In recent years there have been many doom and gloom reports about the UK’s ageing population, and the cost to the UK economy. Yet a recent report by an older people’s charity estimates the value that older people added to the economy during 2013 at £61 billion.
The added value relates to four key areas, employment, caring for an adult, childcare and volunteering. Paid employment of older people makes up by far the largest economic contribution, with a value of £37 billion, followed by unpaid care of an adult at £11 billion.
The value of grandparents providing childcare for their young grandchildren so that their grown up children can go to work without paying fees for nurseries or school wraparound care is valued at £6.6 billion. Voluntary work carried out by older people has a value of around £6 billion for the UK economy.
So whilst the cost of social care for the elderly is considerable, at £10 billion per year for England alone, it is small compared with the economic contribution which the older generation are making to the economy.
In addition, many older people who pay privately for help or care in their own home are supporting jobs in the private care industry. The independent (i.e. not state funded) home care industry is worth over £6 billion, and the private care home sector is valued at over £13 billion.
In addition to the financial value, there is a huge value which cannot be measured in monetary terms. Childcare from a grandparent has a depth of feeling and love which cannot be replicated by a children’s nursery.
This type of family nurturing is also more likely to foster in the child a greater care and feeling for older people, so the circle of love and respect can be developed from a young age.
Some organisations would simply not be able to function without their network of volunteers, many of whom are older people, as these are often the people who have the time to devote to charitable work.
Many high street charity shops are dependent on volunteers, and even larger organisations need voluntary support. The National Trust relies on its huge numbers of volunteers, who work in over 50 different types of role, from tea room assistant to gardener.
Far from being a burden on the economy, older people are making a significant contribution to it. A positive attitude towards retirement and ageing is essential, not just on the part of the elderly, but also from all ages, to ensure that older people are treated as valued, respected and contributing members of society.