Global Intergenerational Week 2024 — [Clive Efford in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:00 pm on 9 May 2024.

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Photo of Marion Fellows Marion Fellows Scottish National Party, Motherwell and Wishaw 2:00, 9 May 2024

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his useful intervention. I absolutely agree. I have met my MSYPs frequently. They bring a breath of fresh air to arguments and discussions, and we should treasure that. I am looking around the room, and I am not making any huge comment on age, but I know the person who helps us get speakers into Westminster Hall searched quite hard to find a very young Member of the SNP. [Laughter.]

Rather than reducing our ageing population to a strain on economic resources, we must use intergenerational opportunities as a powerful and cost-effective challenge to that narrative. Young and old people are often separated from each other due to age-segregated activities and living arrangements, changes in family patterns and the breakdown of traditional community structures.

Being a granny is my best job ever. I am fortunate enough to see my grandchildren regularly, but intergenerational interaction need not be confined only to within families. Older and younger people have skills and resources of considerable value to one another, and despite the prevalence of negative age-categorised stereotypes that are often perpetuated on social media, different generations have a lot in common and share many areas of common concern.

Older folk are not all the same, no more than younger people can all be categorised in the same way. Gemma, one of the contributors to the public engagement exercise for this debate, outlined how integration across generations leads to broadened perspectives. In her experience, she said that

“with older people, our values and political views may sometimes be different but there are always more similarities than differences.”

Another contributor, Catherine, responded:

“One can discuss different perspectives on issues. This tends to lead to healthy debate, and I find it a good way to temper modern idealism while allowing older generations to become more positive about certain issues.”

Intergenerational activity is one way of addressing the issues that are key to all generations. That is why it is so important to encourage intergenerational working and why that is the raison d’être of the annual Global Intergenerational Week. By promoting positive attitudes and breaking down stereotypes across age groups, we can build a more inclusive society that values the contributions of every generation. Will the Minister discuss that approach in his answer? Will he talk to people in his Department and across other Departments, because what we need is joined-up thinking right across the piece?

Embracing intergenerational integration will not only enhance social cohesion, but create an environment where sustainable intergenerational relationships can flourish, benefiting everybody. A response to the public engagement activity that I particularly enjoyed came from another Marion—not me, I promise—who described her interactions with young people as

“very uplifting, their energy, creativity and different way of seeing the world are inspiring and energising in themselves.”

I can only echo that from my experience as a further education lecturer, when I was in daily contact with young people—apart from the very generous holidays, of course. I worked with many young people across the piece, and I found that my perspective on things changed quite considerably through listening to them. This goes back to the stereotyping of ages and people, and actually believing that they are all the same, but that is not true.

A strengthening of social capital or civic virtue is at the core of this idea, building a sense of community through reciprocal social relations,. There are also benefits in education. The national mentoring partnership in 2017 reported that at-risk youths involved in intergenerational monitoring programmes are 55% more likely to be enrolled in further or higher education.

The benefits go beyond strengthening communities and education outcomes. Intergenerational practice crucially provides a setting that can help to relieve isolation and involve people in community activities, leading to improved general health and wellbeing. During Global Intergenerational Week in 2024, my hon. Friend Dr Whitford opened the intergenerational learning roadshow, attesting to the importance of good intergenerational practice in reducing health inequalities.

As an aside, an older person teaching younger folk how to do something as basic as making soup is a wonderful thing, because it provides the younger person with a sense of worth and a way of saving money. I see that often in my constituency when I visit some of these different organisations, as I do regularly, and see the value of people learning. The knitting group is another perfect example of that, giving young people a skill that they did not have before.

A report from Generations Working Together and NHS Scotland outlined:

“Poor health, negative stereotypes and barriers to participation all currently marginalise older people, undermine their contribution to society and increase the costs of population ageing.”

Likewise, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s neighbourhood approaches to loneliness programme documented that social isolation in later life is not just a risk factor for depression, but dangerous for physical health and mobility. That shows the important societal value of the practice, but it is also important to note that intergenerational practices help to combat social isolation across all age groups. Loneliness and social isolation are increasingly prevalent in our younger generation.

Research from Generations United shows that older adults who participate in intergenerational programmes experience a 20% decrease in loneliness. Again, I have seen that in some of the neighbourhood programmes locally, which do such good work. It is interesting to notice the difference in both the younger person and the older person—both benefit. The health impact of loneliness is comparable with smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to a study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal. Having had some personal experience of loneliness, that is very true. It can weigh down heavily sometimes on older people and, as I have pointed out, on younger people, too, some of whom spend more and more time alone.

Intergenerational practice is therefore a solution to loneliness right across the age spectrum. The value of bringing people together cannot be overestimated when it comes to challenging ageism and negative stereotypes. According to the World Health Organisation’s global campaign to combat ageism, intergenerational activity is a proven way to reduce it, and doing so can help us live up to seven and a half years longer—I am keen on that, I have to add. It is therefore essential that we improve and increase access to intergenerational activities. Not only does the evidence point towards the need for intergenerational practice to tackle a range of social problems, but there is a demand for it. The Centre for Ageing Better found that four in five people want to mix with people of different ages and generations.

We as parliamentarians must do our best to highlight barriers to intergenerational interaction, especially when we consider our ageing population. Some of the barriers listed by respondents centred around communication, where there are difficulties understanding terminology or descriptors, and some older people feel that they have to be more sensitive or careful. Other barriers mentioned were practical issues, such as rural deprivation, poor transport and a lack of face-to-face opportunities.

Many younger respondents feel that financial issues are the biggest barrier. Jenny outlined that

“many older people who have no mortgage/rent or dependants find it very hard to grasp the real impact of the cost-of-living crisis.”

Anna said:

“Older people frequently don’t understand the real practical barriers for people my age, from home ownership and being able to afford children.”

Tom felt that intergenerational interaction and communities were being eroded more generally due to low rates of house building and how it forces young people to move away from the communities in which they were born and raised, severing community ties.

It is essential that we attempt to remove barriers to intergenerational integration. It benefits society as a whole and each one of us can benefit from it. At a time when the world is becoming more polarised, never has community and understanding across generations been so important. I commend Generations Working Together for the crucially important work that it does and highlight the importance of Global Intergenerational Week 2024 for raising awareness of the topic. Does the Minister agree that we would all benefit from more intergenerational working, that health, social care, housing, education and, even more essentially, urban planning and development should be further moved, and that levelling up would be good for all generations?