We are living through a huge demographic shift in the UK. There are now more pensioners than there are children under 16, and by 2025 half the UK population will be over 50.
Too often the terms of debate around our ageing society are skewed towards the negative aspects. Despite the obvious challenges that it poses, an ageing society is something that we should be able to celebrate: people are living longer, are able to enjoy themselves and can contribute to society in ways we could not imagine even 50 years ago.
Relationships are central to a good later life, but have been largely missing from the debate. That’s why Relate, the UK’s leading relationship support organisation, launched a campaign in 2013 to raise awareness of the importance of relationships in later life. Relationships play a significant role throughout life, but if anything, become more crucial as we age. They provide social interaction, intimacy and support, promote happiness, protect physical and mental health and increase longevity.
As part of our work, we surveyed over 1,000 older people to find out what mattered to them as they considered retirement. Three things came out on top – financial security, good health, and someone to share these things with. Too often, we focus only on those first two pillars, when in reality, they start to mean a lot less to us without the latter.
Our work on ageing has taken us on a journey. We have partnered with Gransnet to put together some tips for happy relationships and we have published a policy report with think tank NPC which calls for a Minister for Ageing Society. But we also recognised that the group we call ‘older people’ are as diverse in their priorities and requirements as any other group in society. So we also commissioned nine older people and experts to write essays on their own experience or beliefs about the ageing process. Reflections on ageing: the role of relationships in later life includes essays from author and management philosopher Charles Handy, journalist and agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn and founder of Gransnet and journalist Geraldine Bedell.
Relationships of all types are crucial to our enjoyment of later life. But if we are to make a real difference to our futures, we need to challenge how we see those relationships too. In our collection of moving and articulate essays, we show the full colour, passion and intensity of couple, family and social relationships in later life.
At Relate, we want to encourage the whole of society to invest in their relationships. We believe that later life can be truly enjoyable, productive and fulfilling, but it will take the effort of individuals, Government, policy makers and organisations alike to realise the potential we have and the important role that relationships play as we age. But there is no quick fix. It is down to all of us to reshape our thinking on relationships in later life so that we can make decisions – for ourselves as individuals and for society as a whole – that put relationships at the heart of what we do.
Chris Sherwood, Director of Policy and External Affairs, Relate