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Embargoed until 00:01 Friday 13 July 2012
Demos: Private sector must step in to tackle crisis in loneliness among older people
Businesses have a golden opportunity to engage the ‘golden market’
Businesses and retailers must fill the gap left by closed post offices, pubs and libraries and offer ‘social spaces’ for Britain’s lonely older people according to a new report published today by the think tank Demos. The report warns that the closure of these traditional pensioner stomping grounds, combined with cuts to local services, are forcing older people out of communities and behind closed doors.
To serve the 10.5 million people over the age of 65, the report looks to local and national businesses which can provide the much-needed meeting spaces, refreshments and employee volunteering to counteract loneliness.
The report Ageing Sociably argues that there is also a business case for more ‘age friendly’ services, highlighting that people over the age of 50 are responsible for nearly 40 per cent of consumer spending each year and own some 80 per cent of wealth in the UK.
At the same time, the Demos authors say retailers are missing out on an opportunity to prove their social worth and work with government and charities to support communities.
In the last ten years 183 bank branches, 4,224 post offices and over 8,000 pubs have closed. The report calls for this dramatically changed local environment to be compensated for by businesses changing their ethos to respond to the untapped ‘golden market’.
Ageing Sociably suggests that companies need to go beyond traditional corporate social responsibility initiatives to create a ‘age-friendly’ ethos throughout their business. This could range from making their business more accessible to older people by providing more chairs and toilets to freeing up back-room space, staff time or cafeterias specifically for older people’s social meetings. Companies can also provide valuable business mentoring and back-office support to charities and community groups that already work with older people.
Examples of innovative policies introduced by businesses include:
- Barkingside McDonald’s has held coffee mornings for over 12 years, offering a free cup of tea or coffee and a space for older people to meet on Tuesday mornings.
- Marks & Spencer’s ethos is already very focused on including older members of the community, for example, working with Help the Aged to improve the accessibility of their product packing.
- Staff volunteers from O2, the mobile phone company, have volunteered to teach an older people’s community group to get the most from their mobile phones.
- John Lewis Partnership maintains relationships with retired staff through its magazine Connections, allows retired staff to retain their benefits and discounts and invites them to two free social events each year.
- Sainsbury’s in Market Harborough supports a charity called the Dementia Café by providing refreshments, employee volunteers, prizes, space and business mentoring.
- Green Light Pharmacy in Euston runs weekly health walks in Regent’s Park for older men and women which provide an opportunity to socialise while getting exercise.
Demos calls on businesses to extend good local practices across the country. Further recommendations from the report include:
- The Department of Business, Innovation & Skills should seek private funding to support a national award for best practice from businesses making their work age-friendly.
- Businesses should seek to partner with local charities to identify the needs of older people living in the community and provide support. For example, staff at Sainsbury’s choose the local charity they would like to partner with and can provide raffle prizes and refreshments, as well as fundraising.
- Local authorities should reward businesses for a more active role in the local community by offering discounts in their business rates. Following the Localism Act it is recommended they should use their new powers to set business rates locally to reward businesses that are community-focused.
- Businesses need to consult their older customers at a local level to understand their needs; Morrisons invited members of their Morrisons Plus retirement club to be ‘mystery shoppers’ to provide feedback on the customer service they received.
Liberal Democrat Minister of State for Care Services Paul Burstow said:
“I have spoken to many older people living alone who tell me that it is just nice to have a chat or share a cup of tea with someone who has taken the time to listen to them. It is these basic social interactions that make such a difference to people’s lives.
“Ultimately, loneliness in old age is not just a health or care issue, but one that our society as a whole must address. To build social capital – leadership across Government and across the third sector, private business and the public at large is necessary. This report adds to our knowledge of what works and if it helps to spark further debate and awareness of loneliness and the challenges of tackling it, then its efforts have been worthwhile.”
Louise Bazalgette, report author, said:
“We need all hands on deck to tackle loneliness in old age before it reaches epidemic proportions. This is a way for businesses to win back trust, repositioning themselves as responsible members of the community. There is also profit to be made from meeting the needs of the growing older consumer market. This is an opportunity for businesses to regain their social conscience and reconnect with their customers.”
“Government cuts and the move towards online services have created a gap: working men’s clubs, post offices, banks, libraries; many of the traditional places for the older generations to socialise have closed.”
“There is a real opportunity for businesses with a national presence to make an impact on reducing loneliness across the country. If a McDonald’s in Barkingside is making a difference, why shouldn’t one in Bolton too?”
Andrew Barnett, Director of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation UK Branch, said:
"As a founder of the Campaign to End Loneliness, we believe it's important to harness wide commitment to addressing this pernicious problem in later life. The private sector can play an important role in building connections as this report demonstrates. Gathering clearer evidence, sharing learning and strengthening networks are all steps that can help to build a stronger presence from the business community in our ageing communities.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
As the population ages, an increasing proportion of older people are living alone. In Britain 34 per cent of non-institutionalised women aged 65 and over were living alone in 1971 compared with 46 per cent in 2001, a rise of 12 per cent. This will continue to rise because those born in the 1960s were far more likely than previous generations to remain unmarried and were also more likely to divorce or separate. (ONS 2001)
People over the age of 50 owned 80 per cent of wealth in the UK in 2005. This is set to grow by 81 per cent from 2005 to 2030; the 18 – 59 market is only set to grow by 7 per cent. (Sinclair Golden Economy, 2012)
Since 2002, 1,220 traditional bank branches had closed, including 183 branches of the ‘big four’ banks in 2010. (Department for Business Innovation and Skills 2011) Figures released to parliament by Post Office Ltd show that 4,224 post offices are currently ‘temporarily closed’. Of these, 417 have been shut long term, some for as long as 4 years. According to CGA data used by the British Beer and Pub Association, there are 8,922 fewer pubs today than in 2002.
Dementia Café Market Harborough, supported by Sainsbury’s
Melanie Wisher, PR Ambassador for Sainsbury’s Market Harborough, told Demos that every May the customers and employees of each Sainsbury’s store nominate a charity they would like to support through the ‘local charity’ scheme. In May 2011, some customers of the Market Harborough store nominated the Dementia Café, which was a local community group set up by Steve Kendall, whose father had been recently diagnosed with dementia. The purpose of the café is to provide a monthly social gathering for people recently diagnosed with dementia and their carers, where they can speak freely about the condition, meet other people affected by dementia, and get information and support. Steve was invited to make a presentation about the Dementia Café to the Market Harborough Sainsbury’s Colleague Council (the staff group whose members agree which charity they will support that year). The Sainsbury’s colleagues were impressed with Steve’s plans for the Café and the fact that it was such a local initiative, and decided they would like to support it.
Both Steve and the colleagues’ council wanted the relationship between Sainsbury’s and the Dementia Café to be more than a simple sponsorship arrangement and to make use of the considerable skills base at Sainsbury’s. As a result, Sainsbury’s staff have played a considerable role in supporting Steve to develop the Dementia Café, including:
- helping with the costs of venue hire
- designing an official logo for the Dementia Café
- printing a branded banner for the Dementia Café
- printing newsletters for the café
- providing Sainsbury’s staff volunteers to support the Café’s monthly meetings (welcoming people and making tea and coffee)
- providing biscuits and cakes at the monthly meetings
- allocating money from their community grant (funded out of the sale of ‘bags for life’) to spend on a monthly raffle prize of enough fruit and vegetables to feed two people for a week
- business mentoring and support towards registering the Dementia Café as an official charity
Other local organisations that have also provided valuable support to the Café include the Market Harborough Lions, Market Harborough Round Table, Market Harborough Rotary and Leicestershire Community Mental Health Team, which provides speakers and advice.
Further case studies are available.
Ageing Sociably by Louise Bazalgette, Matt Grist and Phillida Cheetham is available to download for free at www.demos.co.uk/ageingsociably
The report was supported by the Calouste Gublenkian Foundation, an international charitable foundation with cultural, educational, social and scientific interests. Based in Lisbon with branches in London and Paris, the Foundation is in a privileged position to support transnational work tackling contemporary issues in Europe. The purpose of the UK Branch in London is to connect and enrich the experiences of individuals, families and communities with a special interest in supporting those who are most disadvantaged. In 2008, the Foundation launched an initiative on ageing and social cohesion. This report represents the latest development of a wide portfolio of work which we hope will contribute to a growing understanding of the impact of an older population. For more information about the work of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK please visit www.gulbenkian.org.uk
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