Profile: Michelle Mitchell, charity director of Age UK

The charity director of Age UK is about to launch a campaign aimed at improving older people's incomes. Nikki Wicks reports.

Objective: Michelle Mitchell admits she gets emotionally engaged
Objective: Michelle Mitchell admits she gets emotionally engaged

Michelle Mitchell is pondering the Government's flagship policy idea. 'Big Society? We are the big society and have been for years,' she grins. And the charity director for Age UK has every reason to smile.

As well as reaching the final stages of a colossal organisational overhaul, one of the charity's major campaigns to increase the state pension was given a boost in last week's Budget.

'For Age UK, the highlight of the Budget was the Chancellor's hint that the Government is to introduce a flat-rate state pension of £140 per week. We want this turned into a firm commitment and timetable, so those approaching retirement have financial certainty,' says Mitchell.

The timing could not be better. Launching this month, 'Let's Talk Money' is a major campaign that will see Age UK tackling several political issues, including the Government's plans to increase the state pension age and proposed NHS reforms.

'The issues we're working on can't wait until tomorrow,' declares Mitchell.

Age UK was created in April 2010 after the merger between leading charities Age Concern and Help the Aged.

Mitchell, who was formerly comms director for Age Concern, was one of 2,500 employees working across the two organisations.

Reflecting on the sheer size of the merger, Mitchell says: 'Change on this scale is never easy, but it was very much about two organisations that shared similar visions and outlook coming together.'

With both charities demonstrating strong financial positions and both highly respected, trustees on either side argued that a merger would not only cut costs and duplication, but also allow for a more influential charity.

However, not everyone shared this vision. Mitchell admits that a vital part of the past two years has been focused on internal comms and convincing sceptics that the merger was for the good.

For Mitchell, who supported the merger, the process has been a success. A massive £10m has been saved and ploughed back into the organisation.

At Age UK, Mitchell leads a team of 73 and her remit covers functional responsibility for research, public policy, public affairs, campaigns and group PR.

With a career spanning government and public affairs, she is well equipped to take on the challenges that older people and their families are battling with in the face of 'the most brutal council cuts in recent memory'.

'I do not use this word very often but social care is in a state of "crisis". The basics of washing, feeding, toileting and the support that was there is being stripped away at an unbelievable rate.'

Mitchell admits that becoming emotionally involved comes with the territory.

'Recently, I did a day of media interviews on the Health Service Ombudsman report, which outlined ten case studies of older people who had suffered the most inhumane and awful treatment in hospitals, including malnutrition and dehydration,' she says. 'It's incredibly personal and I'm motivated by the unfairness that I see. I do get emotionally engaged and I try to channel that engagement - and sometimes anger - into something positive to try to change things.'

Her goals to make a real difference to the lives of older people are often ambitious and she confesses to being 'reasonably well known for having high standards'.

'She's incredibly ambitious, so you really have to pull your finger out to keep up with her,' says Brendan Paddy, who worked with Mitchell at Age Concern and is now media manager at the Disasters Emergency Committee.

A key area for Age UK's campaign is to lobby for retaining the current timetable for equalisation of the state pension age, and not to start to increase the state pension age to 66 before 2020.

'The Government has broken its own coalition commitment and is proposing to speed up the process,' she says.

If the Government's proposals are successful, about 330,000 women in Britain born between December 1953 and October 1954 will have their state pension age increased by 18 months, or longer. Women born between 6 March and 5 April 1954 will have their state pension age increase by two years.

With enough government policy issues to keep her busy, Mitchell does not have much time for talk of the Big Society.

'It's a bit like when Prince Charles was asked if he was in love with Princess Diana, and he replied "Whatever in love means",' she laughs.


2010 Charity director, Age UK
2005-08 Chair of trustees, Fawcett Society (volunteer position)
2002 Comms director, Age Concern England
2000 Government affairs adviser, NSPCC
1997 Head of Parliamentary Unit Charter88
1994 Political adviser roles in Parliament



What was your biggest career break?

My first job after I graduated from university was working as a research assistant for Donald Dewar MP, the shadow chief whip. It was a huge milestone and the experience gave me an invaluable insight into the political process, as well as setting me on the road to a career in comms.

Have you had a notable mentor?

An ex-boss, who is also a friend, who taught me the crucial difference between strategy and tactics. He inspired me to expect more from myself and to push myself to go that extra mile.

What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

You should focus your energy on a career and an industry that you feel passionate about, and once you find it, work extremely hard. An enthusiastic and industrious approach can usually open many doors.

What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

A willingness to learn, a hard-working approach, tenacity and resilience.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in