David Hobman
(Filed: 22/01/2004)

David Hobman, who died on December 24 aged 76, did much to change negative perceptions of elderly people as the founder director of the charity Age Concern England, which was launched in 1971 as the successor to the National Old People's Welfare Council.

Hobman used to say that he knew plenty of people who were "dead from the neck up at the age of 30", and contrasted their value with that of people more than twice their age - such as a friend in her eighties who told him she was no longer going to take an active interest in Age Concern because she wanted to concentrate her mind on the Peace Movement.

Hobman stressed the heterogeneous character of the post-retirement-age population and campaigned for older people to be recognised as having a positive contribution to make, and as consumers, rather than as a drain on the the nation's wealth.

The National Old People's Welfare Council had been set up after the war and the focus of its work was developing services for older people at a local level. Its rebirth as Age Concern marked a move towards a more active national campaigning strategy.

Under Hobman, the organisation acted both as an interest group, representing and championing the interests of older people in general, and as a promoter of local services. It identified itself with many specific causes, including the elimination of hypothermia, the retention of the death grant and the problems of social security claimants. Age Concern had an income of 50,000 a year when Hobman took over. By 1987, when he retired, it had risen to over 8 million.

It led the way in developing new methods of engaging with policy-makers, becoming the first national charitable body to employ a Westminster lobbyist - a controversial move at the time. It also established its own in-house research unit, initially funded by the Sainsbury Trust, to which Hobman recruited a group of enthusiastic young researchers. In 1983, the unit became the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology, in partnership with King's College, London, and Hobman became its chairman.

Among Age Concern's key publications, Beyond Three Score Years and Ten was a seminal study of the lives of people over the age of 75. In 1972 the present Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Patricia Hewitt, then a young desk officer at Age Concern, wrote the first edition of the charity's annual Your Rights, a straightforward explanation of the impenetrably complex state pension system. It was said that civil servants bought the booklet so that they could understand their own rules.

A thick-set man with expressive features, Hobman became the public face of the organisation, hosting breakfast meetings at party conferences and helping to raise its profile with numerous appearances on television. In the late 1980s he produced his own programme, Getting On, for Central Television.

David Burton Hobman was born on June 27 1927 into a free-thinking intellectual family. His father, in his fifties when his son was born, was editor of the liberal Westminster Gazette and counted H G Wells and Sigmund Freud among his friends. His mother went to Oxford late in life and was the first person ever to win an Oxford Diploma in Social Studies. Hobman himself became a convert to Catholicism, but retained the free-thinking habits of his youth, believing that the church should admit married and female priests and revise its stance on contraception.

Hobman was educated at University College School, north London, and at Blundell's School in Devon. After leaving, he wanted to become an actor and took small parts in repertory theatres, once carrying a spear behind Paul Scofield at Stratford-on-Avon. Then, after a spell at the British Council for Aid to Refugees, in 1958 he moved to the National Council for Social Services. From 1968 to 1970 he was director of the Social Work Advisory Service.

After retiring from Age Concern in 1987, he wrote regularly for Saga magazine and worked as an adviser and conciliator to people living in sheltered housing. He was the author of many publications on ageing, including Intergenerational Solidarity - fact and fiction (1993) and The More We Are Together: a study of partnerships in later life (1995).

David Hobman was appointed CBE in 1983.

He married, in 1954, Erica Irwin, who survives him with their son and daughter.