Britain’s greying population

ageing pop-1

What’s the challenge?

Britain’s population is ageing. Adapting to this trend poses economic, social and political challenges and increases the dependency of older citizens on those of working age. What challenges and opportunities does this create for society? What should our response be?

Many countries including Britain, are experiencing a rapid ageing of their populations. There are two megatrends causing these demographic changes:

1 Low / declining fertility rate
Women in Britain are having fewer children than previous generations.

2 Rising longevity
People in Britain are living longer through improvements in health, diet and preventative care.

UK facts

  • Around a third of children born in the UK in 2012 are expected to survive to celebrate their one hundredth birthday.
  • Only 1% of those born in 1908 lived to 100
  • In the UK in 1901 life expectancy at birth was around 45 for men and 49 for women
  • Between 1901 and 2010, the number of people aged 40 and older trebled from 9.7m to 30.8m
  • In 2012 the number of over 65’s and older in the UK surpassed 10 million for the first time
  • In 2007 the number of people in Britain aged over 65 outnumbered the number of people under 16 for the first time.
  • Baby Boomers: born during a period of rapid population growth and social change between 1946-64, with 17m births recorded in Britain alone during this period
  • Dependency ratio: The number of people of working age in relation to retirees

Sources: UK Government, ONS

Challenges of an ageing population:

  • Gaps in the job market, with businesses and public services lacking workforce and skills
  • Pressure on healthcare and social services
  • Funding public services and social housing: particularly in time of recession
  • How to harness the experience, expertise and creativity of a large number of older people.

Suggested responses:

1 Raise the age of retirement
2 Sustain or increase levels of migration to help fill labour /skills gaps
3 Encourage the working, taxpaying population to save more through pension schemes
4. Encourage people to remain active, engage in regular exercise and refrain from behaviours that could have a detrimental effect on their health

UK Labour force: Source Office of National Statistics (ONS), January 2009

  • Full-time employment 13.84m men 7.89m women
  • Part-time employment 1.87m men 5.68m women

Read more about how the UK can deal with an ageing population


Panel discussion

21st Century Challenges held a panel discussion on 16 June 2009 to discuss the issue.

Samira Ahmed, Channel 4 newsreader and correspondent
Samira Ahmed, Presenter and Correspondent for Channel 4 News. Samira joined Channel 4 News after several years as a correspondent and presenter at the BBC. She was the BBC’s Los Angeles correspondent, before working as an anchor and political correspondent in Berlin for Deutsche Welle TV.

Samira has covered a range of issues since joining Channel 4 News as a reporter and presenter. She travelled across the world for a Channel 4 documentary series, Islam Unveiled, examining the status of Muslim women. She has lectured on terrorism, feminism and crime reporting at the London School of Economics and has chaired discussions for the Royal Shakespeare Company on English identity.

Angela Eagle MP, Former minister for Pensions and the Ageing society
Angela previously served as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury from July 2007. Prior to this she has been Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office (2001-02); the Department of Social Security (1998-01); the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Minister for Green Issues and Regeneration) (1997-98); and was an Opposition Whip (1996-97).

She has been on a number of Commons Select Committees, including the Members Interests Employment Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee (twice); and Treasury Select Committee, and the Treasury Sub-Committee 2002-2007. Angela has been Vice-chair of the All-Party Equalities Group and in 2005 was elected Vice Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party. She is also a member of Labour’s Ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).

She was elected as the first ever Labour MP for Wallasey in 1992, after holding a number of posts within the Labour Party. Angela was educated at Formby High School, and then gained a BA (Hons) in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and St John’s College Oxford. She worked for CoHSE (now UNISON) as a Researcher, the Press Officer, and then Parliamentary Liaison Officer, before being elected to Parliament.
Angela’s political interests include Economic Policy, the NHS, and the politics of sport.

George Magnus, Author and Senior Economic Adviser at UBS Investment Bank
George Magnus is the Senior Economic Adviser at UBS Investment Bank. Previously he had served as the Chief Economist with effect from the merger of UBS and Swiss Bank Corporation (SBC). Having chaired the Investment Committee of the Trustee Board of UBS’ UK pension and life assurance fund for several years, he continues to serve on the Committee.

Mr. Magnus’ previous positions included that of Chief International Economist at UBS before the merger with SBC, Head of Fixed Income Research and then Chief Economist at S.G. Warburg (1987-95), Chief International Economist at Chase Securities (1985-87, previously Laurie Milbank), Senior Financial Economist and then Head of Economics (EMEA region) at Bank of America (1977-85), European Economist at Lloyds bank International (1974-77) and Economics Writer at the Central Office of Information (1972-74).

Mr. Magnus received an MSc Econ from the School of Oriental and African Studies and taught economics at both the University of Westminster and the University of Illinois, where he was engaged in research on employment creation issues in less developed countries at the Institute of Labour and Industrial Relations.

Mr. Magnus’ role is to investigate and analyse global economic topics and engage with clients and the media. He has been working on several thematic issues, including demographic change, the economic causes and consequences of globalization, the creation and deployment of petrodollars and sovereign wealth funds, the implications of a the re-emergence of a new Silk Road in Asia and the credit cycle in the global economy.

In 2007, Mr. Magnus predicted in March that the US sub prime mortgage finance crisis would become a Minsky Moment – or a full-blown credit crunch, named after the US economist Hyman Minsky – and he has written a series of illuminating research papers as to the nature and implications of this event. In October 2008, Mr. Magnus’ book – The Age of Aging – a study of how demographics are changing the world and what the economic and social implications might be, as well as those for globalization, religion in the world, immigration and global security – was published by John Wiley in Asia, Europe and North America.



Discover other challenges

Further reading

Infographic: 60 second guide to Ageing Populations

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