By Deborah Cadman OBE, CEO of Suffolk County Council
The UK population is ageing. Life expectancy has increased in the last 50 years and it is projected that by 2040, half the UK’s population will be aged under 18 or over 60.
In Suffolk, where I work as Chief Executive of the County Council, we have one of the largest retired populations in the country. In Lowestoft, Suffolk’s second largest town, almost 1 in 10 residents are over the age of 75.
Alongside an ageing population, UK society is also becoming more mobile than ever before, with the younger generation moving around the most. This is often a positive thing, as many choose to move to pursue higher education aspirations or better themselves economically. However, high levels of mobility among the young often impacts the older generation. Younger family members, predominantly within the 18-34 age group, are finding it increasingly difficult to spend time with older relatives, as many live in a different part of the country (or indeed world). Around 1 in 5 older people in the UK are in contact with their family, friends and neighbours less than once a week. For 1 in 10 older people, this interaction occurs less than once a month. It is therefore no wonder that over 65s are becoming more isolated and segregated from the rest of the population.
Research has shown that isolation and segregation negatively impacts well-being, mental health and general quality of life. This explains why adult social care is the largest cost for local authorities, with £9 billion spent on care for senior citizens in 2011/12. Age integration is thus an increasingly important issue.
The importance and benefits of age integration are well documented and there are numerous examples of work being done across the country to promote this. Here in Suffolk, Ferry Youth Sailing based in Felixstowe gives young people the opportunity to learn how to sail dinghies. Volunteers include the retired, who are fully qualified instructors and safety boat drivers. Through this initiative, young people gain the the opportunity to gain new skills, make new friends and gain confidence within a structured and safe teaching environment. Those who are retired also gain the opportunity to make use of their skills and invest in the next generation.
Age UK Suffolk also aims to combat loneliness and isolation through their telephone and befriending services. Volunteers aged 18-90+ provide an average of 300 hours per week of friendship and support to more than 430 older people across the county. These vital services allow older people to maintain their independence whilst also feeling part of their wider community, bringing mutual benefits to all.
There are also a number of charities operating outside of Suffolk that are finding new and innovative ways to combat the isolation and segregation experienced by many older people. Take the Good Gym for example, which connects runners who want to benefit their local community with an isolated older person who needs support or company.
These are just some examples of the issues that the Social Integration Commission will be exploring and one of the reasons why I am delighted to be one of the Commissioners on this project. Through the Commission, I look forward to exploring practical ways to strengthen intergenerational relationships, as well as relationships between people of different ethnicities and income groups.
Deborah is one of our Commissioners