NPC and ILC-UK today announce a Commission on Ageing and the Voluntary Sector. If you’re thinking ‘not another Commission’, or ‘what exactly do Commissions achieve?’, you’re not alone — similar questions have been asked many times over the last year. So why ageing, why a Commission, and what does this mean for funders?
According to government figures, one-in-four of the UK population will be aged 65 and over by 2050, compared to today’s one in-six. Within this statistic, the number of very old people are growing even faster: there are currently three million people more than 80 years old, which is projected to almost double by 2030 and reach eight million by 2050.
There are figures and projections aplenty, and regular new evidence to inform the picture. And England is not unique in this fact –countries all over the world are experiencing the same shift. This is a societal change, and its scale and the accompanying changes to health, circumstance, outlook and aspiration, for instance, mean there are implications across society. We need to think and respond strategically, both now and for the medium to long term.
The Commission is focused on the role of the voluntary sector in understanding and responding to this change. New thinking and innovation is already going on in this space, but how can the voluntary sector channel and adapt existing work to meet the growing and changing demand for services for older people? The ageing population itself brings huge potential—so what are the opportunities for employment for example, and how do we realise them? We need to think more widely than service provision to include the attitudes and behaviours of society, government, and employers, and whether their policies and practices reflect the changing demographic.
This affects the whole sector. Alongside organisations offering specialised services, there are others for whom older people make up a large proportion of their beneficiary group (many of which have already made significant changes), and those who are seeing an increasing demand for their services from older people. NPC has recently worked with Relate, which has seen an increase in demand for relationship advice from an older age group. Less obviously, there are also those who don’t work with older people but whose beneficiaries may be affected by the change—young people for example, who may find themselves with more caring duties. Beyond services, the implications for donors, staff and volunteers must also be considered.
The Commission has an ambitious aim: to put ageing on the agenda of the voluntary sector. To achieve this, the priority areas for consideration—the ideas, answers and actions—need to come from and be developed with the sector. We’ll begin with a piece of research to stimulate and inform the debate. We then want to engage, consult and work with the sector—both charities and funders—to identify what challenges and opportunities an ‘ageing society’ creates and how best to respond. The Commissioners, Chaired by Lynne Berry, will lead and guide this process, bringing a range of points of view and expertise, and helping with profile, debate and engagement.
Funders of all types are extremely important to this work. Some might fund the ‘ageing sector’; others will think about how this demographic shift affects the work that they fund, or the strategy or sustainability of the organisations they currently support, or more broadly, how to help the sector react to this change. We hope funders reflect on all these questions as we invite them to be involved in the Commission. In the mean time, watch this space—we’ll be launching the Commission’s full line-up in the Autumn.
Lucy de las Casas is Head of Projects at NPC