The economic geography of the 21st Century is different from the last. We are at the dawn of an age of unprecedented global connectivity driven by technology. The channels of economic growth and participation this century provide a virtually bypass to the world’s traditional hubs, entrepots and gateways. Bangalore – a sleepy university town 20 years ago – is now India’s booming IT capital. German factories hum in Poznan and in Puebla, and as Bruce Katz highlights, the US is experiencing a metropolitan revolution, as small and medium post-industrial cities capitalise on their rich inheritance.
Globally, “small middleweight” cities – those with 200,000 to 2 million residents – are home to 7% of the world’s population, but McKinsey estimates they will generate 19% of global GDP growth to 2025. The UK, as the seventh largest global economy, must act now to realise the potential of its cities: the ONS defines 32 urban areas in England with populations over 200,000. Despite decades of urban regeneration initiatives from civic and business leaders, only London currently makes a net contribution to the Treasury. In the last 15 years, no cities outside London have grown their proportion of national Gross Value Added.
The neglect in developing a national urban growth strategy by national government must be in part due to the complacency that Westminster feels, comfortably astride the prosperity flowing up the Thames. This wealth doesn’t provide sufficient irrigation for business and industry nationwide. Our river of capital streams into non-productive investment in housing and consumption, led by southerners borrowing to fund both. Will Hutton made this plain in 1995: Britain needs to invest more in its future. Since then the ONS has warned that investment, as a proportion of the economy, has fallen to its lowest level since the 1950s, and 30% lower than the G7 average.
As Mariana Mazzucato has recently highlighted, the wider supporting environment for growth is influenced heavily by government. No entrepreneur is an island. Cities need autonomy in regulating and taxing business, and in supporting a skilled and fluid labour market. This reform is needed at a time when local authorities are hugely challenged. They must redefine public services in an era of constrained spending and increasing demand for health and social care. Public services must be fundamentally transformed to support people to thrive in 21st Century cities, matching contemporary social geography. This isn’t a competing agenda to the challenges of stimulating productive economic activity – it is fundamental, complementary and necessary.
Over 15 million people live in England’s 15 largest metropolitan city-regions outside London. If they are to lead socially productive and fulfilling lives, investment must be attracted and enterprise must flourish, providing jobs that pay sufficiently to raise living standards. Growth needs to deliver for all who propel it, and adapt to the increasingly apparent environmental limits.
The potential for people to work, to learn, to find funders and collaborators, will only be realised at scale in cities. Cities offer critical mass: providing enterprises the breadth of markets – labour markets and consumer markets – to grow. Currently, getting people back to work is not delivering growth because worker productivity is stagnant; we have returned to pre-2008 levels of numbers of people employed and number of hours worked, but not of GDP. If we are to address labour market challenges, this must mindful of the scale at which these markets operate.
A London growth strategy for the UK will not suffice. We must develop a network of cities to serve as centres of productivity, home to businesses which power the UK on the world stage. We face a delicate balance between capitalising on agglomeration effects and concentrating economic power, and providing assistance to people and areas currently less competitive – potentially undermining that power.
Last week, the RSA launched the City Growth Commission – chaired by Jim O’Neill, outgoing chair of Goldman Sachs Asset Management – to develop a comprehensive roadmap to deliver a programme of change. Recently the Heseltine Review, the City Deals, and the London Finance Commission have suggested an array of levers that could alter the relationship between our national government and our cities, and the current RSA Journal brings together several innovating voices on the power of cities. There is a growing consensus that cities represent the best scale at which prioritise investments and redesign the political economy, thus unleashing the potential of the innovators, social entrepreneurs and active citizens to pull the UK through its current challenges.
A century ago, municipal government in the UK was among the most progressive and ambitious in the world, pro-actively investing in the transport infrastructure and human capital to fuel an industrial economy. The next national government of this country must empower urban authorities and urban residents to join the global momentum of city-led growth for economic, social and environmental benefit.
People who write about policy and politics tend to write blogs like this. It is text heavy, takes time to read and stretches its audience. What if there was a way of communicating policy and politics without inducing a bad case of mental strain on the audience?
Earlier today, The Economist’s Daniel Knowles posted a Buzzfeed article on the insanity of our housing market policy. It doesn’t look like this piece. It’s full of graphs, animated GIFs, and images.
It’s visually engaging but more importantly, it really communicates the policy issue in a clear fashion. Basically, we’ve made new house building incredibly expensive and difficult. We are paying the price as a consequence: economic inefficiency, house price bubbles, financial risk, personal risk, social division, the diminution of choice and curtailed opportunity. The point it most effectively makes is that these are policy *choices*.
But there’s something disruptive about this approach – in a good way. It meets readers on their terms. It is about them and what they are looking for rather than about what the author personally responds to. This policy analysis is on a site that specialises in lists of cool stuff and humour. A few weeks ago they dissected the anatomy of a Twitter storm (like a real storm but without the train cancellations). The Pricehound Buzzfeed is omg (yes, I am doing that slightly annoying mimicry thing).
Policy makers are very used to telling people that they should care about the things that matter to them and doing it for them when they are not. Maybe there needs to be some thought about how to bring more people into the policy conversation. There could be a political dividend from this but, more importantly, a democratic dividend. A visual language instead of a dense textual language could make politics seem relevant.
Is this dumbing down? Well, no, I don’t believe it is. If you read Knowles’s article, it has much more information in it than the average broadsheet oped. If anything, it’s dumbing up.
And it is being actively engaged with. I had a look at some of the leading Opeds from this morning’s papers. They tend to get a handful of Facebook likes. A piece on housing that is just as well researched/argued on another site has 31 Twitter likes and 3 Facebook ‘shares’. The Knowles piece has had over 16,000 views so far today and 618 Facebook ‘likes’ (admittedly different to a ‘share’) and 417 tweets. He’s also had two ‘blimeys’ and two ‘hmms’ too (a Buzzfeed thing).
Buzzfeed has already expanded into original political reporting and has recently hired a Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist. Its expansion knows no bounds.
Communicating policy in an engaging manner is hard. The process of research, analysis, drafting, and producing workable solutions is exhausting. Maybe a little more time needs to be devoted to engagement too. It’s about more than pushing things out through papers and Twitter. Really compelling use of video, data, and storytelling is helpful too. I might try it one day.
(from Giphy http://giphy.com/ )
Anthony Painter is Director, Independent review of the Police Federation. His new book ‘Left without a future? Social Justice in Anxious Times’ is now available.
This blog has been written by Jennifer Barnes, intern with 2020 Public Services team
Today, the Healthcare Insurance Marketplace is going live. Its feels like a distant memory now, but in June of this year, Democratic Senator Wendy Davis stood up in her pink trainers and delivered an incredible 11 hour filibuster in the Texas Senate against a bill that would take us back decades (to before the landmark Roe V. Wade decision) in our fight for women’s health. After all of the media attention, the twitter support, and the hundreds of confiscated tampons, we seem to have forgotten about the impact the passing of this legislation will have on the lives of Texas women.
As a Texan woman currently on an internship with the RSA, I wanted to share insight into the Texan example of how policy making can result in perverse incentives and unintended consequences. I hope that this post is enough to pique your interest in the current happenings in Texas as well as the wider healthcare debate in America.
House Bill 2 disregards the challenges that women face when it comes to affordable health care by:
- banning abortions after 20 weeks
- requiring clinics providing abortions to raise to the surgical standards of outpatient surgeries (read about procedures in other states that are performed in both licensed and unlicensed clinics)
- requiring that a doctor be present when a woman takes drugs to induce an abortion (although there is no evidence or history of danger)
- requiring doctors practicing abortions to have surgical rights at a hospital within a 30-mile radius of the clinic
While Texas has become the 13th state to pass legislation banning abortions after the widely debated 20 week mark, it is arguably the latter three requirements that are most cause for concern. Presented in the rhetoric of raising standards, these stipulations instead eradicate options. The passing of this bill is predicted to close dozens of clinics across the state (with the highest closure estimates predicting all but 5 of the state’s 42 abortion providing clinics), most notably those in disadvantaged, rural areas where alternative healthcare options are limited.
“Governor Perry and other state leaders have now taken sides and chosen narrow partisan special interests over mothers, daughters, sisters and every Texan who puts the health of their family, the well-being of their neighbors, and the future of Texas ahead of politics and personal ambitions.”- Wendy Davis
To understand the likely impact of the changes that House Bill 2 will bring it is important to understand how medical services for women in Texas, and elsewhere in the US, are funded.
Contrary to popular perception, pregnancy terminations form a very small part of what the major women’s clinics actually do. For Planned Parenthood, for example, the organisation that runs the majority of abortion providing clinics, abortions are only 3% of the medical services provided. But they are financially crucial. 30-50% of Planned Parenthood’s surpluses are generated from termination services. What this means is that as the system currently stands, many of the cancer screening, sex-education, STD, pre-natal care and pregnancy prevention services that are accessible to low income women will potentially become more difficult to fund if the legislation succeeds in driving down the number of abortions.
Alternatively, if clinics are required to invest in expensive unnecessary upgrades to surgical standards to perform abortions, they will have to choose between closing or stopping their abortion provisions entirely. Planned Parenthood gets about half of its funding from government, but there are strict limitations on how it can be used. Title X funds are the only federal funds devoted to family planning and by law these funds cannot be used for abortions. If the state increases funding for family planning provisions outside of abortions, the clinics will likely survive, but will no longer offer terminations.
This funding atmosphere has created a complicated and unbalanced relationship between terminations and other women’s wellness provisions, and wrongfully reduces this conversation to one of economics, not value read more on ThinkProgress.
Pretend for a minute that you’re Cathy, a sexually active 16 year old girl in Texas living in a conservative town where everyone knows everyone and you all go to church together on Sundays. Your church and your high school teach abstinence-only and therefore your sexual education is lacking, but you become sexually active anyway.
If this is your reality, then the likelihood that you would be willing to buy condoms from the local pharmacy (where the pharmacist is friends with your father) is slim to none. It’s quite unlikely that you’ll go to the clinic for birth control and free condoms. If your closest clinic is up to two hours’ drive away, it becomes vanishingly unlikely. If you become pregnant and have spent the first few months working up the courage to face what’s happening, the 20 week mark will significantly limit your options even if you do make the drive.
This isn’t an unlikely story in many areas of rural Texas. Here, a young girl is strongly deterred from accessing birth control and receiving an abortion due to logistics and circumstances over which she is powerless. Here, the passing of House Bill 2 achieves the pro-life agenda and significantly reduces access to abortion.
Regardless of your thoughts on the morality of early termination, an alternate scenario is enlightening:
Now consider that you’re Julia, a single mother, working two jobs to pay your bills. You work part-time jobs without health insurance and you can only just afford the premiums even after the Affordable Health Plan takes effect. While you are eligible for the Texas Women’s Health programme, the doctors taking part in it have taken their quota of Medicaid patients so this option becomes almost worthless to you. Even if you have a health insurance plan, your deductible (the amount of money you must spend before the insurance company begins to pay for your health services) is enormous, leaving clinics like Planned Parenthood the only places you can go for affordable reproductive health needs and screenings.
The local clinic shuts down and you don’t have the time or energy to drive to the city for an exam when you start noticing mild symptoms. The gas money to get there is too much and the childrens’ schedules are too busy on top of your multiple shifts…so you ignore the symptoms. When the pain becomes too much to bear you hire a babysitter that you can’t afford and go to the closest clinic, 100 miles away. By then, it’s clear that you have advanced cervical cancer.
Supporters of this legislation ignore the reality that for many women, clinics like Planned Parenthood are one of their only affordable options for reproductive care. In many geographic areas, for those who earn too much for government Medicaid assistance but lack private insurance, Planned Parenthood truly is one of their only options. The story isn’t that Planned Parenthood supports pre-marital sex and abortions, the story is that Planned Parenthood supports women and their freedom over their bodies.
The passing of this bill limits women’s freedoms: freedom of choice is nonexistent when there are no options.
I spent yesterday afternoon at the Open East Festival in the new Queen Elizabeth Park. After the joyful but somewhat oversanitised experience of being in the park during last year’s Games, the slightly shambolic nature of the festival was reassuring. The wildflowers, the best surprise of last year’s visit, were less than unkempt, and barely flowering. The McDonalds had disappeared, as had the Gamesmakers. Turnout was probably lower than organisers had hoped, but the Hackney Colliery Band made the £10 entrance fee worthwhile.
Looking from the highest point of the park (a grassy mound where one of the big screens used to be), I finally got my head around the scale of the whole “village”, which mostly lies empty, and understood the task of reclaiming every square metre for use, whether public or private. Squeezed into a corner of the massive 2012 site, Open East served as an ironic reminder that the new Park is not mine, nor anyone else’s, and won’t be for many years. It’s worth comparing these two maps to show how little of the park will open to the public this year.
In terms of thinking about the legacy from the 2012 Olympics and Paralympic Games, I’ll declare an interest as a local resident, and also having worked on the 2012 Get Set education programme last year. I did sign a non-disclosure agreement with LOCOG, but LOCOG has now been liquidated, and anyway my experience working there was entirely positive. Get Set was a brilliantly conceived and executed programme which, though careful not to overclaim, genuinely connected with thousands of schools, a few to the point of deep obsession. Working for LOCOG was, to my dismay, nothing like the sitcom 2012. The company was efficient, often generous if occasionally ruthless, and more focused and clear on its mission than anywhere I had ever worked. Unmovable deadlines do that, I guess.
One year on, it’s time for a sensible conversation about legacy. It’s not worth questioning whether the money was well spent (although my instinct is that the event could have been just as successful for half the estimated £12bn cost). However, last week’s ‘one year on’ coverage has been anything but sensible. The recent government report on the economic impact of the games seemed like Enron-style accounting, based on tangential evidence and uncertain future predictions. The Cultural Olympiad’s evaluation report is an equally dodgy advocacy-based evaluation. Seb Coe’s claim in a TV interview this weekend that the Games’ main achievement so far has been to enable us Brits to ‘think differently about ourselves and our nation’ was, unusually for him, a fuzzy and flabby response.
London 2012′s aim to ‘inspire a generation’ falls at the first conceptual hurdle. Which generation? To do what? Overall, legacy is such a tricky, slippery concept, I’d suggest that we boil it down to two long term outcomes, one national, the other local.
Nationally, let’s worry about sports participation, especially for those who currently do next to nothing on a regular basis that gets them out of breath. Sport England’s active people survey, in contrast to the frothy legacy-speak which surrounds this issue, is a breath of empirical fresh air. This showed a decline in sports participation since 2012.
Locally, let’s focus on regeneration, and whether the park and village deliver long term social and economic benefits, especially in the form of jobs, for low income residents in the most fragile parts of East London. Over the long term, this is measurable, even if causation and correlation can never be entirely disentangled.
The rest is noise; nonsense noise that should be confined to the cutting room floor of the next series of 2012. Surely there’s plans for a one off ‘legacy special’ episode?
Guest Blog: Why we must have a better bacc and why we need the understanding, imagination and common sense of the RSA
This guest blog from RSA Fellow Mark Hewlett reflects on recent changes to the national curriculum and last week’s launch of RSA’s Grand Curriculum Designs. It builds on my recent RSA Journal article about the Modern Baccalaureate.
Educational change continues; two weeks ago, proposals for the national curriculum. Last week, changes to primary accountability. We can all support initiatives to raise standards in basic skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT: the basic “languages”. But despite grand rhetoric there is a sense of disappointment, reflected in observations in The Times the following day, by Alice Thomson, who, being a self-avowed traditionalist, should be an ally of the Secretary of State. She sought, but failed to find, the imaginative vision to spark the originality, innovation, and inventiveness we really need for our national success. Equalling Hong Kong and Singapore in maths and literacy is fine but if that is the limit of the Government’s aspirations then we are being sold short. The Department’s sights are too low, its vision too narrow. We can do better.
These views were strongly re-enforced at last week’s launch of Grand Curriculum Designs, a new CPD programme led by the RSA and the Institute for Education. Teachers, dissatisfied with the current curriculum, were reporting on initiatives which focused not on the relatively superficial regime of the National Curriculum, but on outcomes in terms of general skills (intellectual/practical), competences (the ability to apply ideas to a range of specific issues) and positive attitudes to learning: the fundamentally important elements of learning.
Alice Thomson’s reaction to the modest proposals for the national curriculum reflects the views of those of us engaged in the arguably more significant task of designing a “better bacc” (shorthand for a curriculum and assessment framework) to meet our national interest, and the interests of all young people.
Our current curricular model (described misleadingly, as “academic”) is ill-designed to achieve the aims we all want, as stated by business leaders (the CBI is dismissive of the current E Bacc), by those responsible for the public services, the arts and sport even academics, and not least, politicians, whose statements of aims and aspirations are fine but bear only a weak relationship to the National Curriculum whose assessment system deflects energies from the essential and the important to activities of marginal relevance to the aims they espouse.
Questioning the relevance of our current curriculum, whose structure made sense in the thought world of 18th century Dissenters, whence it originated, Professor John White, in a seminal RSA paper, “How special are subjects?” recommends that we must ask fundamental questions about the purposes of education, for example as considered in “The Point of Education” (Matthew Taylor’s article in the RSA Journal Winter 2008) or the central question posed in The Nuffield Review of 14-19 Education, “What counts as an educated 19 year old in this day and age?” These questions are not being effectively addressed by Government at this time.
If we agree that we want our education system to develop the whole range of young people’s talents to equip them with the skills (intellectual and practical) knowledge and understanding to achieve our national economic, social and cultural aspirations, what responsible person would produce an end-of-course assessment system which ignores or at best sidelines, Engineering, Design, Technology, Health Education in all its facets, Social Education, Citizenship, the Arts, and relegates to inferior status, those social sciences of Economics and Business Studies, Government and Constitution, Sociology, Psychology more relevant to understanding the world they will live in than History, that finds itself promoted with Geography, to pre-eminence, quite arbitrarily and with no coherent rationale. Let it be noted that all these subjects are as “academic” as those currently required in the E Bacc.
This is why we need the support of the RSA, to challenge ill-considered conservatism and inject some realism, common-sense and clear thought into debate about curriculum. The RSA carries weight as a society of thoughtful enlightened people who represent the interests of all educational stakeholders – in academe, business, the public services, design, technology and the arts, promoting intellectual thought and research and their translation into practical reality, a society characterised by its constant, restless drive to look forward and outward, to produce better solutions and characterised by its awareness of the multi-dimensional nature of learning. And all with no spurious distinction of status based on pseudo-academic prejudice -which infects thinking at the DfE, and results in a curriculum narrow, shallow and unfit for purpose.
This blog aims to generate support for those working for a better curriculum: broader, deeper and more imaginative. Visit the web sites of the RSA, Whole Education and HTRT or contact Joe Hallgarten for further information.
I spoke this morning at the annual IBO conference for those schools who are piloting the career-related International Baccalaureate – the IBCC. We’re proud that our RSA Academy in Tipton is at the forefront of this exciting development. Nothing I have seen, in England at any rate, has come closer to breaking the academic-vocational divide. It demonstrates the power of schools and organisations bypassing policy fluctuations to take their own rigorous approaches to assessment. In a recent speech to Teaching Schools, Michael Gove signaled his enthusiasm for teacher-made GCSEs and other assessments. Today’s launch of the Progressive Awards Alliance is another intriguing example, although perhaps not what Mr Gove had in mind.
I was asked to talk about the future of 16-19 vocational education. Partly to avoid the morass of acronym-heavy policy reports, many of which aren’t relevant to the IBCC schools outside the UK, but mainly to cover up for my lack of detailed knowledge (if in doubt, broaden it out), I framed my presentation through a different question:
What would it take for the future of 16-19 vocational education to be bright?
Then, borrowing heavily from the OECD skills strategy, the Centre for Real World Learning’s report on vocational pedagogy, and a number of summaries of research on adolescence, I offered five possible responses.
1. Escape from the tyranny of the enlightenment.
2. Apply new findings about the teenage brain and behaviour.
3. Create a culture of evidence-informed and evidence-building pedagogy.
4. Turn vocational learning into an entitlement for 7-16 year olds.
5. Be clearer about the role of vocational education for the most disengaged learners.
To keep this blog short, I won’t expand on any of these, although if people ask me to via comments, I’ll be flattered enough to reveal more.
The photos above came from an RSA Area Based Curriculum blacksmith Project at Ark SCE School in Germany. They were taken by Windsor School SCE student Jack Turner to support his Arts Award Gold, with the support of photographer David Crausby.
Joe Hallgarten Director of Education @joehallg
The Centre for Citizenship and Community, a new collaboration between the RSA, the University of Central Lancashire and the Royal Society for Public Health, was formally launched at the RSA House yesterday. Grounding academic and social research in community practice, the Centre will bring together researchers and practitioners from universities, public bodies, voluntary organisations and business to implement community projects and guide social policy using a Connected Communities approach to social and community networks. The launch consisted of key-note speeches from the Centre’s associates followed by a series of discussion groups held by delegates from numerous professional backgrounds to debate the policy implications of the Centre’s early perspectives.
Co-production: a connected communities approach to social policy
In a plenary speech David Morris, Professor of mental health, inclusion and community at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) and the Centre for Citizenship and Community, spoke about how the Centre will promote a vision of the ‘social value of empowered communities’ being integrated into public policy, with a culture of co-production emerging in public services. He stressed the need for policy makers to recognise the complexity and potential that lies within communities, to build innovations around shared community assets, and to use Connected Communities-inspired research to inform the production of community owned, networked social interventions.
Afterwards, RSA Connected Communities director of research Steve Broome criticised what he described as the standard ‘deficit model’ of viewing communities, which focuses exclusively on their problems rather than their assets and potential. In contrast he demonstrated how social networks approaches help us to understand communities using an ‘attribute model’ which reveals which assets in a community help people interact and support one another. He emphasised the prominent role that public services play in supplying or supporting these community assets, and went on to highlight the danger that ill-considered spending cuts present to social networks when community assets are not mapped or recognised. A forthcoming RSA report will develop these themes further, focusing on the viability of community assets and social networks in the context of government austerity.
Theory into co-produced practice: Murton ‘mams’ and ways to wellbeing
Examples of such projects were presented by Mandy Chivers of Mersey Care NHS Care Trust and Lyndsey Wood of the East Durham Trust. Both organisations are working in partnership with the RSA and UCLan to implement co-produced, network-based community projects based on findings from Connected Communities research. In Liverpool, Mersey Care is training volunteers from the BAME community in the principles of the New Economic Foundation’s ‘five ways to wellbeing’, while in Murton, a former mining town, the East Durham Trust has helped set up a new social group for single mothers called ‘Murton Mams’, in which the activities and programme are led by the members of the group themselves to help combat the widespread isolation among this group that the Connected Communities findings revealed.
Challenges ahead: austerity, tolerated harshness, and championing social networks
Following the introductory talks, attendees split into discussion groups to debate the implications of the presentations for public policy and community practice, and to begin to think about what the Centre can contribute to such debates in the future. Some key points that emerged from these discussions included:
i) The need for the Centre to promote and build the status of social networks in a context in which the very existence of ‘communities’ often seems to be doubted. The evidence base for a networked approach to public and community policy must be vigorously argued.
ii) The need to be conscious of the risk of ‘making a contrivance out of ordinary connection’. Co-production, in other words, must avoid the pitfalls of regularising informal, reciprocal relationships, or exposing what David Halpern has called the ‘hidden wealth’ of communities to overly harsh light where they would be better preserved by remaining hidden. An example given was the ‘spontaneous expression of citizenship’ of a train ticket saleswoman who enjoys smiling at her customers and once decided to give Easter eggs to her regulars; if a statutory system of formalised gift-giving on public transport was initiated, the spontaneity and charm of the exchange would doubtless be compromised.
Other challenges were also discussed. Morris and Broome both highlighted the dangers posed to sometimes fragile networks by austerity, growing inequality, and ‘externally enforced fragmentation’, while it was elsewhere noted that cultural norms are becoming less social, along the lines of what Hugo Young described as a growing ‘tolerated harshness’ in society. Other attendees urged that co-productive services must be genuinely co-produced with public services taking an active role, rather than simply deferring responsibility or ‘outsourcing by another name’.
The mood was on the whole optimistic, however, with numerous attendees stating that they welcomed the opportunity to network and debate issues in this way, and praising the new Centre as a valuable line of communication between community-oriented actors from the academic, public, private, and third sectors.
Based in the School of Social Work at UCLan and the King’s Fund offices in London, the Centre for Citizenship and Community will meet regularly over the coming months and offers organisations dedicated support for community engagement through:
- Strategies and integrated programmes for social and community- based commissioning
- Service development and redesign, based on economic modelling and cost-benefit analysis, organisational, leadership and workforce development
This is backed up by:
- Bespoke programmes of accredited learning and professional development
- Programme evaluation and research evidence.
Its associates will be posting regular updates from varied perspectives on the RSA’s blogging platform; in the meantime, more information on the Centre including contact details can be found on the RSA website. If you would like to be notified when the forthcoming RSA report on the impact of austerity on communities is published, or to be kept informed of the work of the Centre for Citizenship and Community, email email@example.com and request to be added the the RSA Action and Research Centre mail list.
Today sees the publication of a report that Steve Broome and I wrote on behalf of Hanover Housing Association, as part of the Hanover@50 debate. It’s called ‘Sex, Skydiving and Tattoos: The end of retirement and the dawn of a new old age?’ and it explores perceptions of ageing, the implications of these for how older people are regarded in society, and what we need to do differently.
In recent years, older people have increasingly been characterised as a social and economic burden. As life-spans get longer, and the need to provide for older people’s social, economic and care needs grows, we have ended up regarding older people as a problem. The language used about older people is frequently patronising and paternalistic, and this shapes attitudes, influencing how older people are treated as well as how they see themselves.
I passionately believe that we need to think creatively, reviewing our perspective, policies and practices to enable and support older people to keep contributing to society in meaningful ways.
In our report, we argue that the time is ripe to turn the issue of ageing on its head. We need to move away from a culture that regards old age as inherently undesirable, perceives older people as having nothing to contribute to society and focuses on the economic ‘burden’ of caring for the ageing population.
Could it be that older people actually represent a tremendous untapped resource? If so, how can we shift culture, remodel how we accommodate older people and attend to their care needs, whilst enabling them to continue to contribute to society in ways that are meaningful to them and useful to all of us?
In order to explore these issues, we conducted a literature review and held four focus groups made up of:
- Retirement community residents aged over 70
- Fellows of the RSA aged over 70
- A ‘transitioners’ group aged 57-70
- A ‘millenials’ group of people aged 21-32
In each of these focus groups we asked participants to tell us what comes to mind when they think of old age. We showed them a range of images of older people and asked them what they thought about those images, and used a range of ‘springboard’ techniques to stimulate discussion.
The results were extremely enlightening and sometimes surprising. The retirement community residents said they were happy to be described as ‘pensioners’, saying they saw it as stating a fact about them. The RSA Fellows disagreed, feeling that that it carried connotations of inactivity, stagnation and marginalisation (as in being ‘pensioned off’).
This divergence in views around the word points to the possibility that new, positive language could reinforce a sense of empowerment and enable older people to keep contributing to society in various ways as they continue to age. For the RSA Fellows, being active professionally and feeling that they maintained a degree of influence were important elements of identity, while for the Hanover residents, this was less important that being socially active, although volunteering, and keeping up with the issues that were of interest to them before retirement were also very important to them.
The ‘transitioners’ group expressed a range of views about what it feels like and represents to be approaching old age. With 65 as the traditional marker for the beginning of old age, some members of the group talked about the way they don’t recognise themselves as being ‘old’ and felt instead that ‘late middle age’ is a phase of life that lasts longer for their generation.
I don’t mind knowing that older people are sexually active or whatever, but I don’t want to see images of it. It’s just distasteful
When we showed this image of an older couple kissing in bed, reactions were diverse across the groups. Most strikingly for me, the ‘millenials’ group (which I’m only just too old to belong to) responded with almost unanimous distaste.
“I’m sorry but that’s just wrong. I don’t want to see that. Nobody wants to see that.” (Female, 20s, Millennials).
“I don’t mind knowing that older people are sexually active or whatever, but I don’t want to see images of it. It’s just distasteful.” (Male, 20s, Millenials).
By contrast, reactions were overwhelmingly positive from members of the other three groups:
“Oh, yes, now that’s lovely. It’s so refreshing to see. It makes me so happy to see that. There should be more pictures like that in the media.” (Female, 80s, Hanover)
“Ah, that’s an unfamiliar image. You don’t see much of that sort of thing. Sexual images of older people should be more commonly available.” (Female, 60s, Transitioners).
“Great, that’s great. They’re in love. I love it. Most people would hate it. Young people would hate it, definitely.” (Female, 70s, RSA Fellows).
The negative reactions from the Millenials group were certainly surprising to me. Coming from a culture that is saturated with sexual images, many of which are far more salacious than this, one might assume that the younger generation would be indifferent to an image like this. The revulsion that some members of the group showed appeared to be purely on the grounds that the people in the image are older. It is noteworthy that one member of the RSA Fellows group predicted that young people would not like the image, and that the comment “I don’t want to see that,” was followed with “nobody wants to see that,” indicating the view that even older people would prefer not to be exposed to an image like this.
Although we were surprised by the vehemence of this disgust, in the context of a society that is overflowing with imagery that champions youth, assumes that getting old is fundamentally unattractive (especially for women) and side-lines older people as having no useful purpose to serve, it is, at least understandable.
So, what do we do? In our paper we suggest three potential ways forward.
- The word ‘retirement’ is part of the problem – we should abolish it. Retirement literally means withdrawing from active life. Whether or not older people continue in paid work, they should be encouraged, enabled, and even expected to remain active, in whatever capacity they can, until the end of their lives.
- Society needs to completely rethink older people’s care. Policymakers and providers must lead a move away from institutional care that disempowers people and forces them into passive dependence. They must develop models of care with roots in the community, for instance by enabling older people to share their homes with each other or younger members of the community.
- These changes should be part of a broader campaign to reposition older people’s place in society. Demographic changes mean that older people not only should be but have to be seen as a part of our human and social capacity. The point is not that older people are all ‘wise’ but rather that there are enormous reserves of experience and time that we are not currently drawing on. It is up to us to choose to see them in this way rather than as a cumbersome burden. This could include a think tank run by older people with a remit that covers the entire spectrum of social issues facing all of us.
- Industry should look at the design of products, buildings and services that older people use. Most age-related goods and services are needlessly vanilla. They are overly institutional and bland in perspective and design. A specialist design agency could rethink design, revitalising and popularising products to make them appealing to everyone, not just older people.
I passionately believe that we need to think creatively, reviewing our perspective, policies and practices to enable and support older people to keep contributing to society in meaningful ways. Such an investment will reap huge rewards for all of us.
Dr Emma Lindley is Senior Researcher at the RSA’s Social Brain Centre – you can follow her @DrEmmaLindley
A trained psychologist myself, I took great interest in today’s call of the British Psychological Society for a departure of the biomedical model of mental illness. And, to my delight, so did other colleagues – read a great blog post from Social Brain’s Emma Lindley here, where she writes that we might be right now witnessing a bona fide revolution that may change mental health services so radically, ‘they will be unrecognisable to the children of my generation.’ As Emma points out, the debate is as much driven by differing concepts of human nature as it is by politics, and the struggle for professional relevance and power. It is the latter aspect that I want to focus on in this blog post.
The RSA has long taken an interest in professions and their future (including this project in the early 2000s), and is currently managing an independent review of the Police Federation. Further international projects with other professions may follow soon.
Interestingly, even though Psychiatry is the younger term, it is the arguably the older science, and literally means ‘the medical treatment of the soul’, whereas Psychology means ‘study of the soul’. Psychology and, specifically, its subdomain Clinical Psychology, have always had a hard time standing up to their medical cousin. Part of the reason for that one can find in the etymology; isn’t medical treatment is just so much more tangible than mere study? Thus, in more than one hospital of the world (including one I interned in a long, long time ago), Psychologists have not been much more than overeducated sidekicks to doctors. This may change soon.
The main reason for this is that over the last decade, and particularly since 2008, Psychology has arrived in the scientific establishment. It did so by using a strategy applied by underdogs since the advent of mankind: collaboration. (And, of course, the emergence of discipline rockstars like Steven Pinker has helped.)
Not having enough leverage itself, Psychology entered functional marriages with up and coming disciplines like neuroscience and traditional ones like economics, a process that led to the creation of new interdisciplinary fields like behavioural science. A prominent victim of this process was homo economicus – the notion that humans are wholly rational and narrowly self-interested. Homo biomedicus (not an official term, my inadequate creation), the similarly reductionist paradigm underlying present day psychiatry that acknowledges only the physical side of human existence, but leaves aside the social and psychological aspects, may very well be next.
There are two reasons to be concerned about the potential revolution of mental health services given that professional battle lines are drawn:
Firstly, while for Psychology there was the possibility of a non-threatening complementary relationship in the mutual interest with economics or neuroscience, with Psychiatry it is different. Here the question is ‘who runs the show?’, or, if you will, one of professional hegemony. Still, one hopes that the critical voices on both sides steer the process away from the zero-sum-game it is in danger to become, which certainly would leave everyone worse off.
Secondly, the homo biomedicus model is not entirely wrong, just as the homo economicus model is not completely off the mark. The concept has its merit and adequate areas of application, and it will need to be taken into account when designing future services based on a richer, more complex understanding of man as Homo biopsychosocialis that is embedded in a capabilities-based approach. Throwing out the baby with the bath water would be just as wrong.
Josef Lentsch is Director of RSA International – follow him at @joseflentsch
As a committed Labour supporter, Alex Ferguson’s announcement to retire could have been better timed. It took the heat and light out of a Queen’s speech that was even duller than her annual Christmas message. If Ed Miliband did give the front bench the hairdryer treatment, it was lost in the photos, eulogies and trophy infographics of one of Britain’s greatest post war leaders (or is that brand-builder?)
We shouldn’t judge a government by the content of its Queen’s speech. Halfway through an administration, the big policy changes have already been pushed through, and the inevitable suite of unintended outcomes have not yet revealed themselves. It may be that “we don’t need much legislation”. New laws don’t grow economies, although like most of us I can’t quite work out what might.
But a dearth of real parliamentary business offers a potential opportunity. Margaret Hodge pointed out recently that too many MPs don’t have enough to do. This year’s legislative programme may lead to even more slack time.
How might MPs fill this time? There probably isn’t any room for more MPs at Number 10, whatever school they went to. As more policies become scrutiny-ready, Select Committee members should get even busier. The unlucky ones will be swallowed by the dull machinations of party business. Others may find more interests to register this time next year (one of the greatest ideas to come from Mark Thomas’ People’s Manifesto was that MPs, like F1 drivers, should be forced to wear the logo of any organisation which pays them). The natural and ethical way to fill your time will be to serve your real employers, your local constituents. A few MPs such as Stella Creasy and Robert Halfon are taking this beyond the standard reactive surgery and letter-passing approach to become genuine community entrepreneurs in their patch. Matthew Taylor once proposed that MPs should be given specific government projects to oversee, to improve their understanding of implementation, and feel the heat of accountability.
However, there could also be scope for under-occupied MPs to use some of the time to transcend the short term needs of their constituents, and the myopic demands of parliamentary non-business. They could do what politicians of all sides find most difficult, partly because we voters make it so difficult for them – to think about the longer term challenges we face, outside of traditional party or departmental divisions, and develop philosophies and policy ideas that will probably have too much depth to be manifesto-ready.
So for those MPs who are twiddling thumbs rather than fiddling expenses, here’s an offer of work. RSA education is currently developing a new research programme to redefine adolescence. How can society relish rather than fear the teenage years, harnessing its ‘hidden wealth’? How might attitudes, funding and policy towards adolescence make the same step change that we saw in the Early Years during the last 15 years? We are looking for a small number of MPs from all parties to help develop this programme. The salary is less than minimal, the coffee isn’t great, and the chances of promotion and prizes are zero, let alone of winning cups with big ears.
Joe Hallgarten, Director of Education @joehallg