Just prior to Christmas, in his final appearance in the House of Lords as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams led a debate about the place and contribution of older people in society. Lindsay Scott says it is high time that people started recognising that what many view as a liability is in fact a priceless asset.
Sometimes our religious leaders appear a little reticent about coming forward on matters close to home, preferring to comment on international events than state their position on some of the fundamental issues facing our society today. From my perspective, one of these is without doubt our ageing population.
Therefore, it was refreshing to hear Dr Williams point out that across the UK, more than half the over-60 population is involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work, over half of the population believes that this is part of what they should aspire to in later life, and a third are willing to take part in informal volunteering.
These facts are important if we are to shift the popular perception of a greying, amorphous mass that is a burden on everyone else to the reality that a majority of the older population are ready to do what they can, unpaid, to support the fabric of society; and that in doing this they are behaving exactly as we expect responsible citizens to behave.
In recognising that older people may well find their physical independence reduced, the Archbishop urged that they should be properly supported so that they can continue contributing to their communities. He also highlighted the importance of different generations engaging with one another, saying that as family structures become looser and more scattered geographically, it is crucial that there are regular opportunities for interaction between younger and older people, whether through schools arranging visiting and befriending or through formal and informal oral history projects.
It was even more encouraging to hear this theme picked up on BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Sunday Morning with Ricky Ross’ when his guests, Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Professor Mona Siddiqui and Sally Foster Fulton, Convener of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council, agreed that too much of our culture is frenetically orientated towards youth.
They pointed out that this has the effect of both ignoring the present reality of responsible, active people in later life, participants in society, not passengers – and encouraging younger people to forget that they are ageing themselves and will need positive role models for their own later lives.
Food for thought at the end of the year, and I for one would like to believe that 2013 will herald a change in attitudes.
Lindsay Scott is Age Scotland’s Communication and Campaigns Manager