Brotherhood Chair at the University of Melbourne, Professor Simon Biggs, on Active Ageing21 February 2012
And as the conference started a critical debate right at the beginning of 2012 –the European year of Active Ageing – this seemed an important place to do it. So here it is.
There are, in fact, some important issues that are in danger of being pushed aside by a near total acceptance by the policy community that the answer to an ageing population is to work longer and reduce people’s pensions. But this misses the plot somewhere on the purpose of a long life and the value of older people to society.
I make three points: That mindless activity may not be so great as creative ‘inactivity’, that the priorities of later life may not be the same as those of younger adults, and that to really adapt to population change we need to get negotiation going between different age groups on how their contributions complement each other.
The audience steeped in the ideology of productive and active ageing as the answer may well think that these arguments are pretty much away with the fairies, but they do resonate with many workers and older people I talk to as part of my own work at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and as an academic, with a background in community psychology who’s working on ageing issues. Just because the arguments are unpopular is not a reason not to have them.
I am not saying that adapting workplaces to meet global demand for older workers isn’t part of the solution and I do think that part of the answer lies in a stretched life course, part of which means the option of working longer. But to really adapt to a changed demographic, we need to ask some hard questions about what to do with this gift of a longer life for increasing numbers of people and what the real contribution of a long life might be.