England's ageing population needs better political representation and focus
The 2021 Census reveals almost one in five of people living in England is aged 65 or older. This only furthers the case for an Older People’s Commissioner for England.
Our Senior Evidence Manager, Aideen Young, presents the key figures from the latest Census, explaining recent changes in England's demographics.
With an impressive 97% response rate, the 2021 Census provides a precise and accurate picture of England’s population.
There are 59.6 million of us in England, almost 3.5 million more than in 2011. Of that total, 10.4 million people are aged 65 or older – almost one in five (18.4%) of the population, and 1.7 million more than in the 2011 Census. There are almost half a million people aged 90 and older, 94,000 more than in 2011.
A greater number of older people in the population is the consequence of the fact that people are living longer. A 55-year-old man responding to the last census in 2011 could expect to live another 27 years and a 55-year-old women, another 30 years. A 75-year-old man could expect to live another 11 years in 2011 and a 75-year-old woman, another 13 years.
It's therefore not surprising that the number of people in every age group 50 and older is bigger than it was ten years ago. The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in terrible loss of life, particularly at older ages (there were almost 80,000 deaths of people aged 65 and older from COVID-19 in England and Wales between January 2021 and June 2022). However, dreadful as these numbers are, the pandemic has not impacted overall population trends.
The Census also highlights that we have a greater proportion of older people in the population. This is the consequence not only of greater numbers of older people, but also of declining numbers of younger people, due to falling birth rates. Compared to a decade earlier, there are 240,000 fewer under 4s; 300,000 fewer people aged 15 to 24; and almost 600,000 fewer people aged 40 to 49 in England.
Taken together, there are marginally fewer people aged 20 to 49 (9,500 fewer) since the last Census but almost 1.7 million more people aged 50 to 69. At a time when the number of job vacancies is at a record high (1.3 million over March to May 2022) and more than a quarter of a million more people aged 50 to 64 are economically inactive than at the start of the pandemic, the implications are clear. Older workers are the future of our workforce and current attitudes and practices that prevent their inclusion are ageist, counter-productive and extremely harmful to society as a whole.
Indeed, ageism looks more and more nonsensical as our age structure shifts to older ages. With more people aged 50 and over (21.4 million) than aged 29 and under (20.2 million), individuals and organisations that view older people as inferior and who believe that energy, creativity and imagination are the preserve of the young will find themselves looking at increasingly shallow pools of talent. Such attitudes need to be eradicated for the benefit of all, and at Ageing Better we're undertaking work to tackle ageism in everyday life including a new campaign to shift attitudes to ageing.
The 2021 Census data compounds the already strong evidence that England needs an Older People’s Commissioner to advocate for the rights of older people and all of us as we age. The ageing of our population shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, it's predicted that by 2042, one in four people in England will be aged 65 or over. And it’s notable that the proportion of over 65s in the population in England (18.4%) is greater than in Northern Ireland (17.2%) which has already had the foresight to appoint a Commissioner for Older People. That is why it's vitally important to respond now to establish a voice in Westminster who will argue the case for all aspects of government to have this demographic challenge at the forefront of their thinking to help ensure both current and future generations can age well and have a good later life.