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What does Age International do?

We are the only UK charity focusing on older people in developing countries. We’re here to help older people in developing countries by reducing poverty, improving health, protecting rights and responding to emergencies. Our vision is of a world in which women and men everywhere can lead dignified, healthy and secure lives as they grow older.

What are the main problems facing older people in developing countries?

 More than 180 million older people live in poverty; of those, 100 million live on less than 60 pence a day. That means they cannot afford enough food, healthcare or shelter. Many people in later life in developing countries are also caring for grandchildren orphaned by AIDS, famine or conflict.

Helping us support older people benefits their families and their communities.

  • Only 25 per cent (one in four) of older people in developing countries receive a pension, so vast numbers need to work until the day they die.
  • Healthcare is unaffordable, inaccessible or inappropriate for many in the developing world, particularly in rural areas.
  • Older people routinely face age discrimination. Many people in later life are refused work, medication or loans because they are considered to be ‘too old.’
  • When disasters strike, people in later life are among the most vulnerable to death, injury and disease.

Surely there aren’t many older people in developing countries, are there? 

The whole globe is experiencing a demographic shift, even in the poorest and least developed countries. Ageing is a major social, economic, political and development issue for the 21st century.

Currently, people aged 60 and over represent 11 per cent of the world’s population; by 2050, this figure will rise to 19 per cent. At this point, there will be more people aged 60 and over than aged 14 and under.

The population of developing countries is ageing rapidly, with 70 per cent of the world’s older people living in developing countries. To respond to this demographic shift, governments need to make adjustments to society and services, especially in areas such as health and social protection. This will be particularly challenging in low-income countries.

If a person has managed to reach old age in a developing country, they don’t need our help, do they?

Older people in developing countries deserve a break or some form of retirement in the same way as older people do in richer nations. Many are unable to access pensions – only 1 in 4 of the world’s older people currently receive a pension. In some countries, pensions do not exist; or they are only available for those aged over 75; or they are only accessible to public sector employees.

In countries where pensions do exist, they are generally not adequate to cover basic costs. Furthermore, some people in later life do not know that pensions exist in their country; or may not have the identity documents in order to access them.

Our partner organisation, HelpAge, works with national governments to encourage them to introduce pensions in their countries; together we run pilot pension programmes and carry out research in order to illustrate the benefit of pensions and other forms of social security (ie child support grants for orphaned grandchildren being looked after by grandparents); we raise awareness about pensions; and we help people in later life to acquire ID so they can access pensions.

Pensions & poverty

Why can’t older people go out and work?

Older people do go out and work: in most developing countries, older people continue working until the day they die.

However, the work they do is often poorly paid and insecure, thus restricting them from being able to save for the future and retire in the way we would all hope to do some day. Age discrimination is a global phenomenon. When competing against younger, more able-bodied people, those in later life are rarely given a chance. Furthermore, some older people may have mobility, sight or hearing problems which restrict them from working; others may be too frail or housebound

What is a social pension?

A social pension is a regular cash transfer provided by the state to every older person. They are an effective way to protect older people’s rights, to give them a voice and to ensure a more secure future for them and younger generations. Evidence shows that giving older people a minimum income helps them, their families and their communities.

On the other hand, contributory pensions are only available to the relatively small numbers who had had jobs in the formal economy.

Where pensions exist, they have had a major impact on reducing poverty and increasing access to education and healthcare, not just for the older person but also for those family members who depend on that person. Evidence also tells us that well-being, self-respect, dignity and participation in family and community are enhanced through a social pension.


Why do we need separate emergency relief for older people?

26 million older people a year are affected by natural disasters. People in later life are particularly vulnerable in these situations and at greater risk of contracting diseases; older people are vulnerable to rapid debilitation caused by diarrhoea in the same way as children are, for example. But, unlike other vulnerable groups, their needs are often ignored.

Older people can get pushed to the ground in the scramble for aid packages. Where they receive food, it is frequently unsuitable for digestive systems and teeth compromised by the ageing process.  Lack of mobility and isolation mean they are often unable to access emergency relief; they may be far from the centralised distribution points or too frail to reach refugee camps. In emergencies there is often a lack of medication for chronic disorders, especially disorders that will become acute without regular treatment. 

We make sure our aid meets older people’s needs and that it reaches them safely.


Why do we need separate health programmes for people in later life?

There are three main reasons for focusing on the health of older people in particular.  First of all, many older people suffer from age discrimination and are often denied access to healthcare solely on the basis of their age, not their health. Healthcare decisions need to be made on the basis of biological ageing (how fit and healthy an individual is regardless of their age), not chronological age (when one was born). A 50 year old person in poor health can have aged biologically more than a fit and active 70 year old.

Secondly, ageing is a driver of specific illnesses and one’s experience of health and illness changes as one gets older. 71 per cent of deaths from non-communicable diseases occur in people aged 60 and over. It is therefore essential that older people receive appropriate prevention, diagnosis, treatment and care.

And thirdly, data collection and specialist skills for understanding the health of older people are almost non-existent in some parts of the world.

What are non-communicable diseases/chronic illnesses?

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) include a range of chronic conditions, including cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and dementia.  They are commonly thought of as "diseases of affluence", but in reality, four-fifths of deaths from NCDs are in low- and middle-income countries and older people in developing countries are particularly at risk.

Fighting for rights

What problems do older people face in the area of rights?

Older men and women have the same rights as everyone else: we are all born equal and this does not change as we grow older.  Even so, older people’s rights are mostly invisible under international law.  In the absence of such laws, ageism and age discrimination are tolerated across the world.  Many people in later life are refused work, medication or loans because they are considered to be ‘too old.’.

Why focus on rights?  Isn’t it better to give people food and shelter?

People’s rights include the right to food and shelter. This is made clear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which the UK is a signatory and has been since its creation in 1948.

As the Universal Declaration states, the rights of all people have been accepted as being universal and inalienable – by virtue of being human, we all have the right to live in dignity.  Working on rights means keeping older people safe and protected from harm and ensuring they are treated fairly and with dignity. It also means making sure they can live the life they choose (such as having access to education), and play a part in their community and in wider society.

Human rights are also an important tool to help people demand access to goods and services such as food and shelter. They provide a legal basis for challenging the policies of many governments.

About our organisation

How is Age International different to Age UK?

Age UK is the UK’s leading organisation focusing on the needs of older people. The remit of Age UK is to assist people in later life in the UK. The remit of Age International is to assist older people in developing countries. Age International is a subsidiary charity of Age UK. It is the international branch of Age UK.

What is HelpAge? What makes you different from them?

HelpAge International is two things: a development agency focusing on the needs of older people and a network of ageing organisations across the globe. The network currently has 115 members in 76 countries. HelpAge’s secretariat happens to be based in the UK , but it could be based anywhere in the world because its remit – as a secretariat and as a service-delivery organisation - is global.

Age International is the UK member of the HelpAge global network. We raise awareness and funds in the UK to support the service-delivery work of our partner, HelpAge, in over 40 developing countries.

We also carry out policy and influencing work in the UK to change policies and approaches towards older people. There are other affiliates who play a similar role to us in different countries, such as HelpAge USA and HelpAge Deutschland, thus allowing us to reach more vulnerable older people in developing countries.

How is my donation used and how much is spent on charitable work?

If you make an unrestricted donation, it will be spent on one of our four priority areas of work: reducing poverty; improving health and healthcare; protecting rights; and providing age-friendly emergency relief.

If you elect to make a restricted donation (ie for our healthcare work or in response to an emergency appeal), then your donation will be spent on that particular activity.

Only 5.6% of our total income is spent on support costs – the rest is spent on our long-term development, short-term emergency relief, and our influencing, campaigning and communications work.

What countries do you work in?

See a full list of current projects on the where we work page.

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“Age International”; “we”; or “us” means the Age UK Network which includes Age UK’s group of companies and national partners (Cymru, Scotland and NI). We also work closely with local Age UKs. You can change your mind at any time by emailing or calling 0800 032 0699. Please see our privacy policy for further information on how your data is used and stored. We will never sell your data.

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