the private sector. The ageing of our society could represent a seismic shift for our voluntary sector, yet it is not clear we are responding adequately to the challenges’.

I believe that together we share the challenge of helping charities adapt to the huge opportunities of an ageing society, and the Commission on Ageing & the Voluntary Sector will give us the space to have the important conversations we need around this