The Missing Older Generation

It is estimated by Global Age Watch Index that, by 2050, older people in the world will outnumber children under 15 years-old for the first time in human history.

The authors of the study say that, globally, there is an ongoing challenge that arises from these statistics. Silvia Stefanoni, the interim Chief Executive of Help Age International, stated: 'The continual exclusion of ageing from national and global agencies is one of the biggest obstacles to meeting the needs of the world's ageing population.'

Within the United Kingdom, the results can already be observed that the number of people aged 70 years and over who are economically active is increasing, a reversion from the trend for early retirement at the end of the last millennia. In the employment figures produced by the Office for National Statistics (April - June 2013) showed that an extra 54,000 workers aged 50 - 60 years were employed, to a new record of 7.72 million. The average age of the person retiring from the labour market had risen from 63.1 years in 1993 to 64.8 years in 2013.

It was calculated by the International Longevity Centre-UK that the UK GDP would increase by 2.7 per cent by encouraging people to remain in the workplace for as long as possible with the increased health and productivity benefits. It can be surmised that the Government would encourage this situation as it would increase revenue (through Income Tax and National Insurance Contributions, as well as additional spending abilities) and reduce the need for payments (for example, increasing the age eligibility for state pensions). George Osborne's Autumn Statement gave the way forward as pension ages rising to 68 year-olds, which was projected to rise to 70 years (with some analysts predicting it to rise even higher to 77 years).

Whilst there is evidence that, partly because people are living longer and have better health, their working lives have been extended. This is partly because of the provisions in the equality legislation since 2006, and (in a number of cases) because of the status, the significance and social life connected with working.

The 62 per cent of women and 59 per cent of men over the age of 50 years want to continue to work beyond the state pension age. It is noticeable that, since the removal of the Default Retirement Age (DRA), there has been an increased possibility of achieving that objective.

However, there is a negative aspect in that people have to work because they have financial fresponsibilities. In a recent survey by HSBC ('Future of Retirement'), it was estimated that one in five (more than 5 million working people) may never be able to retire because of financial concerns, due mainly to shortfalls in pensions and savings. In the same report, nearly half of British pensioners reported that their retirement had not turned out as they planned because they were living on less money than anticipated.

The responsibility for caring for the next generation continues to be placed on the older generation, with nearly one-quarter of 56 - 59 year-olds and 9 per cent of 70 - 75 year-olds still supporting their children financially.

Grandparents, who are significant childcare providers, could become increasingly likely to work into later age - a situation that politicians and major employers' organisations have not addressed. Grandparents Plus have reported that 47 per cent of older childcare providers have given up their jobs to care for their grandchildren, many of the latter have emotional difficulties and would be in local authority care had they not stepped into the situation. It has been estimated that approximately 600,000 grandparents have relinquished jobs to bring up their grandchildren., having to rely on benefits as most do not receive any allowances from their local authority. For a country with a Christian tradition of supporting the family, it raises the issue as to whether people working into later age is supportive of the family, both as far as childcare is concerned and with regard to assisting financially the next generation.

There is also the impact on the voluntary sector, with many organisations (including religious ones) relying on the input of older people. In many instances, these volunteers are from the previous generation that could or had to retire because they were more financially secure or because they had to retire due to the DRA. Statistically, the United Kingdom has one of the biggest numbers of people willing to volunteer (especially among religious communities) for various causes, but this base could be eroded as more people continue for longer either out of choice or necessity. The idea of the Big Society rests heavily on those people who are able to contribute their time; but society as a whole could suffer if there are not people available to undertake important tasks in their own time as they are continuing in full-time employment.

The nation is in the position of having to decide its priorities. It is good for people who can and want to work for as long as they wish with the element of choice, and for people to work to give their finances a better footing. However, it will also need to decide whether childcare is a matter of the State or within the family, particularly with older relatives choosing to look after the children or be in employment. Within the voluntary sector, it has to be determined whether it is to continue on that basis or whether people should be paid for their work, which may be a culture shock for organisations (particularly churches) who are used to people undertaking tasks for no fee (so 1 Timothy 5: 18 about a labourer deserving his wages, is it a bad thing?).

In essence, as Silvia Stefanoni reminded us, we need to engage with the issues of an ageing population, particularly where people are working into their later years.