Skip to content

What do I want? The challenge of an ageing society

The challenge of an ageing society could be the most critical long-term issue facing public services over the next few decades.

In one sense, this serves to clarify the choice we face between incremental improvement and radical innovation.

Existing approaches and thinking won't be able to cope, let alone mitigate, the breadth and scale of challenges we face. We need fresh ideas implemented more effectively.


In terms of an ageing society, these challenges range from building better housing and more accessible transport systems to offering new financial products and securing safer communities. Even without the profound demographic changes we are now beginning to experience, these are things we should be doing anyway. In this sense, the challenge of ageing society is a valuable prompt for us to re-evaluate our economic, social and cultural priorities.


It's not just about numbers of older people. It's about a continuing revolution in rising expectations by which, as citizens in a consumer society, we have come to expect more responsive, flexible services. And yet the 'market' in ageing products, services and advice has remained remarkably moribund, typically focused on acute needs rather than the broader population of older people.


As we recognise in the collection of essays we have published alongside the recent launch of our Age Unlimited innovation programme, the new 'young old' don't think of themselves as being limited by growing older. There is no single group of 'older people' with an easily identifiable set of pre-defined needs for which new public services can be designed. 'They' are us and have a set of interests and capabilities which can be responded to and enhanced.

So the vital question is not, ‘what do old people want?' Instead, we must ask:

'What do I want?'


Michael Harris

Michael Harris

Michael Harris

Director of Public and Social Innovation

View profile