Guest Blog: Future of Ageing 2015 series
By: Luke Price, Community Links
How can we create a society that prevents problems from occurring rather than, as now, deals with their (often more costly) consequences? With unprecedented increase in life expectancy, this question becomes all the more important. Current policies are an incoherent mix of individual priorities that can sometimes detract from others. Instead we need an overarching strategy that aims at one clear goal: increasing wellbeing.
The four outcomes of this strategy would be:
- Feeling in control, happy, and secure at home whilst feeling that life has a purpose and that we are valued by others.
- Having sufficient income not to be excluded from society.
- Staying healthy – both mentally and physically – or living as well as is possible with health conditions.
- Being connected to others via a range of personal relationships, interactions and meaningful participation.
In Looking Forward to Later Life (http://www.community-links.org/our-national-work/publications/looking-forward-to-later-life/), the Early Action Task Force sets out nine ideas to illustrate how we can all be ready for later life. There isn’t space to go into all of them here, but I will focus on number 5 – end the befriending movement – as it has proved the most contentious. Early action is fundamentally a needs reduction strategy. We are not trying to belittle the befriending movement but rather emphasize that we should be working to eliminate the need for them, much like we might argue that it would be better if foodbanks did not need to exist. Whilst befriending organisations offer an important service, we want to prioritise meaningful participation, relationships and social connection before there is an acute need.
A better understanding of and response to the causes of loneliness – and better ways to prevent them – is therefore of the utmost importance. Approaches need not be top-down and formal, either. Take Men’s Sheds (http://menssheds.org.uk/), for example: spaces where older men can meet and collaborate on hands-on projects, thus providing a vital opportunity to build up relationships in an informal setting. Further ideas as to informal ways to promote social connection can be found in Incidental Connections (http://www.community-links.org/our-national-work/publications/incidental-connections/).
Of course the vision we have set out for later life is likely to remain just that without action from government. We suggest that government must therefore:
- Learn to plan for the longer term; for example through ten year tests for every spending decision.
- Become better integrated and ensure that investment that yields benefits in other departments is seen as a positive thing.
- Encourage local responses to identify and meet specific needs.
In doing so, this early action approach can enshrine wellbeing into all of our lives long before we reach later life.
Researcher, Community Links