After it has all ended, what will be left? The question besets organisers of grand events from the Lord Mayor’s show to the Olympic Games.
On this occasion, I refer to a lesser publicised event - the grandly named European Year of Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity (EY2012, for short). Cameos of emerging policy and practice tell a story of sorts.
I have been a member of the EY2012 steering group. Numerous activities have been held during the present year as part of a general awareness raising collective effort – encouraging policies and practices that support both active ageing and ‘intergenerational solidarity’, whatever that decidedly un-English expression may mean.
All will be coming together for a high profile splurge of publicity on 1 October, which is designated as The International Day of Older People. I will run or ride my bike into work to celebrate – well actually I usually do, but no matter. This time I will wear the t-shirt.
But in TAEN it has been a little bit like this – we are campaigning for a cause we always campaign for. It really isn’t very different in this sense, even though we have made a mark with our debate series, for example. We have also been involved, as a contract partner, with the ESF Age Network, a transnational learning network funded by the European Commission to consider how longer, healthy and productive working lives can be achieved. So the legacy question is quite important.
I really hope for an enduring increase in awareness and effort to promote active ageing for everyone. Actually, I do think this must be achieved through collaboration across generations, though I also wonder why we have to make out that this is such a big deal.
From where I sit, there is plenty of collaboration going on. I really don’t see this generational apartheid that some people seem to think we suffer from, even though I guess that generational cultures are real enough.
But the legacy – what of the legacy?
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect too much of international years of this or that – after all they are only a name.
(One editor I used to work for told me never to send him copy about such ‘years’ or ‘days’ - they were, in his view: “…trivial artifacts of campaigners with axes to grind”.
Axes to grind maybe, but that does not make them unworthy.
And when a ‘year’ is adopted by the European Union for some cause or other, it should, one would hope, genuinely amount to something to emerge at the end of it.
Admittedly we have had quite a few European years of this or that – some 26 since 1983, in fact. As exercises in awareness raising, they have all served a purpose.
Some may have raised a few laughs too I guess – like the various European days which prompt as many sardonic snorts as the predictable nul points verdicts of our neighbouring judges in Britain’s Eurovision song contest entries.
From the faltering, banal ‘years’ of the early 1980s when themes such as SMEs and the Craft Industry; Cinema and Television and A People’s Europe were the adopted campaigning ideas, things have tightened up.
In 2011 we had Volunteering, in 2010 it was Combating Poverty and Exclusion, in 2009 it was Creativity and Innovation and so on. Look down the list and pretty well all these issues remain important to one degree or another.
Have they remained foremost in the public consciousness? Well that is another story but who knows what enduring impact they have really had in the long term?
So as we approach 1 October, what legacy might we expect of EY2012?
What we see is a one-sided skew in public policy. On one hand, there is much needed attention to the issue of youth unemployment, but on the other there is a little to promote and tangibly support older people who are struggling to remain in the workforce.
This is especially odd as much public attention over the years has been placed on people working longer. ‘Extending working lives’ has been a mantra inside the Department for Work and Pensions, but for anyone over state pension age there is absolutely no state support for returning to work.
No Jobcentre Plus adviser to work with, no Work Programme to fall back on – nothing. Older people who are out of work are counted as ‘economically inactive’ whether they like it or not. Actually, they might be actively seeking work whilst drawing their miserable state pension, but no-one would know.
So the legacy I would hope for would be measured in these terms – awareness certainly but a significant monument too, in the form of a real shift in public policy to support active ageing.
That is, if we mean it!
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