Readers of The MJ will be well aware of the care and housing crises and the growing crisis of loneliness and isolation faced by younger and older people.
What is less well known is that these are symptoms of how age segregated Britain has become. Many of us have little contact with people from other generations outside our own families. And some local authorities have much higher or lower average ages than others.
This age segregation has huge social and economic consequences. Lack of contact means less trust and understanding across generations; it wastes the talents, knowledge and experiences of all generations; and it can create divisions between young and old as evidenced in recent elections.
Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. Across the UK, grassroots projects are bringing older and younger people together to tackle these issues and create stronger communities.
Most care home providers and commissioners will know about moves to bring older and younger people together for mutual benefit. Many older people’s care and housing schemes now link with local schools and nurseries. Some have taken it further by sharing their site with a nursery, childminder or parent and toddler group.
This is just the start of a nationwide movement that tackles age segregation, creates stronger communities and boosts health and care for all generations. That’s why United for All Ages has set out to improve care and housing, reduce loneliness and help develop 1,000 centres for all ages by 2030.
There is no bigger challenge than creating a better future for all our children and young people. The scale of the challenge is huge as the next generation faces a crisis in childhood and beyond – from poverty to mental health, crime to family breakdown, educational attainment to work and housing.
More meaningful mixing can create opportunities for children and young people – from building confidence and communication skills to getting school ready and achieving potential to networking and social mobility. By starting as early as possible in children’s lives, we can change culture and attitudes for the long-term.
Much of the focus has been on the benefits for older people – from tackling loneliness and isolation to improving health, care and quality of life. These are critical to all our futures and make working in care more fulfilling too. But there are big benefits for others too. Parents can mix with people of all ages and work knowing their children have good childcare; relatives and families of older people benefit from their increased interaction and better health; all round these benefits improve the quality of life of everyone involved.
These benefits have been realised by care providers in other countries – from the USA, Canada and Australia to Japan, Singapore and elsewhere in Europe. The UK is catching up, and more evaluation of these benefits is being undertaken with the growing number of care-home nurseries and other similar schemes emerging in the UK.
Every pound invested in these projects produces dividends across the life course of individuals and for our society as a whole. The return on relatively low levels of investment and the more fulfilled lives which result are why we need concerted support for early intervention, engaging people of all generations to help the next generation.
That support must come from government, nationally and locally; from charities and community groups; from younger and older people’s organisations; from nurseries, schools and colleges; from older people’s housing and care schemes; from businesses and employers; and from funders and investors.
Some councils are looking to create neighbourhoods for all ages where new housing, care and community facilities are designed to support intergenerational interaction.
So what could senior councillors and officers do to encourage more intergenerational care and living in their area?
The first step would be to take a strategic approach to creating communities for all ages. This would involve not just adults’ and children’s services but also housing and planners, key community organisations and residents of all ages in designing the future of their neighbourhoods. Council policies should also be assessed for their intergenerational impact.
Our ageing population means a growing demand for care which will help businesses become more sustainable, while demand for childcare grows as more parents work; providing community facilities as a co-located or shared site will become a magnet at the centre of communities and be in demand from others looking for space and activities.
Just imagine what difference it would make if many more shared spaces were designed to bring older and younger people together through meaningful mixing.
Stephen Burke is director of United for All Ages