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Don’t underestimate the UK’s volunteer army

Grandmother babysitting a toddler

Research from Aviva has found that Britain’s economy is leant a significant hand from its hidden ‘volunteer army’ of over-65s. Do you have any elderly friends or relatives who help you out for free?

This hidden, sometimes unacknowledged volunteer army is apparently boosting our economy by a staggering £33.5bn per year, by doing more than 104m hours of unpaid work a week.

So it seems that many pensioners are out there helping their families, charities and local communities by offering their support for free. As well as assisting family with childcare, lots of elderly volunteers work in charity shops, sit on committees or take on trustee roles.

DIY, childcare and a night out

My own experience rings true with this research. When it comes to over-55s, Aviva says they typically clock up 30 hours of child-minding a month. And when my in-laws come to see us, they usually help out with childcare while my wife goes to work. Thankfully, my father-in-law almost always comes armed with his extensive toolbox.

This is a man who could build a functioning space satellite in his workshop if he wanted to. My wife gives him a list of jobs to do on his arrival that I’ve either not got around to tackling or, knowing my limitations, wouldn’t contemplate taking on.

This is a win-win-win situation for us – the kids are looked after, all the outstanding DIY jobs are done (competently), and we usually get a night out together as well.

Are you one of these stalwarts, volunteering for charity work or helping out your family wherever you can? Or do you, like me, benefit from the millions of older people that help out with family or with the general community?


Paul has mentioned that his father-in-law is skilled DIY, which he is not. Older relations can do a lot to pass on their skills. Rather than just being very grateful, there is the opportunity to learn and that may be the best way of thanking people for their help.

My caring duties just,sort of, arrived, but I’m also treasurer of my local choir, a school governor and a member of a small music group. There are both selfish and philanthropic reasons for this. Now work isn’t an issue, these things keep the brain sharp and give me drive and purpose. At this stage of life I can give some time and effort to these things and I hope that others will do the same when I stop. I get as much out of them as I put in. So, no halo here, just give and take.

I’m not over 65 and I have been unable to work because of the fragmented health-care system we now have and the difficulties and stress of trying to manage the numbers of carers the system now produces. The District Nurse is 10 people. This is not what the elderly need.

We should encourage a society where it is expected that a family has responsibilities to look after its own members where they are able. Sometimes there seems to be a view that the State should always be the provider; what it cannot provide is the love that bonds many families.

Older people often have more time on their hands, accumulated skills and knowledge, and moreover many are anxious to use these and they do so. I spend time helping a local sports club – it minimises costs and helps people enjoy themselves, including us. Many others help too – so the willingness is there. Just don’t let health and safety, criminal record checks, and other beaurocracy get in the way.

Some do and some don’t. But now that many pay for childcare rather than looking after their own kids, the future of elderly members of society could be grim.

The big change for the last generation (or 2) is that of both partners working full time.
There is no longer a family member around with time to provide care to elderly relatives.

Longer life expectancy doesnt help the situation either

We have produced a society where parents don’t bring up their children never mind looking after the old generation. We told people to move away from the family home to find work, breaking up communities, to save paying benefits. Now we are saying you should be looking after your parents 100’s of miles away to save paying benefits. People who want to save tax and cut benefits ought to look at the longer term effects of their savings. Housing costs in London and the cuts in housing benefits will soon mean that their will be few people to man the tills at Tesco and fill other low paid jobs in the city.

Perhaps this change is not necessarily for the best. In many cases it may be a trade off between income and lifestyle for family responsibility. Not always I will hasten to add. But Mrs R stayed home to look after our family, and only one of my parents worked. It had financial consequenses but we got by. And I think our families benefited. We did not expect that we would be provided with subsidised help – whether through tax breaks or whatever.

My mum isn’t over 65, but she’s nearly 60 and has been taking on childcare for my big sister. My sister has just returned to work after having her second baby, so my mum is taking both a 1 year old and a 4 year old once or twice a week.

I know my mum is happy to do this and loves her grandchildren, but I also know she finds it totally exhausting and often, quite expensive! Entertaining two very young children all day is hard work. But if she didn’t do it, it would barely be economically viable for my sister to work at all.

The problem all goes back to when Mrs Thatcher relaxed a lot of financial rules so that two incomes could be used to get a mortgage, once that happened house prices rocketed and of course you then needed two incomes to buy and keep a home. Thus one half of a couple could no longer stay home and look after children and do all the other things needed to make a home. So the spiral begins. Whilst may women might have been pleased to be able to work through pout their lives they no longer get the option of being mothers and keeping home. And of course fellows do not have that option either. Result is no one is home to see the children are being looked after and kept out of trouble. The Police know that one of the big peaks in trouble is when schools turn out. Of course this all started a few years ago and is conveniently forgotten especially by the politicians who will continue making ill considered decisions we all have to live with.