Why business needs to face up to an ageing society

Robert Durie
Senior Board Member | Bristol Chamber of Commerce
20th January 2015

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, ‘Seniorpreneur’, Strategic Property and Land Advisor and senior board member of Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative at Business West.

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 by remaining in employment… and seeking new challenges.

Now it’s time for business in the region to act on this and exploit the opportunities.

How will our ageing society impact on our business environment? Firstly, there is 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” as a conventional employee. Many experienced, business savvy senior men and women have realised 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 golf course or with their grandchildren as well!

And why not? 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 continue to make a positive contribution to the economy – and keep the little grey cells moving? After all, it’s all part of living an enjoyable and fulfilling life.

Many will prefer to continue to be employed rather than going it alone. From an enlightened employer’s point of view, retaining productive older people (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 our local economy is picking up speed. 

Good for employers… and for society as a whole. The pensions and benefits bill for the retired currently accounts for over 7% of our GDP – a figure that will spiral as the population ages. 

And please don’t listen to the argument that retaining older people stymies opportunities for the younger generation: 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 employers (in the private, public and third sectors) to bring older and younger workers together – helping to mentor each other: seniors can pass on their business know-how, while young people can, for instance, hone the digital skills of 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”. While it’s true that many seniors struggle financially, large numbers have significant assets and disposable incomes: over 50s actually hold 80% of the UK’s privately owned assets. 

Companies should gear themselves to meet the needs and aspirations of this demography - thus supplying 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 those heading into later life have very specific health and housing needs: technologies such as digital healthcare are set to boom, and many want to move into purpose-designed housing… freeing up family sized houses for younger people in the process. This poses a vital and interesting challenge as we strive to provide enough new homes for our growing population.

2015, with its focus on sustainability issues here in Bristol, will mean the spotlight will be on us. This presents an unrivalled opportunity to look anew at how older people are integrated and supported within more resilient communities – and 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 and business sectors, a well as working with some great local and national charities, I’ve had the privilege to see this in action – through charitable housing organisations in which I am involved and a new concept for tackling isolation in Bristol –LinkAge  has shown how innovative thinking on support for older people, using intergenerational working, can deliver practical solutions.

Here in the Bristol, Bath and West of England area we are well geared up to offer solutions for our nation’s growing health and care needs, with a promising new Life Sciences group being developed by the Local Enterprise Partnership. Take a look at the plethora of innovative research work going on in our Universities and the pioneering work on care robots leading the way in our very own Robotics Laboratory – set up within our University Enterprise Zone.

And in case anyone assumes the opportunities stop at the boundaries of our region: think again! Ageing is one of THE biggest global trends which promises to recast the way we do business and organise our societies. Our close neighbours in Europe have found the same problems. 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.

We have a massive opportunity to export our innovative products and knowhow all around the world – assisted by the UKT&I team based within Business West.

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 is set to increase.

Finally as well as competing with our fellow Europeans we also need to collaborate with them to bring all these strands together in a way that will benefit us all. Our German friends say: “You have the ideas but we will deliver them!” Now here’s a challenge for us!


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