Wednesday, 08 October 2008

Intergenerational disengagement Does it matter if older people and young people don't communicate with each other? The International Longevity Centre got funding for a survey on intergenerational relations and found that 55% of respondents of all ages think different generations find it difficult to communicate with each other. Researcher James Lloyd also notes that: Large numbers of people, including older people themselves, appear to regard social disengagement among older people with younger people as a natural part of ageing, as opposed to the result of social context and environment. The report was launched last night, but with the new minister for work and pensions in the room, the discussion was nearly overwhelmed by calls around pensions and retirement age. There was surprisingly little reflection on the neighbourhood as a primary context for intergenerational interaction - no mention, for instance, of the potential of street parties, nor any thinking about how the recession might affect household size and increase the extent to which we occupy our neighbourhoods to mutual benefit. Neighbourliness is of profound significance for older people and interaction with the younger people who live around them should be a natural part of that. Nor among the necessary generalisations was there any recognition of the 'two youths' phenomenon - where as I've mentioned a few times we seem to have one category of young people more socialised, respectful, courteous and comfortable in the company of people from different backgrounds than any were when I worra lad; and another category more disenfranchised, bitter, and profoundly care-less than is healthy for any society. (I think this is known across la manche as les deux jeunesses. I know I will be corrected if I have that wrong). James Lloyd rightly tries to stir up some policy thinking about intergenerational relations, but it seems to be hard going. We have an established body of practice, thanks to the Beth Johnson Foundation; and some belated recognition coming through in cohesion policy, with officials now earnestly acknowledging that cohesion is 'not just about race and faith...' Next, I expect, we may see some recognition in policy of the most structural, visible options for promoting intergenerational interaction, such as breaking up housing segregation, and making it easier for older people to contribute to learning in schools. But the last area to get attention, as always, will be informal interaction in the public realm, because it's so much less obvious how we do it. One way to create a culture in which older people do not feel threatened by groups of kids hanging out, is if they happen to have spent time in each others' company occasionally and had the chance to identify some common ground or interests. A culture which increases the differences and denies opportunities to discover the commonalities is storing up problems.

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