Dr. Elaine Dewhurst, Senior Lecturer in Employment Law at The University of Manchester looks at the positive impact Andy Burnham could have in his first 100 days on the lives of older people.
• Greater Manchester needs to do more for its ageing population – it’s vital the new Mayor identifies the opportunities older people bring to the region.
• The first key priority should be ensuing a commitment to age mainstreaming giving older people a platform to become partners in the decision making process.
• New Mayor’s remit covers transport, housing and health and social care – there is a significant remit here to develop age friendly policies.
• He must use the next 100 days to ensure the language of active ageing and opportunity replaces the more troublesome and negative terminology regarding older people.
When Mbah Ghoto died on the 1st May 2017, allegedly at the ripe old age of 146, the world scrambled to discover the reason behind his longevity. He attributed his lengthy life, not to diet or science or lifestyle, but to the fact that he had “people that love [him] looking after [him]”. Before Jeanne Calment, the oldest independently verified human in history, died in 1997 at the age of 122, she accredited her longevity to her mental tranquillity and the calmness in her life.
Whilst we cannot all live to 146 or even 122, and many of us may not even want to, most of us would probably aspire to live out the remainder of our lives in a caring environment, in good health and in relative tranquillity. These conditions appear to be important for longevity but it may well be that they also create a valuable foundation for a city that values and embraces the older population. However, rather worryingly for older people in Greater Manchester, despite the laudable efforts of Manchester City Council and Age Friendly Manchester, indicators still suggest that older people are more likely to spend part of their remaining years (which are on average almost four years less than their counterparts in the rest of England) in poor health, with greater levels of disability, suffering deprivation and increasing isolation.
So what more does Greater Manchester need to do to become a place that cares for, and a place that provides calm for, older people? What actions should the new Mayor focus on from an ageing perspective in his first 100 days?
The answer, perhaps, lies in identifying the opportunities which older people bring to Greater Manchester. All too often older people are treated as passive, dependant, vulnerable and in need of assistance. Focus is, often reactively, placed on the challenges of an ageing population, the resulting strain on the public resources and the difficulties faced by older people including poverty, underfunded and disjointed healthcare, expensive and inadequate transport, insufficient and inappropriate housing, unemployment and underfunded mental health provision.
Taking a more proactive and opportunity-focussed approach would allow us to view older people as “leaders and transmitters of knowledge, culture, skills, and crafts” who “contribute greatly to the well-being of their families and communities” (UNHCR, 2011). The older generation are one of our greatest untapped resources in respect of their wealth of experience, knowledge and skill and could guide us all in making Greater Manchester a place that cares for, and provides calm, for older people in their later years.
Not just provision, but partnership for positive change
A first key priority then should be ensuring a commitment to age mainstreaming which would provide a platform within which older people could become partners in the important decision-making processes in Greater Manchester, ensuring accountability and sensitivity to older peoples’ concerns, results-based management of actions taken and oversight of initiatives through monitoring, evaluation, and reporting.
The new Mayor could support this proactive age mainstreaming approach to partnered decision-making by using his unique ambassadorial function to style himself as an “Opportunity Ambassador” for older people, identifying and promoting the unique opportunities presented to business, public service, voluntary organisations, communities and families by the older population. Ageing perspectives present opportunities to reframe and redevelop the local environment, to challenge negative stereotypes and combat age discrimination in employment, education and healthcare, to promote existing legal initiatives around flexible working, and to transform local services for all residents, whatever their age.
Key to the success of this proactive agenda, however, would be the fostering of existing partnerships with groups such as Age-Friendly Manchester, the Greater Manchester Ageing Hub, the Manchester Institute for Collaborative Research on Ageing, the wider research community in Greater Manchester, the third sector and other stakeholders, drawing on their experiences, knowledge and cutting-edge research to inform future policy.
Our new Mayor’s chance to make a real difference
In tangible terms, what is the practical value of adopting age mainstreaming and opportunity promotion policies? In some senses, many older (and younger) people may settle for greater access to public toilets and more public benches in the city centre, something which could be achieved within the first 100 days in office. However, it is hoped that the new Mayor will want something more, something sustainable, something which reflects care for older people and a desire to create a calm space for all Greater Manchester residents.
Within the remit of the new Mayor, there is capacity for many significant initiatives: investing in sustainable and accessible transport through the local transport plan (reducing the isolation caused by existing inaccessible transport links and costs); building accessible, affordable and serviced housing under the Greater Manchester Investment Fund (improving quality of life); and, utilising the Health and Social Care budget to integrate health and care services more fully and to prioritise mental health (improving mental and physical health and reducing the potential for poorer quality care). Additionally, within his skill development remit, the Adults Skills Budget and the Back to Work Programmes could be reimagined so as to equip older workers to fill labour, skills and experience gaps and to bring fresh perspectives to businesses countering negative perceptions about older workers and reinvigorating workplaces through flexible work practices. Existing obstacles to achieving these goals, such as age discrimination, skills decline and lack of support for flexible working, could also be addressed more strategically at a policy level.
There are many initiatives which could be implemented, all of which would be of benefit to the life of older people in Greater Manchester. In the first 100 days it would be very useful to set the tone for the future and ensure that the language of active ageing and opportunity replaces the more troublesome and negative terminology often associated with older people. This would be a significant first step in the direction of creating a Greater Manchester that is a caring and calm place for the older population.
As John F. Kennedy once said, referring to his first 100 days in office: “All this will not be finished in the first hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first thousand days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin”.