Public policy, ageing and the voluntary sector

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In the run up to the 2015 election we are seeing lots of policy ideas emerge to respond to the challenges and opportunities of ageing. But how might these possible policy changes impact on the voluntary sector?

Retirement income: More and more older people are going to reach “retirement” needing to turn their own pension pots into income. Historically many retirees have benefitted from final salary pension schemes. But most future generations are going to have to make their own decisions about their retirement income, particularly given the removal of the need to take out an annuity announced in the Budget recently. The Chancellor has outlined a key role for information at the point of retirement (not just independent financial advice) and the ‘advice’ sector is likely to find itself needing to be prepared to support people through difficult financial decisions.

An end to universal benefits for older people: Barely a week seems to go by without a commentator or think tank calling for the end of universal benefits (such as winter fuel payments or concessions for public transport) for older people – in their interim report today the Barker Commission have raised this issue again. Labour have pledged to remove the winter fuel payment from higher rate taxpayers and both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are likely to consider whether such universal benefits are fair or affordable.

Large numbers of older people volunteer – 31% of 65 to 74 year olds for example. Under concessionary fare rules, if they use public transport to do so, they won’t have to claim the costs back from charities. There is a risk that an end to concessionary fares could add to the administrative costs of charities. Or it could put people off volunteering altogether? Cuts to concessionary fares amount to a cut to the subsidy to bus companies so if money does come out of transport, will some routes be lost, making it more difficult for some to travel at all? Has the sector thought about this and should the umbrella groups lobby on the topic?

Even if central government abolished concessionary travel there would be nothing stopping metropolitan centres like London and Manchester continuing to provide it. And there is a good chance they would. Might this mean that charities in some parts of the country had a greater incentive to use older volunteers than in others?

Age neutrality: It is now illegal to discriminate on the basis of age in relation to employment and (most) goods and services. But over the next decade we are likely to see a bigger debate on age discrimination from a lifecourse perspective.  Might we see a move towards an age neutral benefits system? And whilst some age related benefits and services are legally justifiable at the moment, will they always be? How might a move towards age neutrality impact on charities focussing services on one age group?

Increases to State Pension Age: Government has already set out plans to increase the State Pension Age and there is already evidence that doing so is increasing the number of us working longer. How might the increase planned for the next few decades impact on the sector? Might it actually increase the average age at which people volunteer? Or even mean that fewer older people volunteer at all? We are likely to see more older workers in the sector in the coming years. But is the sector prepared?

Social care reform: Reforms to how we pay for social care offer opportunities and threats for the sector. If the system ultimately results in a more sustainable social care system, charities who provide services to this sector are likely to benefit. Similarly greater personalisation could result in new and innovative services for the sector.

Having highlighted these possible policy changes above, it is worthy of note that our ageing society is likely to result in more radical reforms to public policy than those hypothesised above. But even incremental change will impact on the voluntary sector. Are we prepared?

David Sinclair

NPC, in partnership with ILC-UK, has established the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing to put ageing on the agenda for the voluntary sector. Focused on England, the Commission will provide long-term and strategic thinking about how best the sector can prepare for and adapt to an ageing society in the next 20 years. It brings together an impressive group of Commissioners and is chaired by Lynne Berry OBE.

See for more information.


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