- Nearly half 55-74 year olds currently volunteer
- Potential to increase older volunteer workforce by half a million in 2020
- More needs to be done to address barriers and to encourage and motivate older people to volunteer
Far from a burden and a drain on society and NHS resources, older people provide invaluable help with new research identifying 6.2 million 55-74 year olds volunteer.
The research by older people’s charity Royal Voluntary Service identified nearly half of 55-74 year olds (46 per cent) volunteer, 22 per cent formally and 36 per cent informally each year. This means equates to 1.4 billion hours per year (949 million informal and 464 million formal).
As so many older people devote time to volunteering, the ageing population – 39 per cent of adults in Great Britain will be over 55 years old by 2020 – will provide an opportunity to expand the country’s volunteering workforce. The research identified the potential to enhance the number 55-74 year olds volunteering in Britain to 6.7 million in 2020.
While population growth alone could achieve this increase, it could be countered by later retirement as many people are anticipating working into later life or are considering gradual or phased retirement. More than a third of over 55s in employment (38 per cent) said their plan work part time after retirement would prevent them volunteering as much as they would like.
With public sector cuts and demand for volunteers so high, Royal Voluntary Service is warning that more needs to be done to entice older adults to consider volunteering. The volunteering charity, which has 35,000 volunteers, with half over 65 years old, is calling on Government, businesses and the voluntary sector to do more to promote the benefits of volunteering to older people and to address the barriers.
Persuading more of this age group to volunteer before or as soon as they are retired has duel benefits as previous research conducted for the charity by Professor James Nazroo found that older people who volunteer are happier and healthier than their counterparts who don’t. This is supported by recent reports identifying how remaining active in older age can delay the onset of frailty. Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia found that a retired person’s risk of death is dramatically lowered if they take part in social activities regularly with others once they finish work.
Despite delayed retirement, encouragingly more than a quarter (28 per cent) of over 65s plan to reduce the amount of time they are working over the coming year. Of these 53 per cent said they will start volunteering or increase the time they currently spend volunteering, with the additional hours they are willing to commit to volunteering calculated at 13.8 hours per month.
The over 65 year olds who are interested in volunteering when they retire said it appealed for a number of reasons. Many said they are keen to stay active (86 per cent), give something back (43 per cent) or meet new people (29 per cent).
“Older people have so much to offer; their experience, skills and talents would be worth a fortune in the job market, yet many choose to be generous with their time and volunteer. Sadly we are failing to realise and harness this talent as much as we could. We need to do more to motivate older adults to volunteer which will provide the help that is so desperately needed and at the same time, will give them an opportunity to meet new people and to remain active and engaged in their local community.
“Volunteering in retirement should be normalised so it becomes a little like work experience for young people; a must have part of their post work plans. It’s vital to engage older people before they leave a company and to achieve this the voluntary sector needs to work with Government and businesses to convince future retirees to include volunteering when planning the next phase of their life.”
David McCullough, chief executive
To encourage more older people to volunteer, the charity has identified a set of recommendations for the sector, Government and businesses including:
- Voluntary sector organisations need to try to provide a more fluid and flexible experience for their volunteers. This includes working harder to match the talents, experience, aspirations and needs of volunteers and would-be volunteers with opportunities.
- The growth of informal and more localized forms of volunteering means that national voluntary organisations need to change their structures to make it easier for local volunteers to take part
- The UK and devolved governments should raise the profile and promote volunteering as people approach State Pension Age with literature and on-line promotional material encouraging more volunteering in this age group.
- The benefits of health and well-being of volunteering should be promoted through GPs and other NHS outlets. There may be cases where a GP could ‘prescribe’ volunteering.
- More employers (public and private sector) should think about promoting and providing volunteering opportunities to their staff as part of a pre-retirement plan for their employees.
“When I retired, I could have lounged around and put my feet up but I wanted to stay active and have a sense of purpose. I was keen for my life to have meaning and to use the skills that I had been practicing throughout my 30 year career with the Ambulance Service to use. I drive older people in Leicester wherever they need to go, whether that’s to a hospital appointment, or a nursing home to see relatives – they are in my care from the moment I pick them up to the moment I drop them off and I take great pleasure in helping them out. I’d recommend volunteering to anyone with spare time on their hands since retiring, there really is no end of ways to support vulnerable older people and it’s great to know you are giving something back to your local community.”