Why business needs to face up to an ageing society
We’re all living longer… and while that might raise challenges around funding care and retirement for society, it also presents major opportunities for business, says Robert Durie, Chartered Surveyor, (‘Seniorpreneur’) and Board member for the West of England Initiative.
60 is the new 40, so they say. Which is just as well, as 20 million UK citizens will be 60 or over by the year 2030.
From society’s perspective, that will call for a lot of adjustments. Not least the fact that – realistically – the concept of retirement at 60 or 65 will become a thing of the past for many. The Government has already set in motion step changes to the State retirement age, but many people are already anticipating that, and whilst remaining in employment seeking a change and a new challenge.
Firstly I see now reshaping of our business environment, the rise and rise of the self-employed older person, or “seniorpreneur” as it is becoming known. Not everyone wants to continue “working for the man”. Many experienced, business savvy seniors have been released such that there is huge scope for them to run their own ship. Working as many days a week as they want or need to do… and fitting in the odd day on the water or golf course as well!
Equally, many of us are still blessed with good health in our 60s and 70s… and actually enjoy the cut and thrust of the workplace. Why should we not make a positive contribution – and keep the little grey cells moving?
From an enlightened employer’s point of view, retaining as many productive older people as they can (perhaps on a flexible two, three or four day a week basis) will enable them to hold on to their skills, energy and experience: invaluable assets, especially at a time when the regional economy is picking up speed. The pensions and benefits bill for the retired currently accounts for over 7% of our GDP – and that will continue to spiral as the population ages.
And please don’t listen to the argument that retaining older people stymies opportunities for the younger generation: the evidence shows that if everyone stayed in work an extra year it would add 1% to our GDP… as well as cutting our pensions and benefits bill. That said, there is huge scope for Business (including Charities) to bring older and younger workers together – helping one set to mentor and pass on their business know-how and people skills, while young people can, for instance, hone the digital skills of their seniors.
But there’s another very good reason for us all to take note of the ageing society: for many it actually represents a business opportunity. There has long been talk of the “grey pound” – and while it’s true that many seniors struggle to make ends meet, large numbers have a significant amount of assets and disposable income: the over 50s actually hold 80% of the UK’s privately owned assets. A Strategic Plan for enhancing land assets held is my case in point.
Companies should gear themselves to meet the needs of this demography thus targeting a large and growing market; those focusing purely on the younger generation are targeting a much smaller and numerically dwindling market.
Do the maths, as they say!
Added to that, very large numbers of people heading into later life have very specific health and housing needs: technologies such as digital healthcare are set to boom in this country, and large numbers of older people will be looking to move into purpose-designed housing… freeing up family sized houses for younger people in the process. A vital and interesting challenge to us.
2015, with its focus on green issues here in Bristol, presents an unrivalled opportunity to look anew at how older people are integrated and supported within more resilient communities – and enables us to play a positive role in those communities, thus tackling the curse of isolation and loneliness, which itself comes with a massive health cost. As someone who has spent his professional life in the property sector, working with great local and national charities a good example of a solution is charitable housing and LinkAge, which has shown how some innovative thinking on support for older people and using inter-generational working can help us deliver.
Here in the West of England we are well geared up to offer solutions for the growing health and care needs of our nation, with a promising new Life Sciences group being developed by the Local Enterprise Partnership, a plethora of innovative research work going on in our Universities and pioneering work on care robots leading the way in our very own Robotics Laboratory.
And in case anyone assumes the opportunities stop at the city boundaries… think again. Ageing is one of THE biggest global trends which promise to recast the way we do business and organise our societies. Our close neighbours in Europe have found the same problems. Countries also like China – with a rapidly ageing population which cannot feasibly be supported by the “one child” generation – is desperately seeking innovative solutions around health, support and care, and so too are most other nations.
Nor have we even considered the growing specialist financial and legal expertise that older people will require: issues such as paying for care, powers of attorney and setting up trusts are already keeping a growing army of professionals busy… that trend will only increase.
Finally we need to cooperate with our fellow Seniorpreneurs. Our German friends say ‘You have the ideas but we will deliver them!’ There’s a challenge for us!
Author: Bob Durie