Our history can be traced back to Age Concern, those times before we changed our name.

The origins of Age Concern at a national level are inextricably linked to the upheaval of the Second World War, which made life more difficult for older people in many ways but also revealed their existing problems, particularly the unsuitability of Poor Law provision. The Old Age and Widows Pensions Act (1940) introduced the system of supplementary pensions for elderly people.


The background

Claimants were visited at home by officers of the Assistance Board who felt that other forms of support were needed and the Assistance Board requested the help of the National Council of Social Services (NCSS). The NCSS had itself already seen the necessity for a committee to consider the welfare of older people, and decided that a new co-ordinating body was needed to deal with the increasing number of inquiries from older people and to promote new services for them.

Twenty national voluntary organisations concerned with older people, three government departments and experienced individuals were called together to a conference on 7 October 1940 to consider the issues raised by the Assistance Board. They also chose to consider the evacuation of older people from London. This conference, chaired by Eleanor Rathbone, formed a committee, the Committee for the Welfare of the Aged. This Committee was the origin of Age Concern England. The NCSS agreed to provide it with offices and clerical assistance.

In its first year, this Committee for the Welfare of the Aged decided to call itself the Old Peoples Welfare Committee (OPWC) and quickly gained official recognition. £2,000 was raised through a radio appeal for resources. It also decided that it would not simply attempt to deal with the problems of wartime conditions for older people, but would discuss future provision and reconstruction. 

One early example of the work of the OPWC was the arrangement made by OPWC and the Assistance Board to encourage voluntary organisations to open residential homes. During the war years the OPWC also established visiting schemes for elderly evacuees and an Old Peoples Homes Advisory Service which ran a referral and placement service until 1944. Such work was achieved at a time when older people were a low priority.

Looking ahead, the OPWC campaigned for increased provision for the "elderly infirm" and reform of the large public assistance in institutions (workhouses) which housed many older people. It was able to make effective representations because of wide scale public interest in post-war social reconstruction. In 1944, the OPWC adopted the title National Old People`s Welfare Committee (NOPWC) to distinguish it from the growing number of local committees.


The first public conference

The end of the war did not mark an immediate improvement in the lives of older people as there were still great disruptions and shortages. However, 1946 did mark the end of the initial phase of the NOPWC; Eleanor Rathbone died and a new chairman was elected. Its first public conference looked at the role of the NOPWC and local committees within the approaching welfare state deciding that voluntary work would still be important as would exploring co-operation and responsibilities. Also in 1946, the NOPWC agreed upon a model constitution for local OPWC`s, deciding that their functions would be to co-ordinate and facilitate local action.

Under the National Assistance Act 1948, local authorities (Councils of Counties and County Boroughs) were given permissive powers to contribute to the funds of any voluntary organisation whose activities included providing recreation or meals for older people. In many areas, development of work in this area was completely dependent on voluntary organisations.

In 1949, a Ministry of Health Circular (51/49) also gave local authorities power to grant-aid OPWC`s for administrative expenses. In 1950, the Ministry reminded local authorities and voluntary bodies that they needed to co-operate. Such circulars illustrate that the newly established welfare legislation did not exclude voluntary organisations. They stressed the vital role of volunteers and the urgent need for more voluntary services in work such as visiting older people in their own homes. These financial powers had a dramatic effect on the numbers of local committees, In the two years following 1950, the number of local OPWCs rose from 378 to 801. The NOPWC relied totally on voluntary donations until it received its first annual grant from the Ministry of Health in 1949.


The growing network

Although the network was growing throughout the 1950s, few local committees had paid organisers to cope with the administration and many were short of finance and volunteers. By the end of the decade, central government which had initially stressed that voluntary organisations should take on the development of domiciliary services, was aware of these problems. The NOPWC made efforts to improve the situation and to help local committees with obtaining finance for some staff and administrative costs. In 1955, the NOPWC became a Council rather than a Committee to emphasise and explain its co-ordinating function.

However, local authorities became more insistent that legislative change was necessary so that they could develop adequate and uniform domiciliary services for older people. Once central government agreed, the reduced pressure of work on OPWCs, who were in some cases freed from developing services with few resources, meant that they could work to their own pace and priorities. The National Old People`s Welfare Council (OPWC) was also more free to concentrate on developing and improving services and policies.


Preparation for retirement

The issue of pre-retirement provides one early illustration of the way in which the NOPWC could be a useful forum drawing upon its wide links with the public and private sectors. The NOPWC set up a study group to consider preparation for retirement in 1954, although it had been looking at the subject for some years. The study group met 23 times and in 1959, following its final report, a Preparation for Retirement Committee was established. This developed into the Pre-Retirement Association, formed in 1964, which is now an independent organisation.

Although there were some early difficulties in some local committees in the 1950s, it is important to put this into context. The number of local committees continued to increase, and a 1960 study of the variety and quality of work undertaken by local London committees revealed a great deal of achievement despite their difficulties.

The NOPWC in the 1960s was active in pioneer work, developing new services and local groups; it also ran an advisory service, produced a quarterly journal, held national conferences and promoted a number of courses. It did not see itself as a pressure group but was consulted by government and gave information and advice to several government departments. For example, the Council was approached to give its views on a series of government Housing Manuals.

Also in the 1960s, political arguments about the level and provision of pensions were prominent in policy discussions about retired people. Part of this was the recognition that many older people had not shared in the prosperity of the rest of the population. Their situation was part of the "rediscovery of poverty" by social scientists. During this time, some OPWCs began to develop their work of informing older people about their entitlements and assisting them with social security claims. The NOPWC began to give more guidance for local groups and individuals, producing detailed information about relevant legislation, benefits and services. Today this work is a key part of Age Concern activity. The organisation is respected as an authority in its field.


The role of the voluntary sector

The fragmentation of services for older people has been a complaint for many years. The NOPWC gave evidence to the Seebohm Committee on local authority personal social services and welcomed the Committees recommendation of a comprehensive service. However, it was concerned that the proposed family service might exclude or marginalise the problems of elderly people. The NOPWC also contributed to debates about the role of the voluntary sector and volunteers. The Younghusband Committee (1959), Seebohm Committee (1969) and the Aves Committee (1969) confirmed the relevance and importance of voluntary work in personal services.

This optimism about the role of voluntary organisations was matched by legislative developments that enabled many local OPWCs to receive financial and other help from local authorities. Many voluntary agencies at local and national level blossomed in the combination of circumstances; official interest and encouragement, growing central and local expenditure on voluntary organisations, public and political awareness of the social problems of vulnerable groups in society.

These debates about the role of the voluntary Sector had a direct influence on the organisational status of the NOPWC. In 1971, it moved from the Status of an associated group of the NCSS to complete independence. This allowed the Council to develop a more distinct image, greater control over its own finances, increased staffing and its own premises. The cover name of Age Concern was adopted in the same year, to be carried alongside the constitutional tide of NOPWC reflecting a new emphasis on the organisation`s role in bringing public attention to the needs of elderly people.


The Age Concern name

The great majority of local groups gradually began to use the name Age Concern. They benefit from a unified image, a well-known public name and a name which correctly suggests they are no longer simply co-ordinating bodies but also instigators and providers of direct services. A few had predated the NOPWC change by their own attempts to change their title. During the 1960, for example some Old People`s Welfare Committees changed their names to "Association" or "Council". Some also felt that "Old Peoples Welfare" was not an appropriate title and began to call themselves "Associations for the Elderly". The new Director of Age Concern England, David Hobman, who was appointed in December 1970, was instrumental in explaining the reasons for change. A former Secretary of the Cumberland Old People`s Welfare Committee and a former member of the National Council, he appreciated the fears of local committees that the change might not be beneficial.


Policy debate

Unity was developed further through a highly successful "Manifesto" debate. A total of 8,000 people around the country met in groups to discuss the policy of Age Concern. The debate started with the publication of a series of papers by experts on topics of relevance to older people, for example, retirement to the seaside and welfare rights. Policy discussions were based on these but also on a study of the attitudes of 2,700 retired people. This resulted in a policy document, the Manifesto on the Place of the Retired and Elderly in Modern Society`s (1975) which emphasised the need for more positive attitudes towards older people and put forward specific proposals for improving the quality of later life.

During the 1970s, Age Concern England acted as both an interest group, representing and championing the welfare of older people in general, and as a promoter of local services for older people. It has identified itself with many specific causes, including the eliminating of hypothermia, the retention of the death grant and the problems of social security claimants.

Voluntary organisations have a major role in innovating new services and Age Concern provides numerous examples. One of the most important was the fist publication describing the situation of older people from ethnic minority groups by Age Concern England in 1974. Local groups have also developed several initiatives in service provision for ethnic elderly people in their communities, both as part of their mainstream activities and as a separate provision when this has been requested. Today, Age Concern England is involved in detailed training work for people who work with ethnic groups and with advising on the development of services.



Another development in the 1970s was the establishment of Age Concern`s own Research Unit which grew Out of an advisory survey and research group set up in 1958. Initially funded by the Sainsbury Trust, this Unit was headed by Dr. Mark Abrams whose survey Beyond Three Score Years and Ten (1978) is a key study of the lives of people aged 75 and over. The Research Unit moved into a new phase when, in 1983, it became the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology, in partnerships with King`s College in the University of London.

Today the institute conducts a wide range of research into the social aspects of ageing. The rise in unemployment in the late 1970s and 1980s affected Age Concern as an organisation. It joined government job creation and training programmes as a national agent for schemes run by local groups. At the policy level, while youth unemployment was most visible, Age Concern drew attention to the plight of older workers who were unable to return to the work force because of long term unemployment or redundancy.

Age Concern has also been involved in government initiated programmes designed to encourage unemployed people to take up voluntary work. A DSS scheme, "Opportunities for Volunteering", (started in 1982) passed the money available for the scheme to the voluntary sector to distribute. Age Concern England is one of fifteen specialist organisations who award and administer grants on behalf of the DSS to its local groups. This role as an agent of central government has had its effect on the work of Age Concern England. It has had to cope with a rapid expansion in work and responsibilities and face the dilemmas associated with working in accordance with government targets and priorities.


Strategy developments

In the late 1970s and 1980s, reductions in public expenditure, new attitudes to social problems and new expectations of the voluntary sector forced many voluntary organisations to re- examine their work. Age Concern England developed a more sophisticated strategy to work in the area of legislative change. Although Age Concern England has charitable status it is permitted to engage in political lobbying work and public education as long as this is a subsidiary part of its work. Age Concern England was the first major voluntary organisation with charitable status who, with the explicit approval of the Charity Commissioners, provided a Research Assistant for a Parliamentary All-Party Group.

At the European level, Age Concern England has been the founding force behind Eurolink Age, a representative organisation concerned with the needs of older people in the European Community. On the wider international stage, it has close associations with the International Federation of Ageing.


Constitutional title

It is obviously important for a charity which needs to make quick and detailed responses to legislative change, and to be involved in policy discussion, that its own policy is clear and based on the widest possible views. Age Concern England tackles this through its regularly updated Policy Handbook, which comprehensively sets out the policies agreed by its Governing Body.

The organisation has recently changed its constitutional title to the National Council on Ageing, which now brings together over 100 national organisations concerned with ageing, as well as representatives of its confederation of over 1000 local Age Concern groups. It is also important for a voluntary group that works with older people and campaigns on their behalf to involve older people in its policy making and setting priorities. At the local level some Age Concern groups work alongside pensioner action committees to promote campaigns.

At a national level, Age Concern England has established a Forum of organisations of retired people to contribute to its policy making. Thus the co-ordinating role of Age Concern remains strong and vital.

Throughout its first fifty years there have been changes in the work of Age Concern England. In the 1990s the organisation again had to shift its emphasis in line with social and political changes. It faces the problem of deciding upon the appropriate role for voluntary organisations, not because the state is expanding its services, but because a more plural approach to welfare is prominent and the voluntary sector is again providing some essential welfare services. As well as facing increasing competition in traditional fund- raising, it is having to adjust to the dilemmas associated with accepting some Government finance and thus some control. The differences between all the service delivery sectors are becoming increasingly blurred.
The next fifty years will see Age Concern trying to preserve the qualities that have made it distinctive: its independence; its flexibility; its responsiveness; and its commitment to older people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged. Maintaining Age Concern`s traditional co-ordinating activity and campaigning voice requires it to build on the strengths of its constitutional role as the National Council on Ageing.

Maintaining high quality services to older people in their local communities requires Age Concern England to provide even more support to its groups and others in the field of ageing through research, training, information consultancy and grants.

Maintaining independence has required more investment in fund-raising and marketing activities and the development of income-generating partnerships across the whole movement. Ultimately, however, Age Concern can only maintain these distinctive qualities if it has the support of the public and in particular the backing of those older people with whom it is privileged to work.

Above all society at large, and Age Concern in particular, must respond to the fact that older people are the future majority of the adult population. For the sake of older people whom society should not, and can no longer afford to, marginalise and for the sake of securing the relevance and level of its own services, Age Concern will need to identify itself with older people across the whole spectrum of needs, abilities and interests. Increasingly, the contribution, resources and views of older people must be accorded their proper value.


The strength of Age Concern in the UK

Today, Age Concern is the authority on ageing and reflects the needs and aspirations of the 12+ million older people in the UK. Some older people need Age Concern as their advocate, but it would be wrong to think of us merely as the protectors of a vulnerable sector of the population that is unable to care for itself.

We successfully work with and on behalf of all older people, both at a national level, campaigning for lasting change, and locally, through our UK network of over 1400 independent organisations. Age Concern organisations form a federation and provide a range of vital services. Although independent we share a common purpose to improve the quality of life of all older people - and we share a strong identity with a reputation for effectiveness. Age Concern England, in its role as the National Council on Ageing, also brings together over 100 national organisations in the UK which represent older people.

The strength of the federation is that locally each Age Concern organisation responds to the needs of its community and provides a relevant range of vital community based services. Nationally Age Concern England provides reliable information so that no matter where an older person is he or she can be assured that the information is of a consistent high quality and will enable them in their endeavours.

Local Age Concern organisations typically provide day centres, lunch clubs, home visiting, transport, social activities, advice and information and 'sign posting' to other services. Age Concern England supports the work of the movement by providing expert advice on services development, contracts and legal issues.

Additionally it supports this work and supports older people direct through its own range of national activity: policy analysis and campaigning, reliable information and advice, book publishing, training, teaching and research through the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology at Kings College London, grant making to fund services locally. Traditional fundraising and trading activities make it all possible.

Partnerships here and in Europe mean we can do more for more people; we rely on 250,000 volunteers, individual and corporate donations and income from our shops, products and services to provide the fluids that make our work possible. Last year, we distributed £5 million in direct grants for local services which directly improve the quality of life of older people. Age Concern up and down the country is dependent on public support. Donations, covenants and legacies are always urgently needed.


Some of the issues affecting older people

What does poverty mean to you? Do you know your rights? Have you had the care or treatment you need when you need it? Have you experienced ageism at work? For millions of older people in Britain today poverty means everyday misery. Many believe that pensioners are increasingly well off. Some are. But many cannot manage on their weekly income, let alone save for luxuries like holidays.

Children look forward to getting older. "Getting old" means independence - taking charge of our lives. As adults, independence is something we learn to take for granted. In later life, the physical challenges of keeping a home may be very demanding. Yet despite difficulties, older people usually prefer to stay in familiar surroundings and keep living the way they always have - independently.

To be effective at our work we have to keep in touch with older people's fears and aspirations and we know for example that many are worried about possible withdrawal of home help services.

As a result of Ageism, people who reach a certain stage in life are no longer characterised by personality, ability and years of experience, but by a single criterion, their age.

To tackle these and other issues we work towards our goals in four ways:

  • Promoting positive attitudes to older people and ageing
  • Influencing and developing public policies that affect older people
  • Promoting effective care for older people
  • Encouraging choice and opportunity for older people

Age Concern making a difference

We campaign relentlessly against ageism in the NHS, in employment and wherever we find discrimination. Up to date and reliable Factsheets on issues affecting older people are used by many agencies, older people, their families and carers; our parliamentary, media and campaigns officers campaign for lasting change by working to influence journalists, MPs, and the wider public. We make a positive difference by working in ingenious partnerships with the private, public and voluntary sector to create effective projects that establish vital services locally.

Recent innovative partnerships that enable vulnerable older people to maintain their independence and stay in their homes include the current life-saving energy efficiency advice made possible by Midland Bank and the Handy Person scheme with British Gas. Knowing what is needed Age Concern builds successful partnerships and pilots schemes around the country. Companies can benefit from Age Concern`s unique blend of national prominence and local presence and thereby boost their high profile and demonstrate their commitment to their communities. Another innovative partnerships with Littlewood`s Lotteries secured a vital stream of income, 24p in the pound, for Age Concern organisations around the country.

Age discrimination and winter issues are regular campaigning topics. Every year in Britain, some 30,000 to 40,000 extra deaths occur in the six winter months compared with the six summer months. Most of these deaths occur among the elderly population. To campaign effectively on winter we focus on a new angle each year. Our Coldwatch Awards sponsored in 1996 by Calor Gas and Bessway are another ingenious way to keep the issues alive and encourage the public to offer practical help to the frail in winter. Individuals receive awards for helping by shopping, shovelling snow, or even just dropping in to see everything is okay.

Every year Age Concern England selects a theme for a national campaign. The strength of our voice on ageing issues comes from our authoritative information and thorough understanding of need. We campaigned vigorously to change a discriminatory practice in the NHS by calling for automatic breast cancer screening for women up to 75. As a result, the NHS Breast Screening Programme has publicly stated that their policy will be reviewed.

The popular stereotype of older people as ill, lonely and confused is far from true. Over 75% of people over 65 report good health, and ill-health tends to be concentrated in those aged 85 and over. An example of an innovative partnership of private sector and Government department is the alliance of Merck Sharp Dohme, PPP, the Health Education Authority and the Department of Health to bring about Ageing Well the initiative to promote healthy living and prevent disease in later life in line with the Health of the Nation targets. The "younger arm" of Age Concern, Age Resource, challenges the assumption that a 50th birthday signals the beginning of the end. Through its annual awards it recognises the talents and experience of older people and what they have invested in their communities.

Our concern about standards of care is one of our main reasons for undertaking Training. This year we worked with a number of retailers, providing Through Other Eyes training, a programme which simulates some of the physical limitations which make shopping more difficult for some older people.

Age Concern's 400 shops provide an important presence on the high street and increasingly are becoming a place to go for advice on benefits, low cost insurance and other products. We offer insurance to over 55s - value for money products whose price takes into account the lower risk involved in insuring that age group. With the network of over 1400 local Age Concern organisations acting as a distribution channel and with the confidence our brand inspires, Age Concern has a key competitive advantage. The friendly, patient and speedy service provided to customers is just one more unique selling point.

A new trading idea, Charity Flowers Direct, was launched last year. It is a flower delivery service with a difference - 100% of its profits go to charity. The scheme already benefits the Age Concern movement and around 90 other charities.

Always alert to new solutions to contemporary problems Age Concern England recently arranged a funded trip to America to investigate foster grandparenting as a way to bring the generations together. Through four pilot projects older people are given the chance to play a positive guiding role in the life of children in difficult family circumstances.

Thus our activity may be seen to be broad, complementary and single-minded in its aim to improve the quality of life for all older people. But Age Concern is not complacent. We are refining our structure and we constantly strive for continued improvement that will make us more effective and ready to tackle the challenges of the new millennium.