Value of older carers is more than EU defence spending

by Laura Miller from interactive investor |

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Over-65s spend more time volunteering than any other age group – but are governments doing enough to support them?

The value of caring and volunteering by older people across Europe is equivalent to the amount the European Union (EU) spends on defence, a new international report has revealed.

Think tank the International Longevity Centre (ILC), which carried out the research, is calling on the G20 group of wealthier nations to better recognise the economic value of unpaid social activities by older people.

People aged 65 and over spend more time volunteering and caring than any other age group, the research found. Across Europe, these contributions average 124 hours per person, per year.

Their average unpaid contributions across the EU and Turkey could be worth as much as 1.4% of gross domestic product (GDP). This is more than these countries spend on defence.

To maximise this so-called ‘longevity dividend’, the ILC wants countries in the G20 to recognise and measure the unpaid contributions of older people.

It is also calling on governments to take into account the impact of health on unpaid contributions when making decisions about investing in health.

It recommends G20 countries spend at least 6% of their health budgets on preventative health interventions, develop strategies to support older carers and grandparents and encourage more volunteering.

David Sinclair, director at the ILC, warned that societies increasingly view ageing population “as a bad thing”, and that “dangerous rhetoric painting older people as disposable has become far too common, particularly since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

“Unpaid contributions from older people are strengthening communities and helping to support the formal economy,” he added.

The report also highlights variation in the amount of caring and volunteering done by older adults across the world:

In the Netherlands, older people spend an average of 67 hours volunteering and 91 hours informally helping other households.

In India and Canada, the number of hours older adults spend volunteering per year is particularly high, at 82 and 80 respectively.

Older people tended to devote more time volunteering in countries that spend more on health and preventative health as a proportion of GDP, the report found, and where more people aged 65 and over report good health. 

They also spend more time caring or looking after grandchildren outside the household in countries where more older people (aged 65 and over) are not limited in daily activities.

They ILC noted that, while time spent volunteering per person increases with age, the number of volunteers falls after the age of 65 in many countries – potentially due to worsening health.

Sinclair said: “We must invest in preventative health to ensure we maximise the longevity dividend.”

Deborah Alsina, chief executive of charity Independent Age, said the evidence in the ILC’s report clearly shows people continue to contribute to society long after stopping work.

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