Ageing population poses a threat to UK economy

18th November 2015


The ageing population poses a threat to the UK economy business leaders have warned in an open letter pledging to do more to address the challenges posed by the demographic shift.

A group of major national and international companies have signed an open letter and pledged to “work over the next five years to help make our ageing society and economy more sustainable”.

In the letter, the companies point out that “without action, our ageing society poses a risk to the UK economy and our business.”

The businesses highlight that demographic change today means that we are “already witnessing shortages in critical parts of our economy“.

On the one hand, the business leaders recognise the potential of older consumers. But, they also highlight that too few people are saving enough to have a good retirement.

They also point out that having a healthy workforce will be key to addressing the UK productivity, yet point out that more investment in healthy ageing needs to be made.

The businesses signing the letter argue that “action by all of us over the next five years could make the UK a world leader.”

They point out that “companies have a big part to play in tackling the challenges of demographic change. We can create jobs for all ages. We can help our workforce age well. And we can ensure our products and services are relevant for all.”

Next week, government, industry and voluntary sector experts will come together at the first national Future of Ageing Conference. The conference, organised by the International Longevity Centre – UK (ILC-UK) will seek to kick start a debate on the role companies have to play in helping us adapt to demographic change.

Baroness Sally Greengross OBE, ILC-UK chief executive says: “Businesses must play a significant role in helping us adapt to our ageing society. They need to create jobs for all ages, help UK plc improve its productivity and help people to plan better for their retirement. Businesses who grasp the demographic opportunity will reap significant financial rewards. Older consumers have significant purchasing power and reaping this potential will offer economic returns. It is in all of our interests that more businesses engage with the challenges and opportunities of demographic change”.

Jane Ashcroft CBE, CEO of housing and care provider Anchor says: “We must stop seeing our ageing society as a cost. Older workers can bring wisdom and experience in the same way older consumers are fuelling our economy. We have to act now to ensure a positive future for the older people of tomorrow.”

Shaun Crawford, global insurance sector leader at EY, says: “EY fully endorses the critical role businesses have in creating and sustaining healthy workforces that deliver the benefits for employers, individuals and communities. EY’s own research has clearly established the link between wellbeing, productivity and performance. Taking care of physical and psychological health is critical to enjoying life;working at older ages to sustain household incomes and as longevity continues to increase, improving the proportion of this extended life in good rather than in poor health.”

Steve Groves, CEO, Partnership said: “Partnership is pleased to add its support to the ILC-UK led pledge to work towards helping make our ageing society and economy more sustainable. The challenges associated with demographic change are significant and it is important that these are addressed as a priority. With an ever growing older population, with few saving enough for a good retirement, it is essential that more is done to encourage and stimulate a pensions savings culture and equip people with the skills and interest to engage more in the process.”

Gary Shaughnessy, CEO of Zurich UK Life, says: “Increasing life expectancy and chronic under-saving could leave many people facing a shortfall in retirement. The insurance industry is rising to the challenge by encouraging more people to save and developing new products that support them in later life. The Government also has a role to play by fostering a stable pensions system that incentivises long-term saving.”

Douglas Anderson, partner at Hymans Robertson and founder of Club Vita, says: “Attitudes around the age at which we retire are turning on their head. The mass ‘early retirement’ programmes of the 1980s and 1990s are likely to be confined to the annals of history. Average life spans have increased by around four years since then. Importantly, there is growing evidence of the health benefits of working longer – and into what is currently considered ‘retirement age’ but in the future may not. Club Vita data shows that those who begin drawing pensions at 70 live a year longer than those retiring at 60. Gradual work-to-retirement transitions, instead of a clean break, look increasingly sensible to employers as well as employees. Employers should respond accordingly and make it easier for employees to phase down working avoiding a later retirement cliff edge. This would improve productivity, staff engagement and crucially also help prevent career blockages for younger generations keen to move through the ranks.”

Gary Day from McCarthy & Stone, the  retirement housebuilder, says: “The population is ageing rapidly but the UK’s housing stock is not suitable to cope with this change. There is a lack of choice when older people come to move to properties that are designed for them in later life. This impacts negatively on a range of areas – poorer well-being, higher public spending on health and care, and blocked housing chains. We need to raise our focus beyond starter homes and greatly encourage the building of more retirement properties and housing suitable for older people across all tenures.”

Fiona Dunsire, CEO, Mercer says: “Mercer’s Age Friendly Employer Research showed only a fraction of companies have implemented ‘age friendly’ policies to help them retain and attract older workers. Tactics like age-specific wellness programmes, reviews of pay equity across comparable jobs across age bands, age discrimination checks, training targeted at older workers and line manager training are still only offered by a handful of employers. Employers need to be doing more to develop corporate policies that allow their business to tap into this talent pool. We strongly advocate that companies investigate their workforce planning need to establish the extent of the impact of an ageing society on their businesses.”

Martin Jones, chief operating officer at Home Instead Senior Care, says: “We are already committed to creating jobs for all ages. We have CAREGivers in their 50s, 60s and 70s whose life experience make them brilliant assets for our business which delivers relationship-led homecare for the UK’s ageing population. We simply do not see age as a barrier to a career in care with us and we provide ongoing training to promote personal development, no matter what a person’s stage in life.”

Bruce Moore, chief executive of Housing & Care 21, says: “As a specialist provider of housing and care services for older people, we can see clearly the challenges that an ageing population presents to society, and the different ways in which we can work together to meet these challenges and make sure people can continue to enjoy healthy and active lifestyles in later life. We must also not lose sight of the contribution older people can continue to make to our society, given the right opportunities and support.”

Rachael Saunders, Age at Work director, Business in the Community says: “More and more employers are making the most of the increasing asset of skilled, knowledge able and networked people that longer working lives offer. Making the most of this asset does mean changing how workplaces operate – responsible businesses are leading the way”.

Colin Taylor, CEO, Key Retirement says: “As an organisation focussed on the financial wellbeing of our older population we wholeheartedly support this initiative by ILC-UK. As a company who specialises in financial advice and support for the over 55s we fully understand the importance of ensuring that as our society ages we must continue to innovate and provide financial solutions which give both genuine and tangible values to the wider ageing population.”

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