A listening culture is needed to ‘age-proof’ local services

This week the Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) ran a conference called Wise Up: Listening to older people, which discussed proposed changes in how government engages with older people. Jennifer Sprinks, media manager at LGIU, blogged from the event. 

The UK’s rapidly ageing society is an issue that needs urgent action.

Finding a sustainable and affordable social care model is one of the most important policy challenges facing our society. But we also need a culture change to radically alter the way older people are perceived and treated by society.

One starting point would be to listen to older people to find out from them directly what it is they need to support them in their lives.

We need to start viewing older people’s lives as something that is relevant to us and not just as ‘their problem’.

So who better to lead this campaign for change than older people themselves?

In Bradford, older people have the chance to directly influence decision making about public services through their involvement with the Bradford Older People’s Alliance (BOPA).

Bradford Council’s strategy aims to ‘age-proof services’ and to focus on prevention in six key areas, including transport, health and wellbeing, housing and providing safe and accessible neighbourhoods.

Older people sit on the partnership board, which has players from a range of sectors, and they get involved directly with projects, for example with mentoring schemes to raise young people’s attainment.

Bradford’s partnership is an excellent example of how a listening culture has given older people a new lease of life and a chance to interact with different generations.

Speaking at LGiU’s conference on older people this week, the new pensions minister Angela Eagle said we need to ‘eradicate stereotypes and misconceptions about older people’ and move away from the ‘thought that if you are over 50 you have nothing to offer’.

She couldn’t be more right.  Our belief at the LGiU is that the focus should be on prevention.

By taking a stronger focus on prevention and paying for older people to take part in activities such as exercise classes, less money will be spent on costly hospital stays and treatment. It is vital to ensure people stay active within the community.

Too often older people are seen as hard to reach groups but have we ever tried to address some of the organisational challenges and question whether older people find some local services hard to reach? Perhaps once we start to take this into account, other actions will naturally fall into place.


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