Analysis: Ageing and the voluntary sector

The demands, challenges and opportunities charities face from an ageing population are the focus of the Commission on Ageing and the Voluntary Sector. Annette Rawstrone reports on its objectives and we interview its chair, Lynne Berry

An ageing population: the ramifications for the sector are thought to be extensive
An ageing population: the ramifications for the sector are thought to be extensive

The UK is experiencing a huge demographic shift, with people older than 50 expected to make up more than half of the adult population in fewer than 20 years. This has obvious implications for charities and voluntary bodies that work with older people.

But the ramifications for workers, donors, volunteers and beneficiaries across the entire sector are thought to be so extensive that a body has been set up to examine and prepare for the challenges of an ageing population - and for the new opportunities it might offer.

The Commission on Ageing and the Voluntary Sector is chaired by Lynne Berry, a former chief executive of the Royal Voluntary Service, and comprises 11 members from the charity sector, including experts in employment, fundraising, working with young people, volunteering and trusteeship.

"Because of the enormity of the demographic shift, an ageing society will mean changes for everyone in our sector," says Berry. "The commission will be exploring how an ageing society affects the voluntary sector as a whole and how it can be ready to make the most of the opportunities that an ageing sector will bring, as well as address the challenges that will arise."

An older society has the potential to affect every aspect of a charity's work. According to Berry and the commission, there are four main areas:

Workforce Will an older workforce lead to changing working patterns and practices, such as more part-time working? The threat of a skills shortage might lead to charity HR practices changing and older workers being targeted to fill vacancies. Charities might need to consider apprenticeships for people in their 50s, and how to retain older workers.

Beneficiaries Will the needs of the communities that charities currently serve change as people live longer? Charities might see a shift toward more complex health and social needs. Greater demands on healthcare could mean less money being available to invest in research and prevention. Charities might also need to work at attracting new audiences to causes often supported by older people, such as heritage and arts projects.

Fundraising A significant proportion of donations comes from older people - but this might change. There are likely to be more demands on people's savings, including support for parents and grandchildren, and pensions will be stretched by the cost of living longer. Charities might not be able to rely heavily on legacy donations and might have to rethink strategies on older people or look to younger generations to give more money.

Volunteers The make-up and motivations of volunteers are likely to change. There will be a greater pool of skilled volunteers, but is the sector prepared to maximise their potential? The sector will have to reconsider how it attracts, motivates and retains volunteers. Coffee mornings or helping out in charity shops might not appeal to the new generation of volunteers; similarly, the popular cause areas might shift.

The commission will focus on what is likely to happen over the next 20 years. There will be three strands to its work: building an understanding of how ageing will affect the sector through research and analysis; engaging sector leaders in the implications of ageing for their organisations through raising awareness, consultation and dialogue; and enabling the sector to respond and adapt to ageing through practical recommendations, creating and piloting different approaches and sharing best practice.

The other members of the commission are: Stephen Burke, director of United for All Ages and the Good Care Guide; Ken Burnett, trustee of the Disasters Emergency Committee and founder and managing trustee of the SOFII Foundation; James Cochrane, vice-chairman of Raleigh International; Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC; Kristina Glenn, chief executive of the Cripplegate Foundation and chair of London Funders; Keji Okeowo, youth participation manager of the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services; Javed Khan, chief executive-designate of Barnardo's; Baroness Sally Greengross, chief executive of International Longevity Centre - UK; Paul Palmer, professor of voluntary sector management and associate dean for ethics, sustainability and engagement at Cass Business School; and Sonia Sodha, head of public services and consumer rights policy at Which? The Consumers' Association.

Initial findings will be published in March, and a final report in mid-2015.

Further information: The commission will be gathering ideas from the voluntary sector. Contact Susie Rabin -



- The median age today in England and Wales is 39; in 1911, it was 25.

- Life expectancy at birth has reached a record in the UK of 77.7 years for males and 81.9 years for females. Employment

- In mid-2013 there were more than one million workers over the age of 65 in the UK, the highest number since records began.

- There are projected to be 15.6 million people of state pension age by 2035; there are 12.2 million today.


- More than 3.4 million people aged 65 or over live by themselves, representing 44 per cent of the total population living alone in the UK in 2011.

- There is evidence that people aged 85 or over are, as a group, at greater risk of poverty than people aged between 65 and 85.


- The cost of state pensions will rise from £84bn to £116bn within 50 years. That is equivalent to 8 per cent of the UK's gross domestic product, or the total contribution of financial services to the economy.

- In the Global Aging Preparedness Index developed by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the UK ranks 15th among 20 comparable countries in terms of the impact of ageing on fiscal sustainability.

Source: International Longevity Centre - UK

- Read our interview with Lynne Berry, chair of the Commission on Ageing and the Voluntary Sector

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