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Benefit or Burden? Coming to terms with ageing Britain

by on February 27, 2014

This was the title of a debate hosted yesterday evening by the British Academy, the first in a series of debates on the ‘big issues’ of the day, in this case, population ageing. The idea is to look behind the stereotypes at the academic evidence with the focus being on public engagement.

Those who follow us on twitter will probably have noticed that we ‘live tweeted’ headlines from the event (and probably don’t want to hear any more about it, we had to go for cocktails afterwards to recover). For those who didn’t attend or follow the twitter stream, there were 4 speakers:

Professor Alan Walker (University of Sheffield) who talked about the role of political choice in determining public spending in a society which tends to see ageing from the ‘burden perspective’ and the need to tackle the structural lag which sees, for example, employment policies lagging some 20 years behind demography such as the increase in health life expectancy.

Professor John Hills (LSE) examined the distribution across age groups of recent spending cuts and of wealth. He pointed out that the older generation is not typically better off than other age groups, rather there are much bigger differences within generations. The real issue to be addressed is between wealthy older people and those in younger age groups to whom wealth will not trickle down through inheritance.

Bronwen Maddox (Prospect Magazine) talked about how personal longevity is a source of anxiety for individuals particularly following loss of confidence in financial institutions. Changes that might help a difficult political situation where promises have been made e.g. pension committments, include helping people to downsize – both their jobs (to help them work longer but not at the same pace as before) and their houses.

Professor Julia Twigg (University of Kent) discussed the notion of the Baby Boomer, how it’s a preferred media term whilst not a coherent concept. She described it as an inherently classed term, one that relies on imagery of middle class, healthy, active coupledom and is based on consumption. Whilst originally part of an attempt to portray older age in a more positive light, the term Baby Boomer now operates to erode our notion of continuity across the lifespan.

The British Acadamy filmed the event so I imagine it will be available to view on their website at some stage.

The next debate in this series will be on Tuesday 25 March at 6pm in Sheffield, details here. It promises to be interesting ‘Too Old and Ugly to be Useful? Challenging Negative Representations of Older People’.

  1. Paula Fitzgerald permalink

    I was there, at the very back of the room, the auditorium was packed! I am sorry that I’ve missed you. Very good debate. The event was indeed recorded and will be available in approximately a week’s time from the Academy’s website. I look forward to attending the next event in Sheffield, booked and planned it a long time ago now, it promises to be a rather thought-provoking session indeed!

  2. Reblogged this on Life after work and commented:
    Society tends to see ageing from the “burden perspective”. Why not think of “”Life After Work” as a resource?

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