Stephen Burke is director of United for All Ages, a social enterprise that brings older and younger people together, and Good Care Guide, a website that enables families to review childcare and eldercare they use. He is also a Commissioner for the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing.
There is growing recognition that the skills, knowledge and experience of older people could and should be better used. People aged 60-90 plus have a great deal to contribute through work and volunteering, with their families and in their communities—what used to be called ‘retirement’ is now a time to do more.
So what are the barriers to maximising what older people do in later life?
1) We need to redefine ‘retirement’; the word is increasingly meaningless. Older people don’t retire, they just enter a different phase of life which might involve a mix of work, volunteering, family life and leisure time.
2) We need to end the ageism which fails to recognise and value what older people do. Ageism exists in many different forms: between generations but also within generations, and in many public, private and voluntary organisations, and in the media.
3) We need older people to have the confidence to continue to contribute. Being valued is part of the solution, but older people also need to talk up what they do and demonstrate how they are changing lives and communities.
4) Civil society needs to change too. Older people are the bedrock of most voluntary organisations as volunteers, trustees and donors, but too often they are taken for granted. Voluntary organisations need to think about how they engage older people much more creatively and positively.
5) Finally this is an issue for people of all ages and all organisations whatever their remit. We all need to plan ahead and think about the implications of an ageing society for us as individuals, for our organisations and for the kind of society we want to create.
For all these reasons and more I am delighted to have been asked to join the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing.
There is a lot to do; we will be bold and ambitious in setting out how the sector must change to make the most of our ageing society and create a society for all ages.