By 2025, the number of people in Britain over the age of 60 will outnumber those under 25. Pressure on both pensions and pensioner spending power will increase. Answers to problems, old and new, will have to be sought.
In a move to address the issues of ageing - one of the most significant aspects of change in our lives, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is highlighting the impact of ageing on society, and offering expanded research funding to provide leading edge thinking in this highly relevant area.
Professor Ian Diamond, CEO of the ESRC says: "As a key part of our Strategic Plan, over the next two years, ESRC will spend over £2.5 million funding ageing research - in addition to our continuing responsive-mode research portfolio worth a further £2 million. We are confident that Britain's leading social-scientists will target such resources for innovative research into the challenges of ageing and understand the changes to society that will affect all our lives."
ESRC funded research has featured through the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), which hosts the Centre for Microeconomic Analysis of Public Policy directed by Professor Richard Blundell of University College London alongside Professor James Banks, Director of the Centre for Economic Research on Ageing at the IFS. "Prepared for Retirement?" - new work from the IFS on the adequacy and distribution of retirement resources, has researched future wealth patterns amongst the retired, and provisions that they may make.
The report highlights that government and private pensions needs are changing, and that for the first time, retirees face less pension provisions than their predecessors; changes to working patterns will affect the balance of labour supply and labour demand amongst both young and old.
The life course of the elderly changes as they work longer, contribute more to the economy, and have a wider role in the family amid increasing life expectancy, and the dynamics of ageing are changing as never before.
In a move to tackle such challenges, the ESRC's ageing related research includes a major interdisciplinary research program - the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA).
This initiative will provide a strong evidence base for policy decisions and fund exploration into the major issues of ageing. Headed by Professor Alan Walker, University of Sheffield, (who previously led ESRC's Growing Older Program), the NDA work is planned to run for over five years at a budget of over £12 million pounds, and will involve a wide variety of scientists across many disciplines. It is jointly funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Medical Research Council.
The NDA program addresses research questions that are relevant to not just existing pensioners, but also those post-war baby boomers who are now aged 40-65 - people who have very different retirement expectations.
Other ESRC research funding into ageing, includes major research programs, individual research grants, and studentships.
The ESRC funded program, Simulating Social Policy for an Ageing Society has identified women as one of the most vulnerable pension groups. This authoritative study from the London School of Economics and Southampton University led by Professor Jane Falkingham, provides diverse evidence in order to examine a range of social policy reform scenarios.
The changing health implications of ageing are focused upon by ESRC's Innovative Health Technologies program. Jointly funded by the Medical Research Council, this major research program directed by Professor Andrew Webster at the University of York, examines the role in which new technologies can play in redefining how we manage health and medicine. Through this program, for example, Professor Jane Seymour at Nottingham University has spotlighted aspects of care provision in old age.
The ageing debate is also discussed in ESRC's current publication The Edge and at ESRC's online resource, www.esrcsocietytoday.ac.uk - 'Our Ageing Society' where reviews of the public debates the ESRC is hosting - one each in England, Scotland, and Wales up to December 6th are featured. ESRC's Teaching and Learning Research Program directed by Professor Andrew Pollard at the Institute of Education also supports learning developments for older people - through three targeted research projects.
ESRC's Ian Diamond is clear about the Council's commitment: "We at the ESRC are committed to providing the best social science research on ageing, and strongly believe that the research programs we support, such as the New Dynamics of Ageing, can provide a foundation for future policy."
The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues, providing independent, relevant research to business, the public sector and Government. The ESRC invests more than £123 million every year in social science and at any time is supporting some 2,000 researchers in academic institutions and research policy institutes.