Guardian research aims to assess how well the UK is responding to demographic change
The Guardian is launching a new survey, which aims to assess how well the UK is responding to demographic change – and whether older citizens’ skills and knowledge are being harnessed.
The proportion of people aged 60 or over in the UK population is projected to grow steadily in the years ahead, while some experts have suggested that one in two of today’s toddlers is likely to live beyond 100. Yet a powerful report last year warned that the UK was “woefully underprepared” for the consequences of its ageing population. And there are few signs that the policymakers have grasped the scale and urgency of the challenge presented by this demographic change.
SocietyGuardian has launched a major project looking at how the UK is responding to the challenges and opportunities of the growing number of older people. The Big Ageing Population Debate – supported by British Red Cross, Hanover, Independent Age and PA Consulting – has been exploring how public services adapt to meet increasing demand from older people, and how to recognise and celebrate older people’s contribution to their communities. They would like to hear from older people and their families and carers, from professionals working with older people and from interested members of the public. In particular, they would like views on society’s perceptions of older people, the political response to changing demographics, and how people would like their own older age to be. The survey will take no more than 5 -10 minutes to complete. The findings will be published on the SocietyGuardian website in early 2015.
I recently gave a presentation on this topic to a large audience of University of the Third Age members in Barnet. The North London U3A is a fast-growing group with some 1200 members and I look forward to joining them when I eventually move to North London. My theme drew on a longstanding interest in old age and ageing and a fierce determination to do what I can to challenge and change that spectrum of attitudes which ranges from well-meant paternalism to outright ageism in British society. Naturally, I offered as a powerful solution for some the example of cohousing – whether the family-based, so-called ‘inter-generational’model or senior cohousing, which is also pretty inter-generational if you think about it.
A frequent refrain in my researches on Dutch senior cohousing – and one echoed by my audience in Barnet – was ‘I don’t want to grow old in the way my parents did, where they had no choices and decisions were made for them’.
Planning ahead for ageing makes a lot of sense – but not very many people seem to realise this. Being very comfortable where you are is great, if you can see yourself managing equally happily there ten to twenty years on. I get the feeling from many people that their heads are firmly in the sand in relation to the latter consideration. The Danes have a saying ‘Make your choices before they are made for you’. This is wise and, although it may be a wrench now to tear yourself away from the non-age-proofed house you are living in, you may live to congratulate yourself on being so far-sighted as to move to a setting where your environment is not only built to Lifetime Homes standard (as Cohousing Woodside will be) but where you will enjoy the helpful neighbourliness you yourself have participated in building.
As part of the ‘Ready for Ageing’ debate in the House of Lords on 17th October Ros Wilkins, having declared her interest in Cohousing Woodside, once again advocated cohousing as a way of living that combines today’s aspiration for the autonomy of our own homes with being within a supportive community.
“It is a model well established in continental Europe, where senior cohousing communities are encouraged by various Governments also faced with rapidly ageing societies. They are based on a range of ages over 50 and are a self-help model—fundamentally a means of prevention, harnessing the energies of younger cohorts of older people to address their own futures and help others.”
She touched on the slow progress of OWCH over the past 10 years and attributes Hanover Housing Association’s insightful initiative to support senior cohousing as an example that others should follow.
“This model of cohousing deserves much greater official support and encouragement in a housing and planning system where the cards are totally stacked against it. Hanover’s enterprise in promoting it is to be applauded and lessons need to be learnt from the 14 groups around the country struggling to develop senior cohousing. The authorities must be shaken out of their torpor by the report of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and start to take radical action. So much could and should be done. The Government could do much to offer incentives to developers and local authorities. For instance, they could provide public land from public housing sites.
Cohousing is obviously not the answer to societal ageing, but it is one answer, and one that makes full use of the assets of our older population.”