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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:15 pm on 9 May 2024.

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Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 2:15, 9 May 2024

Thank you for chairing this meeting, Mr Efford. It is great to speak in this debate alongside my hon. Friend and SNP colleague Marion Fellows. I am afraid I cannot profess to speak for young people, as I am now 38. I am told that if you are under 45 you are considered a young parliamentarian, but I can probably no longer consider myself young. Nine years in this job has given me quite a lot of grey hairs that I never had before.

I really appreciate the diversity within Parliament. It is not good enough yet—we are not as diverse a Parliament as we should be—but the plethora of voices and different outlooks means that we make better decisions, because we all have different life experiences and come from different backgrounds. I thank Generations Working Together for the work that it has done for Global Intergenerational Week, and particularly for highlighting it in Scotland and ensuring that as many people as possible are talking about it.

My hon. Friend said that intergenerational work should be seen not as something nice, but as something essential. I completely agree, but it is also something nice: it is something fabulous that should be celebrated, talked about and written into practice at all levels where the Government have a level of control. All kinds of public sector organisation should be expected to consider, work with and implement intergenerational practice wherever they can, so that we can get the best possible decisions made and the best outcomes for everyone.

Nobody is simply a strain on economic resources. Whether somebody is young or older, whether they are black or white, whether they are disabled or are running marathons every weekend, whether they are gay or asexual, whether they are a migrant or have lived here all their life, whether they vote or not, every single person has value. Every single person has a unique experience and a unique perspective that they can bring to the table. We have a responsibility as representatives to listen to all those voices—every single one—in order to make the best possible decisions. If we are listening and understanding all those different perspectives as best we can, we are more likely to consider them when we are taking decisions, and to make better decisions for everybody in our constituencies across these islands.

In Scotland and in the SNP, civic values run through everything we do. In Scotland the people are sovereign, not Parliament. We should, and do, celebrate diversity and value everyone for their perspective. I am unsurprised that this work has had a great base and has taken off in Scotland.

I want to talk about a few of my personal experiences and things I have heard. There was a great Girlguiding reception in Parliament this week, with the first Westminster Palace Brownies. It was truly brilliant to see the Brownies in Parliament—it was really cool coming up the stairs and hearing applause, because it is so rare to hear it in Westminster. Hearing that applause and hearing the Brownies singing was absolutely fabulous.

I was a Rainbow leader a number of years ago. One of the best things we did in my time was taking the Rainbows, who were very small—from age five to seven or eight—to sing Christmas carols for the older people in the nursing home next door. It was just such a fabulous event, because everybody enjoyed it: the Rainbows had a brilliant time singing and the older people in the care home really enjoyed it too. Maybe they did not see an awful lot of young people in their lives; maybe they were isolated and lonely, but they enjoyed those interactions. I genuinely loved doing it.

At a sheltered housing surgery in my constituency a few years ago, I met a chap from Aberdeen who had been a tram driver. The trams in Aberdeen stopped running in 1958, so he was a wee bit older than me. I am not a geek, honest—no, I definitely am—but I have a bit of an obsession with public transport. Hearing about what driving a tram was like and about his experiences and the routes he used to take made the history of my city come alive. I love the social history stuff, but actually being able to hear it from someone was one of the coolest things I have done in my time.

This week, I shared with a group of colleagues a photo of my family that was taken 13 years ago. We had five generations in one room, in one photo: me, my son, my dad, my granny and my great-granny. Most people are not lucky enough to have five generations together, but we have generations of about 25 years each. The experience for everybody was so affirming. It was so brilliant to be part of the thread that links those generations. We all come with different perspectives and all come with different experiences.

My great-granny’s dad was killed during the first world war. As a result, she grew up in absolute poverty. I compare that with the situation we are in now: my children have absolutely not grown up in poverty. The different perspectives and experiences, and the improvements we have managed to make in our own lives over the generations, were really lovely for my great-granny to see, hear and understand. She knew that my children would not have the same childhood she did or the same struggles she faced. It was really brilliant on that account.

Understanding between the generations breaks down barriers and makes for better decision making. I have mentioned this a few times, but there are studies that show that a company with a more diverse board makes more money as a result. That is empirical, solid, statistical evidence showing that diversity ensures that lots of people with different perspectives can come together and make the best possible decisions. It is incredibly important.

I have met Age UK a couple of times recently and have spoken in this House about digital exclusion—I am thinking particularly about older people, as well as people in areas of deprivation, for example. I agree entirely that lots of older people can teach lots of things to younger people, but younger people also have valuable experience and understanding that they can teach older people. There are organisations in my constituency like Silver City Surfers, which brings together older people and younger people so the younger people can teach the older ones how to access online banking or online shopping, or how to check online when their bin collection is. That intergenerational learning, which can be passed in both directions, is really brilliant. Everybody, no matter their age, has some wisdom that they can offer and some learning that they can share.

I have worked as a local authority councillor and have spent a lot of time dealing with various services in the public sector. There can be silos in organisations’ decision making, particularly in the public sector; I do not know whether it is the same in the private sector. We need to break down those barriers. Ensuring that people of different ages and different generations, and people from different public sector organisations, can spend time and make decisions together leads to better decisions for everybody.

In Scotland, we have the “Getting it right for every child” curriculum. Part of the approach in schools and local authority care settings is about ensuring that we get things right for every single chid. If I had a magic wand and were in charge of everything, I would definitely go far further and ensure that we are trying to get it right for every single person, looking at their unique circumstances and providing the support that they need to meet the challenges they face at that stage of their life.

One thing I talk about quite a lot in Westminster Hall—I am always surprised that Labour Members do not talk about it more, because they should—is the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It is one of the most truly brilliant pieces of legislation I have ever heard about. It is on a par with some of the stuff on global domestic wellbeing that we are doing in Scotland, and the founding of the wellbeing economy partnerships. It is entirely about ensuring that decision making is protecting and improving the quality of life for the generations who are coming through. The Future Generations Commissioner in Wales ensures that the decisions taken by public sector bodies protect younger generations, not just older generations, and maintain or improve everyone’s quality of life. It is incredibly important to think about how our decision making improves wellbeing for individuals as well as for societies and communities. That Act is incredibly useful and underlines that point.

Lastly, I want to talk about trust and loneliness, which my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw has spoken about. An awful lot of young people who have been through covid and have spent a period of their school life at home have an issue with trust. They do not necessarily have trust in their teachers, in authority figures or in older people, because a period of their formative years, when they should have been learning about interactions, had to spent away from others, isolated and lonely as a result of covid. Breaking down the barriers and putting younger and older people together, so they can work together and do things as a team, rebuilds that trust. It makes it more likely that younger people will say, “Actually, I recognise the value, experience and wisdom that people of other generations bring to the table. I recognise that they might have a different perspective from mine, but it’s just as valuable and just as important as mine.”

Getting young people to engage with the systems that they need to engage with, instead of just feeling that they have to step out, is particularly important during a cost of living crisis. A Girlguiding survey last year said that 63% of girls living in the most deprived areas worry about the cost of living and its impact on them and their family. Young people are worried about that and are struggling to engage with authority figures because of what they have been through. Improving relationships and getting young people work with older people, so they realise that they are not terrifying—that in most cases they are lovely—really helps to break down the barriers and ensure that young people can contribute to the full extent of their talents.

Thank you again for chairing this meeting, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw once more: I am absolutely delighted and honoured to stand beside her in this room.