The amalamation of Age Concern England and Help the Aged to form Age UK was well intentioned, an opportunity to pool resources and reduce costs to benefit the core purpose of the charities - older people throughout the UK. The new combined charity was also an opportunity to put in place a framework of good practice following Age Concern England's disastrous membership scheme Heyday, when the charity poured over £22 million down the drain. Sir Christopher Kelly, chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life described Heyday as "a classic case study of what not to do if you want an organisation to succeed".
Has the culture within the organisation changed?
In November 2010, 18 months after the new charity was formed both Private Eye and Third Sector magazine wrote highly critical articles regarding the extracurricular activities of Tom Wright, Age UK's chief executive
Stephen Cook editor of Third Sector headlined his column at the time "A controversy of Age UK's making" reminding us that "when Age Concern England got into difficulties over Heyday, the charity's leadership adopted the ostrich position" and "less than two years after the amalgamation, Age UK also finds itself at risk of reputational damage and is exhibiting some of the behaviour that characterised the Heyday affair "
Now well over two years since the merger, there's not only grumblings and confusion in the ranks but some large cracks as only about half of the 320 local Age Concerns have signed full partnership agreements with Age UK.
In 2008 when the merger of Age Concern England and Help the Aged was announced senior figures shrugged off suggestions that some local Age Concerns would not join. "I don't think it's going to happen," Catherine McLoughlin, chair of ACE, told Third Sector. She estimated "that 95 per cent would support the new merger "
However a number of local Age Concerns including some of the largest in the country such as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool have decided not to join up to a brand partnership agreement with Age UK. To paper over some of the other cracks and keep some of the other Age Concern's on board, who two years after the merger, still cannot make up their minds about becoming full partners, Age UK has invented a new category, allowing them to be just "Friends of Age UK".
As well as spending massive amounts polishing its image, money that would have been better spent on the core purposes of the charity, Age UK is now acting like a crazed dictator blanking out parts of the country.
The About Us page on the Age UK website has a locator to find your "nearest Age UK or Age Concern". Tap in Birmingham, Liverpool or Manchester and you will see that Age UK have childishly scrubbed those Age Concerns right off the map. If AGE UK is going to be so pernickety perhaps they should drop "UK" from their logo as their locator shows they are no longer a nationwide organisation and also drop their strap line "The new force combining Age Concern and Help The Aged".
Trust and transparency is the only real way of ensuring that an organisation operates in an ethical manner. We live in an ageing society, more older people than ever before, which presents many challenges and opportunities. Age UK should be big enough to admit it when mistakes are made so that the organisation is built on transparency, trust and respect, instead of hiding things and pretending things are not as they are. Creating a framework for all Age Concerns throughout the country to get along and work together for the benefit of all older people.
Until two years ago individual local age concerns were independent members of a national federation each a separate registered charity working under the Age Concern banner, providing vital services for older people, including day centres, lunch clubs, home visits and transport services, often funded through contractual agreements with local government.
Age Concern England (ACE) was a member of the federation based in London but unlike the local Age Concerns’, ACE did not provide any hands on services for older people instead it represented the federation, at a national level and through its subsidiary Age Concern Entreprises Ltd generated huge income by marketing home, motor and travel insurance, funeral plans, equity release, stair lifts and other products on behalf of outside companies.
However local age concerns’ see little of the money according to Birmingham Age Concern, their chief executive Shirley Goode made this very clear when she said “It is a fact that in their last Annual Report Age UK identified that only approximately 45% of their income was spent on direct charitable activity and only 14% came back to local groups (certainly none of it came back to Birmingham. They have instead spent massive amounts of money on advertising their new brand.”
Many other local Age Concerns agree believing that ACE’s primary interest is ACE not the elderly people it represents and now following the merger with Help the Aged to form Age UK, some of those local Age Concerns’ have decided not to enter into a brand partnership agreement with Age UK, including some of the largest in the country such as as Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
Ironically Liverpool was the first organisation in the country, set up specifically for the care of the elderly in 1928. Miss Eleanor Rathbone and members of her family donating £175 to the Liverpool Personal Service Society to set up the Old Folks Sub Committee. Initially there were 4 social/clubs day centres for older people in the city, while the activities and entertainment laid on by the committee such as annual day trips, keeping in touch with sick members and those experiencing hard times are as familiar in local Age Concerns today as they were in 1928.
The pioneering work by the Older Peoples Welfare Committee in Liverpool for the elderly was quickly adopted in towns and cities across the UK and in 1940 The Older Peoples Welfare Committee became The National Older Peoples Welfare Committee with Miss. Rathbone as its first chair. Then in 1971, the NOPWC changed its public name to Age Concern. June 2011