Charities should stop using stereotypical images of older people, report says

At the launch of the final report by the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, its chair Lynne Berry says images of 'half-dead Ethel' reinforce the idea that age is synonymous with vulnerability

Older people: images often 'stereotypical'
Older people: images often 'stereotypical'

Charities should be more careful about how they present older people in their advertising and campaign materials, Lynne Berry, chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing, said today.

The commission was set up by the think tank NPC in partnership with the International Longevity Centre UK to examine and prepare for the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing population.

Speaking today in London at the launch of Decision Time, the final report of the commission, Berry said it was time for charities to stop using pictures of "half-dead Ethel gazing sadly out of the window" in their publicity materials because it was not worth the damage that this was doing to the way older people were perceived.

"The peddling of negatives stereotypes must end," she said.

Berry acknowledged that charities faced a challenge in knowing how best to portray older beneficiaries at a time when competition for funds was fierce. 

"These kinds of images are a very difficult issue in fundraising, but too often voluntary sector organisations have said they are OK with these images because they bring in the money," she said. "We need to change that idea, because in the long term it will alienate more people and reinforce the idea that age is synonymous with vulnerability."

Asked by an audience member why the voluntary sector often aggravated ageism, she said the voluntary sector was part of society, which was often ageist.

The report says the voluntary sector should call for the removal of a "patronising" reference to "need because of age" in the Charities Act 2011.

"Why does the act include a reference to ‘need because of age’ in the definition of a charitable purpose?" it says. "Shouldn’t we remove this reference and instead encourage charities to lead the way in banishing age stereotypes?"

The report estimates that volunteering and donations from people aged over 65 could grow in value by more than £6bn in the next two decades, but warns that charities will miss out on this money unless they change the way they work with older supporters.

It says that retired people are more discerning than ever before about giving time and money, and that charities need to develop reciprocal relationships with the people who support them.

The report says that the voluntary sector should market itself as the "sector of choice" for people who change jobs in the last year before they retire.

It says the value of charity volunteering by people aged over 65 will be £15.7bn by 2033, an increase of £5.3bn compared with 2013. The value of charity donations by over-65s will be £3.49bn by 2033, an increase of £1.18bn compared with 2013, it says.

Berry said in a statement: "Charities can start by looking at their own day-to-day practices: are older people just there to be helped or do they play their part working with charities? Does the charity resemble the community it serves? Charities can think about the current batch of older supporters and ask whether they are doing enough to maintain them as volunteers and donors for the future."

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