The needs and aspirations of older people deserve more serious attention – not just because they are a fast growing element in the population. They can no longer be lumped together and stereotyped as passive and undemanding ‘pensioners’: they are the best educated, fittest, most diverse generation of older people we have ever seen in history.
Yet perversely, their numbers include a growing group of the most socially excluded people in society. Approaching one in five live below the poverty line, millions are living alone, and clusters of supportive family members living nearby is a thing of the past. Traditional networks centred on post offices, local bank branches, or village or neighbourhood retailers, are dwindling. The digital age is advancing relentlessly, and a generation of older people are being left in the slipstream. The loudest voices in society are calling for choice and ‘personalisation’, but this is merely confusing if not supported by information and advice.
Government, public services, the commercial world and the voluntary and community agencies need to take a fresh look at the older population in all these dimensions. And against a backdrop of austerity, all need to find sharper, smarter ways of reaching out to older people.
That is the simple starting point of the Age Action Alliance. The objective is to:
- bring together in new partnerships organisations which have neither thought nor needed to collaborate in the past,
- explore ways of working together which can share insights, knowledge and resources,
- seek new ways to deliver information, services and support to older people.
The focus is on people who are socially excluded or at risk of landing there.
Do we need a new organisation to do this? Is there not a lot of this happening already? Of course there is, and where there is good practice we want to celebrate and pluralise it. The organisation is essentially a coalition of the willing, sharing and developing ideas through a website.
There will be a lively discussion about the Age Action Alliance at Age UK’s Agenda for Later Life conference on 8 March. The initiative for the Alliance was taken by Age UK and the DWP, but it is ‘owned’ by the partners who step up to work together. Too many good ideas have been lost as funding streams dried up, or the wilful individuals driving them moved on. Society is facing unprecedented changes and tensions, but out of that we want a better deal for older people.