Four adults holding pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly

A better connected society will be a fairer society

On Tuesday, 13 November, Rebecca Carter, The Challenge’s director of strategy, planning and communications, gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee exploring how greater fairness can be fostered between generations.

Why building stronger connections across people of all ages will enhance fairness

It was a real honour to be invited to speak at the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision earlier this week, and a testament to The Challenge’s ever-growing influence and profile with key decision makers.

The Committee’s focus spans a range of policy areas including jobs and the workplace, housing, communities and taxation. Given the age divides exposed during the EU referendum and the rise in generational challenges, such as home ownership for younger people and well-funded health and social care for an ageing population, the committee is asking how those across the age spectrum can all have a fair slice of the support, opportunities and funding available.

At the session, I put forward The Challenge’s belief that greater social integration between generations can provide the foundation for a fairer society. That if people of different ages regularly interact with one another in meaningful ways, then trust and understanding between them will increase. That they will be better able to empathise with one another’s needs and priorities, and compromise on some of the biggest social and political issues facing our country today, such as housing and social care.

Through our work with the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration and the National Citizen Service (NCS) programme we deliver, we actively encourage and support more quality interactions between the young and old. But if social integration between generations is so crucial to the health of our country and democracy, what more can be done to enhance it when there is so little money available at both a local and national level?

First, we need to focus on the importance of intergenerational projects, as these often don’t need more money just new ways of thinking. At The Challenge we have developed a series of design principles for meaningful mixing, launched in our All Together Now report earlier this year, which provide a set of tools for organisations looking to strengthen connections between people from different backgrounds. Social integration is not just about putting a diverse group of people in a room; it requires careful thought and design.

My fellow witness at the House of Lords session on Tuesday, Dr Libby Drury, an academic at Birkbeck, University of London, also emphasised the quality of intergenerational interactions. That it’s important people of different generations are equal when they come together. Some of the best intergenerational projects we’ve seen unite people of different ages around a common passion, such as art or music, rather than one generation doing something for the other. The Cares Family, which the other witness alongside me, Iona Lawrence, works for, does this brilliantly by connecting younger professionals and their older neighbours through clubs and activities in London, Manchester and Liverpool.

At The Challenge, we know as well as anybody that well-designed social integration programmes bring great results. Our recently-launched impact report demonstrates just how powerful our programmes for young people, such as NCS and HeadStart, can be at building stronger connections between those from all walks of life. To give an example, 75% of NCS participants either agreed or strongly agreed that the programme encourages people to respect the experiences and viewpoints of people from different backgrounds.

Our role as secretariat of the APPG on Social Integration has also shown us what more can be done across a range of sectors to bring generations together, without new money being required. The move to bring nurseries and care homes into the same building, as pioneered by Apples and Honey Nightingale (pictured above) in south London, undoubtedly relies on a new way of thinking about care more than it does extra funding. It can even save money through the sharing of resources. Likewise, there is much more we can do to use existing housing stock to promote intergenerational living before we start to think about how new housing should be designed.

The same applies to government. Rather than local authorities having separate pots of money for young people and older people, why don’t we use some of this money for intergenerational projects that benefit all ages simultaneously?

As a director at The Challenge I will always welcome more funding for initiatives which strengthen social integration, but in the current climate, we need to find ways to do more with less. If we can draw on new models of thinking and doing to connect different generations, our society will not only be a more integrated one but a fairer one too.

You can watch Rebecca give evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Intergenerational Fairness and Provision here.

You can review the Intergenerational Fairness and Provision Committee Committee’s written evidence here.