Chuka Umunna MP, chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration, gave a keynote speech on Thursday 24 January at Inside Government’s conference on social cohesion, about the generational divide and how to bridge it.
Chuka spoke about the findings of the APPG’s inquiry on intergenerational connection so far, which has examined the growing political and geographic divides between young and old, and the way in which community projects, public services, housing and technology can help form stronger bonds across the age spectrum.
The findings will inform the APPG’s forthcoming interim report on intergenerational connection.
You can watch Chuka’s full speech from Inside Government’s conference on social cohesion below.
Political and geographic divides
Chuka began by emphasising the startling differences in political outlook between different generations, as evidenced by voting patterns in the 2016 EU referendum and 2017 General Election. Not only do young and old have differing political opinions, but they would be willing to accept economic costs for the other generation to get their own way on Brexit. Polling conducted on behalf of the APPG by The Challenge and YouGov in December 2017 showed that more than one in four Leave voters of retirement age believed lower wages for the next generation was a price worth paying for exiting the EU, while one in four Remain voters aged 18-34 would have accepted pension reductions for older people if it meant Brexit was stopped.
But Chuka emphasised that different generations are not only divided at the ballot box but in their daily lives. Younger and older people increasingly live separately without meaningful interaction, as shown by a number of stark statistics:
For the typical child in our largest cities, just 5% of people in their immediate neighbourhood are over 65. In 1991 this was 15%.
During the 24 years between 1991 and 2014, the median age of rural areas rose nearly twice as quickly as the median age in urban areas.
Between 1981 and 2011, three-quarters of the increase in 45-64-year-olds and over-65s across the country took place in villages, communities, and small and medium-sized towns. By contrast, 80% of the growth in 25-44-year-olds occurred in large towns and core cities.
How to bridge the age gap
Chuka spoke about a number of the inspiring intergenerational projects that the APPG has visited during the course of its inquiry so far, including Manchester Cares, which connects young professionals with older neighbours to socialise and support one another, and Apples and Honey Nightingale in south London, which in 2017 opened the first nursery to be based at a care home in the UK. He said all of these organisations could do with much more support, and deserve their principles to be taken up much more widely than they currently are.
From a policy perspective, Chuka said four initial steps would make a big difference in strengthening intergenerational connections:
Without spending more money, local government could view its policies and programmes through a more intergenerational lens than they currently do.
In our public services, and in our nursery and care provision, the principle of co-location of facilities for different age groups should become a watchword and a norm.
We should be explicit in our housing and planning policies about the need to nurture intergenerational connection, and public and private spaces in which all generations mix.
We must look more closely at what role technology, and digital technologies, in particular, can play in building intergenerational connections rather than becoming spheres of increasing segmentation and division.
What does this mean for politics?
Chuka ended by arguing that creating stronger intergenerational connections requires both local and central government to play a key part. There needs to be clear direction from the top, for example from the Department for Health and Social Care when it comes to building bonds between young and old in hospitals and care homes.
Yet, intergenerational connections cannot be formed by governments. They are formed in local communities, through clubs, activities and local services, and in neighbourhoods designed for all ages. As such, communities will normally be best placed to know what might work for them and to develop their own initiatives, and we should enable local councils and others to empower them in this.