As part of our Pride of Place campaign to promote better neighbourhoods for older people we invited Paul McGarry from Manchester City Council to write this guest blog about his experience of Age Friendly Cities.
I’ve just finished reading an article by well-known social gerontologist Prof Alan Walker who argues (and I’m paraphrasing here) that social policy, in connection with older people, has become dominated by an “individualisation of the social” at the expense of what are sometimes called ‘structural’ explanations of, and policy responses to, ageing societies.
It is a position I have some sympathy with. Too often it seems that we – the age sector – downplay how society creates the social, economic and political circumstances in which older people create and live their lives. The result can be the endless pursuit of ‘evidence-based’ short-term interventions, whilst feeling frustration at not being able to tackle the underlying causes of ill-health, poverty or social exclusion in older age. And sometimes researchers appear content to describe the lives that older people live whilst falling short of setting out arguments for change.
That’s why I’m very enthusiastic about my time at the First International Conference on Age-Friendly Communities held in Dublin on 28th-30th September and which launched the ‘Dublin Declaration. More of that later.
The conference, which was expertly organised by Anne Connolly and the Irish Ageing Well team, attracted 400 delegates from 42 countries and featured presentations from leading European ageing researchers such as Chris Phillipson, Tom Scharf, Jenny de Jong Gierveld and Sheila Peace as well as planners, designers and political figures from across the globe. It was also an opportunity to hear the latest from innovative programmes grouped around the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly cities such as New York and Lyon as well as those from the emerging economies.
I shared a platform with Grace Chan who leads an inspirational project in Hong Kong, setting out Manchester’s vision and describing some of the work we’ve done since 2003. A well-stocked information stall was well received by delegates and Councillor Sue Cooley, Manchester Older People’s Champion, signed the Dublin Declaration on Age Friendly Cities and Communities on behalf of Manchester.
The Declaration builds on the work done by the World Health Organisation’s age-friendly environments programme. It is a tightly argued two page document which sets out nine propositions relating to ageing in the C21st and commits signees to short-term action and longer-term objectives. You can find it here.
I am a member of a small group that is now charged with developing a roadmap for the next phase of this work. In the UK a number of partners are focusing their work on this agenda through a working group of the Age Action Alliance as a step towards establishing a UK wide network of cities.
My view is that in these difficult days the Declaration and the international movement attached to it offer an excellent opportunity to tackle some of the tough structural challenges we face. I would encourage all local authorities, other agencies and in particular public health teams to endorse the Declaration and join the movement to create places, which as we say in Manchester, are “great to grow old”.
Paul McGarry, Senior Strategy Manager, Valuing Older People, Public Health Manchester