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Involving older people     Archive

Involving Older People  

Barbara Roche MP, Minister of State for Social Exclusion and Deputy Minister for Women, recently gave the third Help the Aged Annual Lecture.  Here are extracts from her speech

"What do we mean by community?

Very often policy makers, politicians, statutory organisations think that community is very very static and we know that community is very fluid and it changes. The people that you consult with one year or who participate in one year can be different another year. When we look at regeneration, one group who tend to be always present and stick by their neighbourhoods, are older people. I think this is one of the forgotten themes in regeneration, the importance of enabling all older people to play the fullest possible part in their communities, particularly the most deprived communities… How we bridge the gap between the great reservoir of skills and experience that I know resides among older people and the pressing need for just those sorts of skills in our communities is the concern of Government and grass roots organisations.


The demographic pattern 

By 2020 40% of the population will be aged over 50, an increase of 6 million people.  By the same time there will be as many over 70 as there are 25-34 year olds now.  One in 20 will be over 80. People will increasingly have longer years of active, healthy old age. I regard these (statistics) as real opportunities for us to decide how we progress as a country… the way we think about older people and our older population. 

Power to the 50-plus

The next generation of older people, those who are now 50+ had their formative experiences during periods of radical social change in the 1960’s and 1970’s …This will mark a fundamental change in terms of how we think about what it means to be ‘old’… how people think about themselves and how they want to live.   They won’t just ask for change they will make it happen. Those over 65 already are four times the voting power of those under 25, twice as many people, twice as likely to vote.  Nothing gets politicians going more than looking at voting patterns, and for today’s and tomorrow’s older population, that is something that we need to listen to and to respond as well.

New patterns of working life

Longer periods of active healthy life mean that it is increasingly likely that people will be looking to blur the line between what we conventionally think of as the abrupt end of working life. They are likely to have an expectation of carrying on the mix of their lives, wanting a changing and adaptable mix of paid work, voluntary work and active leisure. And actually when we look at that there is also no doubt that that it represents the working patterns of many people who are under 50, more moves to flexible working, more concentration that people have of mixing their family life and their working life. 

Our changing cities

Our society, as it ages has the power to fundamentally alter the future shape of our towns and cities and also the demands that local people place on them. Their implications for the physical design of our urban spaces and for the active participation of older people, are very important. With the publication that John Prescott has just made of the Communities Plan, we are looking particularly at growth areas for the next 10, 20 and 30 years.

Getting the fundamentals right

We have placed an emphasis on physical and mental health being very key issues: the National Service Framework on older people is addressing health and care needs. I place great emphasis on the successful implementation of the European Employment Directive. I believe it will have a cultural change on the way in which we think of older people. With our Age Positive Campaign we are vigorously promoting to employers the business benefits of age diversity so that when legislation is introduced it will simply confirm existing good practice. The campaign in challenging employers’ prejudices and perceptions to achieve change, set standards and promote best practice.

Making our communities safe

This is a crucial concern to everyone, but particularly older people. One of our key targets in deprived areas is reducing burglary - cutting burglaries by 25% and ensuring that no local authority has a burglary rate that is three times the average.  We have put in place 84 Neighbourhood Warden Schemes, working at community level to tackle crime and fear of crime. The fear of crime imprisons many older people in their homes, not only at night but during the day as well and we will not regenerate our neighbourhoods until we tackle it.

Targeting proverty

Our first priority was to focus on the poorest pensioners through the Minimum Income Guarantee and we have concentrated on the poorest third of pensioners. From October 2003, the Pension Credit means that for the first time we will reward, not penalise, modest savings using new ways to make sure that as many eligible people as possible benefit. 

The work that Help the Aged and the University of Keele published last year on growing older in socially deprived neighbourhoods paints a picture of lives where two-thirds of people are experiencing medium or high levels of deprivation, going without many of the things that others take simply for granted. 40% of older people say they have been a victim of crime in the last two years, one in six older people say that they are severely lonely. The report highlights the disproportionate impact that neighbourhood decline can have on older people, the loss of local services, the feeling of being abandoned and it squarely lays down the challenge of ensuring that regeneration does not overlook older people’s needs and interests.

Engagement with communities

Let’s look at some practical examples where deprived areas and the engagement of older people have been very fruitful… Marsh Farm in Luton where older residents set up and now run a very successful community laundrette and are also reinvesting in the local community, ploughing their profits back into buying a bus and running a local playgroup…. Community Wardens in the West End of Newcastle, where volunteers from different ethnic minority communities make regular calls to the homes of vulnerable older people helping them to gain access to local services and facilities…  The School Run Derby, where Asian elders ride on the school bus alongside school children, improving community safety and relations between different generations.

Government is saying quite expressly that we don’t have all the answers, we don’t always know how to do it and we have to trust local delivery and local mechanisms. That means giving power in the hands of local people to make sure that it comes about. And it’s not just Government that has to change… We will regenerate our most deprived neighbourhoods, but only with the active engagement of older people."


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