Guest Blog – Stephen Burke “United for all ages”

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Spending cuts threaten to create conflict between generations as the middle-aged are forced to bear the cost of caring for children and the elderly, according to social policy experts. A report from United for All Ages, a new social enterprise, expressed concern that children’s centres could be closed and care services for the elderly cut, leaving families facing a “care crunch”. It said “generational tensions” were a significant risk as a result of the spending cuts and urged councils to create facilities where all generations could mix.

So reported the Daily Telegraph when we published a new policy paper recently. It’s still early days but the spending cuts are already pitching different age groups against each other in the battle to protect frontline services.
 
As many of the public services we take for granted come under threat, it is time for a re-evaluation of how we make the best use of resources for all ages.
 
Closing one-third of children’s centres in the next four years is not acceptable; instead we need new ways to make those centres sustainable. Rationing care so that most older people can’t get the help they need is not acceptable; we need a fairer way to pay for care and to explore how to support family carers better. Local communities are battling with many similar dilemmas.
 
There are cross-generational solutions to these issues which will benefit all ages and our whole society as part of a new contract between the generations. Our paper, United or divided?, proposes new ways of working that share sites, caring and interests across all ages.
 
For example, centres for all ages – bringing younger and older people together on one site – make sense both socially and economically. They would help build stronger communities and would make much better use of existing resources in local communities.
 
Promoting intergenerational conflict, particularly when most of us are feeling the pinch, is not the answer to tackling the profound problems and inequalities in Britain today. We are much stronger as a society and in our communities if we are united, not divided.
 
The defining factors in 2011 that affect all generations are insecurity and growing polarisation. Insecurity affects people of all ages; so do the growing pressures on time and family finances and the lack of good childcare and eldercare; our whole society is straining with the 24/7 pace of life, new technology and other pressures on family life. Polarisation is about both wealth and experience – money matters, but loneliness and isolation also diminish many lives.
 
Our new report, United or Divided?, summarises some of the key evidence facing every generation in Britain today; it highlights key characteristics of every generation and the common threads that bind all generations; and it recommends ways in which Britain can become a society that values and supports people of all ages to create a stronger country.
 
Stephen Burke is director of the social enterprise, United for All Ages.  For details about United and the paper, United or divided?, please visit www.unitedforallages.com

2 thoughts on “Guest Blog – Stephen Burke “United for all ages”

  1. I agree that the divisive positioning of the cuts is already spilling over into cross generational tensions.

    This is not restricted to age issues – see for example yesterday’s Guardian for the backlash against libraries (”Libraries are under threat from the cuts. But so are lots of other services”).

    However, public perceptions lump together people aged 60+, who are viewed both as a drain on public resources through the ‘care burden’ they present and the unsustainable benefits they receive (state pensions, winter fuel allowance, etc), while being criticised for staying in work and their own homes (taking the next generation’s promotions and housing).

    It’s clear that this cross generational antagonism pre-dates the cuts. Solutions to the latter problem will be tricky to find – defusing the age argument may be harder. Promoting unity and communality is a positive way forward. I wish United for All Ages good luck in finding a way through these tricky issues.

    Donna, Forster AGEncy (www.forsteragency.co.uk)

  2. Robert Springett said:

    One aspect of the increasing costs which affects some of us who have chosen to spend our declining years living abroad in the EU, and these are some of the most in need, are those of us older ones who suffer the injustice of being discriminated against by being denied the Winter Fuel Payments. Those who have come abroad after 1997 and were already in receipt of this payment have been able to “import” it with them, whilst those of us who came over earlier, and are obviously older, are denied it. I, myself, am nearly 86, with very serious chest problems requiring my being on oxygen 24 hours a day and obviously needing to keep the house warm (we get night temperatures down to -10°C and even lower at times) and I now have British neighbours much younger than I who do get this payment. The injustice of this is very evident. Some of us raised this with the Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg and our case was accepted as being suitable for bringing before the court, but the legal costs were such that it was beyond our reach. No-one in government seems interested in our plight so we are forced to accept this unfair discrimination.

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