Global Intergenerational Week 2022

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 28th April 2022.

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Photo of Stephanie Callaghan Stephanie Callaghan Scottish National Party

I, too, thank Jackie Dunbar for securing the debate. It has been great to listen to what everyone has had to say. I will try to keep my comments quite light.

Global intergenerational week provides an opportunity to strengthen intergenerational bonds, communities and our response to major challenges in an uncertain world and to share knowledge and joy.

During the Covid pandemic, there have been examples of intergenerational connections that have literally saved lives. However, the pandemic has also highlighted the terrible toll of isolation like never before.

For decades, policies and practices have segregated younger and older people, which has resulted in a cascade of problems from ageism to loneliness and fragmented movements for social change. Scotland must strive for a future in which different generations are much more connected, with people working together to build relationships that help to create a fairer society.

The elderly can be vulnerable in our society, and, if we are honest about it, we can be guilty of taking them for granted. That can lead to solitude and confusion, and it can foster a general feeling of alienation in a community. However, by playing and reading with children, the elderly are less likely to suffer from loneliness, and our children thrive in those opportunities for one-to-one reading and playtime.

In Sweden, it is popular to twin nurseries with care homes. That not only boosts children’s literacy skills but improves the health of the elderly. In France, initiatives enable students and seniors to live together, which provides students with cheap accommodation in exchange for helping out.

Every generation wins when age-diverse programmes help to solve the unique problems that older and younger people face today, by creating new ways of addressing everything from homelessness to climate change. Let us forge ahead with innovative, joined-up policy thinking in Scotland.

Jackie Dunbar was the first to mention Generations Working Together. The Connecting Scotland initiative aims to boost confidence in digital technology. That is an exciting and sensible approach to fostering an intergenerational community, and we should support it whole-heartedly. The initiative is not just about digital skills. Indeed, at the heart of all such initiatives are the objectives of spending more time together, understanding one another better and appreciating the beliefs, values, achievements and potential of the generations that have come before and after us.

Inspiration is at the heart of weeks such as global intergenerational week, and I have seen at first hand the positive impact of intergenerational action in my Uddingston and Bellshill constituency. I take this opportunity to champion Jim Cuthbertson, an inspirational local man whom I am proud to call my friend. Too often, important work in the community can go unnoticed, and community leaders such as Jim are typically pretty humble.

Jim, who is based in Whitehill, has adopted a street—it is more like a housing scheme, actually. He visits more than 60 elderly isolated residents. He drops off shopping and prescriptions, goes round for a chat and a cuppa, offers companionship and generally goes out of his way to improve the lives of those round about him. Sometimes, Jim brings with him his grandson or other young people who have shown an interest in helping. That builds relationships that benefit both young and old.

Jim benefits from the joy that the wee chats bring him, too. He loves hearing all the stories of bygone times. I am sure that he will not mind me saying—at least, I hope that he does not—that he could talk the hind legs off a donkey, but he is putting that to the best use possible. He is a fantastic example of the power of everyday people coming together.

On the societal challenges that we face, it is often said that older people are less informed about climate change. I would argue that that is because they have limited opportunities to connect with younger generations, who see climate change as the greatest threat to their future. Equally, it is often said that younger people take many of today’s civil rights and workers’ rights for granted. I would argue that that is because there are not enough forums to hear from those who fought for union recognition and social justice.

With so many of our fundamental rights under attack, we must bring our generations together. Decision making needs to be global and intergenerational, because that empowers communities and empowers our society.