The Observer view on the future facing Britain’s ageing population

With imagination, we can all benefit from the baby boomers’ talents

    • The Observer,

       Britain’s ageing population has talents that can be utilised to their own, and society’s, benefit.

On Thursday, in Florida, the International Council on Active Ageing holds its annual conference, attracting 9,000 members from 37 countries. It was among the first to recognise the economic potential of millions of baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, now approaching the final third of their lives. Some will continue to work because they wish to or have no choice. Others are involuntarily unemployed. In the UK, some, from next year, will have access to their pension pots without the need to buy an annuity, giving them resources to spend when, and on what, they wish.

Government, commerce and the financial sector are waking up slowly to the huge demographic change ahead. In Japan, for instance, in 1990, 12% of the population was over 65. By 2025, the over-65s will number one in three, requiring four million carers. While the focus globally and in the UK is on a growing health and social care crisis, the “silver economy”, as we report today, will have an enormous impact on society, financially and culturally. The baby boomers, according to Age UK, spend £2.2bn a week.

Ageing, in all its diversity, will become a much more visible presence in society as five million hit pension age in the next five years and the market begins to cater for these vintage consumers. The response to this demographic challenge too often is pessimistic. Many of today’s baby boomers have assets and capabilities that may find their way into second careers that give back to the community, known as “encore” careers in the US. As volunteers, providers of childcare and spenders, they contribute billions to the economy.

Growing older undoubtedly brings challenges as perception, cognition and control of movement alter. But these are no longer the inevitable cost of living longer, if not healthier, lives. If government and society adopt a positive frame of mind, innovation and research can and will offer solutions that not only enhance the lives of older citizens but enrich those of younger people, too.