Today is Older People’s Day in the UK and the UN International Day of Older Persons and this weekend it’s grandparents day. I’ve spent the last year or so deep into social care policy. Frankly, it’s all been a bit doom and gloom. Key to Care focused on the grim circumstances of working in home care and the very soon-to-be-published Care and Continuity is about planning for provider failure. Care providers going out of business or otherwise exiting the market is a not uncommon occurrence and judging by warning letters from the United Kingdom Homecare Association and from residential care providers, it’s likely to get a lot less uncommon.
We don’t want to turn away from the difficult realities of funding social care. But at the same time, a relentless focus on what’s wrong with the services that some older people need can take away from realising the many positive benefits that older people bring. My own childhood was greatly enriched by older people, my grandparents, their friends and older members of church. I still have a silver brooch that was gifted to me by a very old woman I went to church with. It had been given to her by an older friend and I was given it on the condition that I would promise to give it away when I was older to a young friend and not a relation, thus sustaining a link of intergenerational friendship that is already over 100 years old and will be even more when I eventually give away the pin.
But these days, I’m not sure how often kids get to develop relationships like that. There’s a lot of intergenerational segregation. My son has contact with his grandparents, although they live far away, but almost everyone else he meets are either kids or people of working age. I think this harms us. It’s a tear in the fabric of our communities. It robs us of perspective, but it also robs us of the wisdom and skills we need to solve issues as a community.
I think celebrating older people is great, but at the same time, I’d like to make sure that we celebrate older people as part of our lives, not just somewhere, off over there, doing older people stuff. For that, we need institutions and groups that welcome people of all ages. For some people, that may be religious institutions, but for others we need more ‘fun’ things that sustain relationships across generations. Art, culture, leisure and sport activities that are designed to build relationships not just among age-peer groups but relationships that span the years-gap.