Rapport nr 17
Equal Opportunities for Senior Citizens
Report from a conference
The conference in Uppsala, Sweden, in September 2013 consisted of four presentations and discussion. These were preceded by words of welcome from the Presidents of Uppsala U3A and AIUTA, together with a statement regarding procedure from the conference chairman. Brief questions and discussion were invited following each of the inputs but the main period of discussion was reserved for the conclusion of the presentations following the chairman’s summary. The four presentations are summarized here. Details of the presentations can be found in the first parts of this report.
The first presentation was made by three members of Uppsala U3A who described different aspects of a research-oriented project designed and undertaken by the U3A. This piece of action research was undertaken in stages and from different points of view involving various aspects of retirement. Concrete examples of age discrimination were revealed in the stereotyping of the elderly and among older immigrants. Reference was made to perceptions of the elderly in advertisements and newspapers where a detailed study of some 140 articles was undertaken. This revealed a range of views where the active elderly received positive consideration but were taken to be exceptions. Within the articles surveyed, questions of loneliness, pensions and taxes figured together with end of life care and the problem of technology and the aged. The opinions of the elderly were largely disregarded in these publications. The final section of this tri-partite presentation included consideration of the responses of more than 180 older people to questions about their life as retired persons. The conclusion arrived at was that a good, healthy life, regardless of age, required a sense of coherence, a need for confirmation and control of one’s own situation.
The second presentation by Professor of Social Gerontology, Lars Andersson, questioned the notion and application of the human right to be old. In his presentation professor Andersson reviewed the various declarations and conventions which emphasised aspects of human rights but noted that old age was largely absent from these documents. He went on to explore the issue of ageism and its manifold forms in a range of human activities. His consideration of ageism involved a detailed exploration of ways in which it is revealed, ranging from TV advertisements to Aristotle and Pope Innocent III as well as in job selection processes.
The next presentation was made by the President of Age Platform Europe who described both the organisation itself and its vision for an age-friendly European environment. The organisation, which has existed for 12 years, represents, through its members of over 160 European organisations concerned with the welfare of older people, some 30 million older people in Europe. Expressing a personal view, Mr Sedmak spoke of a multi-layered view of ageing. Within negative predictions of an ageing society there was nonetheless a window of opportunity to develop a new paradigm which gave the right to older people to take part in the social fabric of society. Moving on from an industrial society in which the generations were seen in separate, successive “boxes” of leisure, work and education, there was now a rediscovery of the lost, third generation where the financial input of “grey power” combined with its important contribution of voluntary work. However, this value was largely ignored in a “one size fits all society” where older people are perceived as a passive social cluster. The European Quality Framework and the work undertaken for the 2012 European Year of “Active Ageing and Solidarity” are contributing to a more positive view in which active ageing is promoted. Here there is a move from “I’ll do it for you” to “You do it with my assistance” ; from financing the institution to financing the need.
The final presentation was made by a member of the Swedish parliament, Mrs Barbro Westerholm, who explained the process by which anti-age discrimination legislation was eventually enacted in her country and the way in which it operates. The process began with an initial EU promoted collection of cases of discrimination in 14 different areas of activity e.g. Education and Training, Health care, Insurance, Financial Services, Housing, Taxation, etc. It was noted that there had been a failure to consider the 75+ age range although it is now clear that the 64-85 age group contains some very busy people. Even within international organisations age discrimination was evident. Mrs Westerholm quoted her own case where the WHO had categorised her as too old to be involved in their work! In Sweden, it took even longer for age discrimination to be outlawed with its parliament of 349 MPs containing only 4 or 5 members aged 65+. At last in the current year the anti-age discrimination law will come into force although with numerous specific exceptions e.g free health care for children. In the final analysis, however, people are individuals and it is for us to react and to act as role models.
In his summary of the conference presentations, the Chairman emphasised the role of U3As members as researchers, commending the initiative of Uppsala U3A as an example of U3A members actively contributing to society. This underlined the importance of data collection which enabled the support of argument through the presentation of evidence. He noted the wide range of references to ‘the elderly’: equal opportunities for, discrimination against, rights of, representation of, comments about, perceptions of, capacity of, abilities of, respect for, knowledge and experience of the elderly, all seen from either a legal or a humanitarian point of view. Despite these many references it was difficult to find them enacted within international conventions and declarations.
In the course of the presentations the causes and effects of ageism were identified and categorised as prejudice which has an affective impact, stereotyping with a cognitive dimension and discrimination which is behavioural. Despite general awareness of ageism, it is still common in the labour market, in health care and in the media. A fresh view of the elderly was required and ways forward were suggested. The work of Age Platform Europe provides a voice for the elderly across a wide range of policy issues and at governmental level. However, the length of the legal and political process had a negative effect and it is therefore all the more important that our own actions as role models for the next generation should be recognised and acted upon. It was also pointed out in discussion that complex changes in family life, the role of women and in education needed to be considered with reference to that role, and the importance of inter-generational activity was emphasised. Concern had been expressed for those in the 4th age and the notion of a virtual U3A was suggested as part of the solution. A further dimension of the 3rd age within society was its financial contribution. Contrary to the popular view of the elderly as a burden, research in the UK and in Australia/New Zealand had provided evidence of a positive financial contribution.
Stanley Miller, Former president of AIUTA, Chairman of the conference