Dr Martin Hyde Research director 8 February 2021

For the first time, people aged over 65 in the UK outnumber those aged under 15. The Office for National Statistics anticipated that by 2020 around a third of the working population – and nearly half the adult population – will comprise people aged 50+, part of a global population-ageing trend that is set to continue in coming decades. The UK Government’s Industrial Strategy highlighted population ageing as one of four Grand Challenges for society and industry, to be addressed by harnessing innovation. The UK government recently set out a commitment to increase the labour market participation rate of older workers by 12% in the coming years. With increased life expectance, more people will continue working until later in life.

The creative industries can play a critical role in seeking novel and creative solutions to realise the opportunities of an ageing workforce. Within the workplace, older people can be creative and productive, and can contribute real-word experience, cross-disciplinary knowledge, management and business skills. The creative industries generate almost £92 billion for the UK economy annually (gross value added), supporting almost 3 million jobs and accounting for 9% of UK service exports. Employment in the creative industries is growing at four times the rate of the UK workforce as a whole. The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport anticipates that the sector could be worth almost £130 billion by 2025, contributing to the creation of up to 1 million jobs by 2030. In the consumer market, the fastest-growing market segment is driven by an ageing population, with the ‘grey pound’ now accounting for £320 billion of annual UK household spending and over-50s holding over 75% of the nation’s wealth. It is estimated that, by 2025/30, around 25% of the creative-industries market supporting 250,000 jobs will rely on older consumers. While the ‘longevity economy’ is a major opportunity for creative industries, it also presents a challenge, with businesses under-prepared for the new demographic in terms of their ability to recognise, understand and respond to shifting demand.

However, research has demonstrated time and time again how older people are undervalued both as consumers of products and services and as potential contributors to the workforce. Consequently, the older population is rendered invisible to many companies or portrayed using traditional stereotypes as ‘problematic’ and/or dependent and in need of support. This narrow vision and short-term thinking misses the economic opportunity presented by an ageing population. As Harry Moody, Director of Academic Affairs for AARP said:

“We need creative responses to the coming of an ageing society, yet we behave as if were driving by looking through a rear view mirror. We mainly see problems, when the opportunities are where we need to be looking.”

In a similar vein, the ageing population represents an experienced but underused potential for the creative industries workforce. As a report on the future of productivity in the creative industries notes:

“The creative industries’ workforce is believed to be relatively young […]. It thus runs a risk of gradually losing touch with older audiences, whose tastes it may not share, while at the same time failing to capture the economic (and cultural) potential of a more diverse workforce, able to tap into the various sub-markets within a more fragmented national culture.”

As such the creative industries do not currently reflect the age diversity of the wider UK population either in the make-up of their workforce or in terms of the focus of their outputs. For the creative industries, perhaps more sharply than other sectors, a failure to address this issue is likely to hit their bottom line and lead to wasted business opportunities. A number of high-profile cases of age discrimination by major employers in the creative economy paint a negative picture of this sector. Although it is possible to get figures on the gender, ethnic and socio-economic status of the creative industry workforce, no figures exist on the age-group breakdown. Set against the trend of increased workforce ageing and the push to extend working lives, this evidence gap needs to be addressed.

Alongside this the over-50s are the fastest growing group of self-employed workers in the UK. As the creative economy has a much higher rate of self-employed workers (35%) than the wider UK economy (15%), there ought to be ample opportunities for older self-employed workers to enter the creative industries. However, very little is known about the barriers and facilitators to economic participation for the older self-employed.

The Awen Institute has been set up, in part, to address these challenges. The Work group, led by Dr Martin Hyde and Aelwyn Williams, will work with older adults, businesses, policy makers and third sector groups to i) assess and promote age-friendly/age-diverse workplaces in the creative industries; ii) support older workers in acquiring skills and knowledge to work in the sector; iii) work with creative industries to design new applications to support people remaining in the workforce longer; and, iv) develop new sector-based tools and guidance to disseminate good-practice and training for managing and supporting older workers. This will improve equality and diversity in the sector and help to design better products and services to promote a healthy, fuller working life for all.

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