Welcome from Deborah Alsina and Julia Neuberger

One of our major concerns at Independent Age during this terrible time has been the narrative of ageism and discrimination within the debate on COVID-19. Older people have become a chronological age, rather than individuals with life stories of their own. Reduced to a series of risk factors, under pressure to sign a do not resuscitate order or refused access to treatment, with no recognition that some are healthier and fitter than others 20 years younger or more.  

We believe it’s imperative that we don’t lose sight of our societal values and the gains we’ve made in overcoming discrimination. We need to hold on to those values now more tightly than ever, and we at Independent Age intend to do just that.  

We strongly believe our work is ever more important given the context of the pandemic, with 12 million people over 65 living in the UK. This number is set to grow significantly over the next 50 years. In fact, 2020 is the first year when there are more over 65s than under 5s alive globally. Growing older can be wonderful. The opportunity to live the life you choose – to travel, to spend time with family and friends or to pursue new interests. However, and even before COVID-19, growing older is not by any means wonderful for everyone.

People in the UK are living significantly longer than when Independent Age was founded in 1863. Improvements to life expectancy over the last decade have stalled and even declined for the poorest 10% of women. There is now a five-year health gap in life expectancy between people living in wealthy areas such as some parts of London and others living in deprived areas like the North East. 

Many people find that those extra years are not all they’d hoped for, with an average 13 years of their later life spent in poor health. 1.9m over 65 are living below the poverty line and 1.2m are chronically lonely.

Our ageing population poses challenges for our society. These include how we organise our health and care services, or ensure high streets and leisure activities meet their needs. But also, so many opportunities – how can we harness all that wisdom and experience?

It was this fascinating and complex picture that drew us to Independent Age and the Campaign to End Loneliness which we host and co-fund. The charity had evaluated its impact and decided to refine and develop what it was doing. It went through a lot of internal change in 2019, before we arrived. Neither of us was fazed, as we both joined the charity with a great deal of organisational change management experience.

We are thoroughly excited by the opportunity to set a clear new strategic course that ensures we use our resources wisely to maximise our impact. Since joining we have already made some bold moves forward: appointing three permanent Directors through internal promotion and introducing short-term senior leadership support with the specialist skills and expertise to drive forward a change programme cost-effectively. We are also delighted to welcome six new Trustees to the Board, again bringing new skills, experience and energy to the charity.   It has been inspiring to get to know Independent Age and to see the difference we already make to so many people’s lives through the dedication, compassion and kindness displayed by our staff and volunteers. We’ve also been impressed by the thoughtful development of the charity’s policy and influencing activity and look forward to supporting this further in the future.

This report includes some of the highlights from the past year before we arrived, along with an introduction to the strategic work underway. But we do want to emphasise our grateful thanks to Dr Justine Frain, our outgoing Chair, Shān Nicholas, who was interim Chief Executive, and our Board members, all of whom spent huge amounts of time and energy in putting in motion a far-reaching programme to transform how we operate to deliver greater impact.

Our promise is that by the end of 2020 we will have a new strategy in place and be on course to deploy our resources and reserves cost effectively. Supporting communities, decision makers and individuals to make sure later life is something worth living for. Making the positivity and potential that comes with age and experience inspiring for all. We look forward to working with you all.

Deborah Alsina MBE and Baroness Neuberger DBE