Helping others helps us all - but some in later life are missing out

In this guest blog Emily Georghiou from the Centre for Ageing Better lays out how communities thrive on everyday acts of kindness, whether that’s helping neighbours with their shopping, running activity clubs, or volunteering for local charities. And of those active in their communities, people aged 50 and over make a significant contribution – the value of their participation in formal volunteering alone is estimated at over £10 billion per year in the UK.

However, some people in later life are less likely to volunteer – lower socio-economic groups, for example, are three times less likely to volunteer in later life than wealthier people, and those living in poor health are five times less likely to volunteer than those in the best health.

So, many communities are missing out on potential support and contributions from older volunteers in their area, but it’s also bad news for individuals themselves, who have so much to gain from taking part in community activity in later life. Centre for Ageing Better research shows that it improves people’s social connections, sense of purpose and self-esteem and life satisfaction. Where people in later life feel valued and appreciated in their formal volunteering roles, there is evidence to suggest this also contributes to improved mental health and reduced depression.

That’s why we’re leading a review, in partnership with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, into how to enable more people aged 50 and over to contribute their time, skills and experience to their communities.

The review will focus particularly on how to widen participation and support people from underrepresented groups, including those on low incomes and with long-term health conditions. Less evidence is available about informal helping (versus formal volunteering) and we are particularly interested in finding better ways to support this kind of day-to-day help and neighbourliness. We also want to understand more about the role of ethnicity, place and caring responsibilities.

These are important questions now but perhaps increasingly so as we all live for longer and our older generations become more diverse.

Through the review we will gather insights and evidence from people in later life with direct experience of contributing, as well as practitioners and researchers. Part of this will see us hosting a series of roundtables to explore how the public, private and voluntary sectors can support more people in later life to get involved and stay involved in community activity, and the examples of where people and organisations are doing this particularly well.

What we hear will complement a wider piece of qualitative community research we are carrying out to into how disadvantaged older people contribute to their communities, the barriers they face, and how they could be better supported. We want to hear as many perspectives as possible on this issue and will be communicating regularly as the review develops.

If you want to share your thoughts, evidence and stories of volunteering in later life you can contact us via [email protected]
You can also follow us @Ageing_Better for updates.