“Sixty-five is the new 50” was a statement that got many people at the launch of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing’s first report smiling. But, despite effectively having 15 years taken off my age and being transported back to my twenties, I left the event feeling somewhat downbeat.
The report, ‘Age of Opportunity: Putting the ageing society of tomorrow on the agenda of the voluntary sector today’, was launched on April Fools Day, causing Dan Corry, chief executive of NPC to worry that people would think it was a prank. But a good number of people did turn up to find out what it was all about, even though a few who I spoke to said they were not sure what the commission would achieve.
Lynne Berry, chair of the commission, introduced the report as a document that aims to be “challenging and provoking”, with extreme scenarios to get charities to engage with the issues, challenges and opportunities posed by an ageing society. The report aims to get charities thinking at the start of a year of engagement with the sector, during which the commission aims to develop ideas and focus on the good practice already occurring. Despite deliberately not putting health, social care and pensions at the heart of its discussions, the area it is covering still seems huge and unwieldy.
“Optimism not fear” is proclaimed in the report, but much of the talk at the launch seemed to focus on the negatives: social isolation, lack of financial security, the rising incidence of “silver splitters” (older couples separating, to the uninitiated) and the need for training in dealing with the retirement stage of life. This was in contrast to the large image of a grey-haired woman hula-hooping in the lobby and the report estimating that volunteering activity on the part of older people is expected to be worth over £15bn by 2020. Where was the discussion around these vibrant retired people with fantastic skills to offer?
Hopefully when the next report is launched in March 2015 it will be more focused and inspire the sector. I want to feel that I still have something to give to society when I’m older and greyer, rather than just being lonely and a problem.