Older People: Their Place and Contribution in Society

By natwei_lngozg on 14 December 2012
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              Source: Hansard My Lords, I too wish to thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for this debate and join my fellow Peers in paying tribute to his work over the years-particularly to his compassion, eloquence, and dignity in the face of great challenges. We wish the most reverend Primate well in this next exciting stage in his life and pray it will be one full of peace, fruitfulness and joy. This debate surely comes at the right time as we wrestle with so many issues around care, fuel poverty, isolation and others that we have been discussing today. It is also a time when we face a real risk of intergenerational conflict if, as a society, we are not careful to build bridges and greater understanding between old and young. On the one hand, many younger citizens highlight a perceived sense of unfairness as they see stable and secure jobs disappear, the prospect of property ownership recede, and pensions become less generous. On the other hand, there can at times also be a view among some senior citizens that the young have never had to endure the post-war grinding poverty that millions endured, followed by the rebuilding of this nation and the sacrifices made financially as today’s older generations built up their families-sacrifices that contrast with the consumer and debt culture that pervades much of mainstream society today. As someone who in your Lordships’ House is considered part of the younger generation and is technically least qualified to speak in this debate, yet also someone who has benefited so much from the wisdom, eldership and support of older members of society in my own life-not least in this place-I witness these tensions only too often. I feel deeply a need for those who can to call for peace and greater understanding on both sides of the generational debate, for only when old and young work together can we address the many challenges we face as a nation. In view of the time, I would like to focus my remarks on retirement and, in particular, on the forthcoming wave of baby-boomer retirements occurring over the coming decade, and how that might provide both a challenge and opportunity to us as a society. Over the early part of this year, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a research policy paper funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, with the involvement of groups such as Manpower, Saga and Prudential, entitled Life Transitions and Retirement in the 21st Century. The paper sought to highlight the many major life transitions we all face from birth to death: starting and ending relationships, entering and leaving work, and entering and leaving the domain of various public services, from the criminal justice system to hospitals and education. The report highlighted in particular the opportunity to develop national service-type programmes, delivered by charities and social enterprises and targeted at people undergoing major transitions in life as a means of connecting them with each other to create social capital, providing useful information in a safe way, and of building resilience. Youth was one area in which such an approach was found to be worth while. Another is the entry into, and loss of, one’s first job. The biggest opportunity was in retirement. In interviewing baby boomers nearing, or who had entered, retirement we found that there was a fundamental challenge that many now face: retirement can often be a traumatic experience for some amd bewildering for others. and more could be done to develop ways led by retirees for retirees to help smooth this transition. The story was told by one policeman the team spoke to who recounts how, on his last day at work, he handed in his pass and was told, “That’s it, you’re no longer a policeman”. The loss of identity that can accompany such a sudden retirement, particularly for men, seems to observers to have an impact even on death rates in many such careers, an area which needs urgent further research. This example can be contrasted with another from a company like Shell, which has a wind-down programme, increasing time off from five days a week to four and three over three years, to give time for pre-retirement employees to adjust and build an alternative portfolio for their week. What seemed to be needed was a kind of course, signposted to the retiring through employers and local agencies, and delivered through charities and social enterprises along a common framework, that could help walk people through, in a fun, confidential and relaxed environment, the areas that one may need to consider when retiring-not just how to plan finances, but the emotional side; the social side; what to do when health fails or as illnesses become chronic; how to handle other family members’ expectations; and, above all, the vocational or spiritual side, or what people feel called to use their later lives for. Such a programme could knit people together into support groups, and could encourage alumni to get involved, if they do not know how, in their communities and show them what is out there and what organisations, innovations, and ventures they could connect with, and even help build. Such a programme could send a clear message that later life is by no means an end but, indeed, a new beginning; not a burden on society, rather a precious asset; not just about social care, but about social eldership. Retirement, we found, is not the caricature that we see often in the media, but increasingly complex. Millions will be working part-time in retirement and having portfolio existences, often for the first time in their lives. Many, if encouraged in the first year or so of retirement, before long-term habits are formed, could be encouraged to enjoy a well earned rest but also be given the opportunity to work out how to make the best of the remaining decades of their lives in non-traditional ways-blending, where possible, work and leisure rather than it being about one or the other. For example, they could get involved in their local communities directly, setting up in executive or non-executive capacities part-time small businesses co-owned with younger, unemployed people, and learning about the best ways and technologies to use to care for others around them, including their parents and, ultimately, themselves. Many people do this already, often without remuneration or structured guidance to do so, and I pay tribute, as other have done here today, to the millions of those who in their later years have already found ways to do so much to contribute to society and those around them. For example, 65% of older people already help elderly neighbours and 49% serve the wider community in some way. However, baby boomers in particular-the 60s generation and beyond-will have a challenge, juggling the needs, care and struggles of their parents and their children, while also having a desire to make the most of life, express own their identities and have their own way, and not just get involved out of duty. If given the right support and networks, this generation none the less has the ability literally to turn around the fortunes of our nation, using their best years to help build the capacity and resilience of this nation. But they have to be in the driving seat. This cannot be led and driven top-down, but instead should come out of retirees’ own desires, callings, and initiative. How could we move forward from here? Well the Shaftesbury Partnership, in which I declare an interest as a founder, are taking forward work with interested parties from the voluntary, private and government sectors to develop and pilot such a scheme. I would encourage any noble Lords who may have ideas or thoughts to get in touch so that we can trial such an approach. A new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions is also being established, in which I declare an interest as treasurer, to help parliamentarians and policy-makers think about and meet members of the public undergoing life transitions such as retirement. It is led by Chris White MP, with the support of others such as David Blunkett MP and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. I would encourage others to get in touch and participate in this work. Thirdly, there is a low-cost role for government to help publicise, incentivise and support the development of such schemes, including skill-sharing ones such as WRVS’s Carebank and the Amazings initiative from Sidekick Studios. Perhaps when people first get notified of their state pension and official retirement arrangements, several years before they hit retirement age, they could be alerted to what is available and around them. More could be done for sure to support the many public sector workers, whose talents would otherwise be wasted for both state and society, to wind down and make the transition better. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on the Government’s stance in these areas. As the City of London itself transitions, could we do more to connect those who have worked in our financial services industries with opportunities to connect with others retiring and seeking to rebalance their lives for the benefit of us all and those most in need? Retirement is changing, and we need to look at it differently and with optimism. The coming baby-boomer retirees represent the youngest ever retiring generation. Their energy and ideas, their leadership and resources can be a great benefit to this country. Let us find ways from within business, the voluntary sector and government local and central, to unleash on their terms their skills, energy and potential, to support them where it is needed, and to see later life not primarily as a source of decline and expense but increasingly as a rich source of wisdom and an asset-one which can benefit us all, not least those in or entering retirement themselves. End]]>