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Putting Age friendly Principles into Practice – 6 Civic Engagement and Employment

The image is from a workshop on Disaster Management in Queensland. As we can see – all age groups including seniors are taking an active part in shaping their community

This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC

 a. Civic Engagement

It is an important tenet of the framework for Age- Friendly cities that older people must be consulted and involved in their planning. The process usually starts with extensive consultation with older people themselves, either directly, through surveys, roundtables or focus groups or through agencies directly involved with older people which can include everything from advocacy groups to sporting organisations, Health or Aged Care providers or Government agencies such as Councils, Planning or Transport authorities. The City of Ottawa for example has a Senior’s Roundtable which meets 4 times a year to provide feedback on how the existing Older Adult Plan has progressed and what issues may be of concern to older residents in future.

In the Shire of Nillumbik in Victoria (AU) mentioned previously under Life Long Learning, my sister is part of a Positive Aging Advisory Group, which meets monthly to discuss issues which affect seniors in the community such as lack of adequate parking, poor lighting, trip hazards and so on. There are also various subcommittees which focus on specific issues such as Dementia Care. The local Council also sends representatives from the group to the Statewide Conference on Ageing.

The City of  Manchester, which began to focus its attention on enabling its elderly people to live better in the early 1990’s, long before it became the World Health Organisation’s first Age – friendly city in 2010, began by doing a number of surveys in collaboration with its University sector. Now it runs its Annual Older People’s Forum - a big public meeting in the Town Hall. Those who are part of its local networks can also attend its Manchester Older People’s Forum which is held twice a year. These are not only an opportunity for people to have their say, but a chance to obtain feedback from the community when new initiatives are launched. An Older People’s Board is chosen from Forum members which acts as a steering committee. Along with people from local networks, some are appointed because of their special expertise.  This meets on a regular basis with council officers, and those involved with transport, health and culture and other aspects of the life in the city.

As Susan Cooley who has been involved with the program from the beginning says, “ "My idea of what makes something ‘age-friendly’ has changed as I age myself. I’ve come to realise that it is much more about having a voice, being heard and being seen.

Any real change couldn’t just involve local authorities focusing on social care – there had to be a whole wider engagement in public life, culture and everything else that goes toward making people emotionally happy and being able to age well in their lives.”

 Another point which Susan Cooley makes is that it’s important to recognise that “the elderly” is not one big homogenous group and listening to the voices of older people in her communities made her realise that the ageing population consists of three, even four generations whose needs may be quite different.

 While such initiatives have proven very successful at the municipal level in many regions, including Australia, the voice of seniors is rarely heard in the upper echelons of government where structural issues should be addressed. For example, only our National Government can decide pension increases, retirement ages  and what financial resources can be deployed to improve the lot of older residents.

Member of Parliament for York (UK), Rachael Maskell, for example, talks about Wales having enacted Human Rights legislation for Older People which means that issues such as Age Discrimination during Covid, are already being tested in court. She hopes that the newly convened All - Party Parliamentary Group of which she is chair may help to change this. By the same token, Australia has had a Minister for the Aged for some time and the concerns of older Australians were channelled to Parliament via umbrella groups such as the Council for the Ageing, Tasmania, yet despite 28 enquiries and a Royal Commission into the shameful state of Aged Care in this country, it's recommendations were not acted upon until our recent change of government.  Perhaps this means that as the population of seniors increases, they should also have a proportionately greater voice in parliament. I have not at this stage looked at what's happening in this regard in other countries or the EU, bu may add more later.

In the meantime, I'll be looking at Employment of Older Workers and why this is becoming an important issue. As the 7th happens to be Ageism Awareness Day, I'll keep this post short and write some more in the next day or two. I haven't forgotten about Mother Nature either. Now that we have had a few pleasant spring days between the showers, I'm looking forward to spending some time outside too.