08 Aug 2023
by Ashley Easen

Our ageing population in the UK presents new challenges for the public sector as the needs and expectations of our communities change. 

Like many other countries, the UK’s age structure is shifting towards older ages. By 2050, it is projected that one in four people in the UK will be aged 65 years and over – an increase from approximately one in five people in 2019. This is the result of the combination of declining fertility rates and people living longer. In 2020, the number of deaths in the UK exceeded the number of live births for the first time since 1976. While living longer may well be a cause for celebration, it has implications on several policy areas.

Addressing tomorrow’s problem today
The workforce

Within the workforce, there are two key risks to address – retiring employees and ageing employees. As our employees get older and retire, we risk losing critical knowledge, skills, experience, and decreased productivity. Think of all of those ‘single points of failure’ in your organisation. That over reliance on one individual and the consequences if they were to retire before they had transferred their learning to others.  Organisationally - you know about them, you talk about them – now is the time to do something about them! 

As we near retirement; it is common practice to request to reduce working hours or have adaptations made to our roles. Have an honest conversation with an employee, gain a sense of their expectations and plan your future resource requirements and succession planning.

Managing the risks to your workforce:

  • Understand the demographic make-up of your workforce to determine where you need to direct resource to maintain delivery standards and meet demands.
  • Think beyond the here and now – what will be required in five or ten years?  
  • Review future workforce planning to determine resource and skill needs.
  • Identify and plug talent gaps.
  • Implement succession planning programmes to capture the knowledge of retiring talent.
  • Update retention, recruitment and talent management strategies.
  • Build out your talent pipeline.
The community

The community we deliver our public services to is also ageing, which brings about a new risk landscape to navigate as service providers. 

This is not new! Over ten years ago, the impact of an ageing population on public services was considered by the House of Lords' Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change who held an evidence session with the Office for National Statistics and population academics.

The purpose was to investigate the challenges posed by an ageing population to public service provision and consider the balance of responsibility between individuals and the state. A rise in the elderly population, if not matched by health improvements, will place even greater pressure on public finances, as a relatively smaller working-age population supports growing spending on health, social care and pensions.

There was recognition by the Committee that demographic changes, and in particular, an ageing society would bring challenge but also would create opportunities. Older people make significant contributions to the life of their local areas – for example, volunteering and the provision of unpaid care.

The Local Government Association has highlighted that councils have a clear leadership role in supporting an ageing society across:

  • Ageing the silver lining
  • Combating loneliness
  • The demography of ageing.
Community considerations

The role for local government is to address and unlock the potential of its ageing population.

Age UK has identified five essential areas to address to realise their vision for a society in which older people can flourish and love later life:

  1. Enough money: through fairer pensions and take up of entitlement to support.
  2. Wellbeing: everyone is able to feel well and enjoy later life.
  3. Health and care: access to high quality, empowering, health and care services as we age.
  4. Home: able to feel comfortable, safe and secure at home, living independently for longer.
  5. Community and society: where everyone in later life can participate and feel part of wider society, with opportunities to learn, join in, volunteer or work. 

Councils should build in risk assessments as standard practice on the impact initiatives, programmes and services will have on the wellbeing of older people and their social inclusion. Consultation is key to ensure voices are heard and needs are met.

The time to address our ageing population is now. Councils are undoubtedly working hard to plan and find solutions to the challenges of shrinking budgets and rising demand on services. It is important that risk managers are involved in the planning process, helping to ensure risks and opportunities are captured and managed.