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Theme year concludes with an idea forum

- Conference summary

On November 29, more than one hundred people gathered at Europahuset in Stockholm for Idea Forum - A society for all ages 2020. The character of the idea forum was that of a forward-looking concluding conference which had the objective of taking the efforts made within the framework of the 2012 theme year, and propelling them into 2013 and the coming 2014-20 programme period.

The change in demography in Europe means that the proportion of older people is increasing in most countries. We are now living longer, and a ever-expanding group of people will be able to look forward to a long period of getting older actively and healthily once they retire. It also means that our perception of what it means to be an older person is changing.

A variety of activities have been hosted across the country throughout the year within the framework of the theme year. The Swedish ESF Council has been commissioned by the government to monitor and coordinate efforts in Sweden. Efforts have touched on issues such as democracy, employment, welfare, housing, information technology, and public health.

A lot of interest has been directed towards the possibility of working longer and the question of how the workplace and working environment can promote such development. In its recommendations ahead of the 2014-2020 programme period, the Commission has actively highlighted ageing as a priority area for Sweden.

Publiken på idéforumOrganisations, companies, and the authorities were invited to the idea forum in order to contribute to and make suggestions regarding how, in the long run, Sweden might be able to meet the considerable challenge of people living longer and living healthier well into their old age. One goal in realising the theme year has been to encourage decision makers and moulders of public opinion to create better conditions for active ageing and strengthened cooperation between generations.

The programme for the day was divided into five sections, each taking as their starting point one issue within policies for the elderly which the government has focused on during the year:

  1. Dignity, self-determination, and influence - in everyday life and accommodation.
  2. Activities promoting health - how do we create more years in good health?
  3. Participation in society - the role of civil society and culture.
  4. Participation in the labour market - how long do we want, how long are we able, and how long are we allowed to work?
  5. Solidarity between generations - learning and exchange between the young and the elderly.

Dignity, self-determination, and influence - in everyday life and accommodation

Participants in the first section: Annika Jalap Hermansson from the National Board of Health and Welfare, Raymond Dahlberg and Eva Magnusson from the Swedish Institute of Assistive Technology (SIAT), Thomas Brandell from the municipality of Håbo, and Fredrik Röjd from the municipality of Hudiksvall.

During the panel discussion it emerged that several of the participants had tried to find flexible solutions to meet specific individual needs within elderly care, which can involve bending the rules from time to time. One of the participants stated that there is room for manoeuvre within the boundaries of the framework. Several panel members also highlighted that the notion of an ageing population is just being turned into a problem because we speak of it in economic terms.

Economic issues are important, but issues regarding values are just as important, replied one participant. It is equally important to nurture the right values ​​and attitudes surrounding ageing.

Activities promoting health - how do we create more years in good health?

In the second section the participants were Therese Räftegård Färggren from the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, Thomas Forss from Senior i Form, Gunnar Ågren PhD, Director General of the Swedish National Institute of Public Health, Kenneth Abrahamsson from the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, Annika Gärderud from Friskis & Svettis, Johanna Ulfvarson from VINNOVA (the Swedish Governmental Agency for Innovation Systems), and Josefin Lundgren from the Vårdal Foundation.

In this section, the perspective of equality was brought up by Gunnar Ågren pointing out that women live longer than men, but with fewer healthy years. Consequently, it is important to create equal conditions for the elderly. He also brought up the issue of over-medicating and stated that this is a significant problem in the contact the elderly have with healthcare. Preventative measures which promote health are far better than intervention afterwards.

Kenneth Abrahamsson brought up the changing image of ageing and how perspectives have shifted now that we’re living 20 years longer compared to when the pension reform was introduced in 1913. Of the financial resources for public health and healthcare, only about 5% goes towards preventative social measures with the rest going to aftercare.

The panel also discussed the issue of individual responsibility versus social responsibility in which Gunnar Ågren stated that it is not a clash of interests, rather that the structures are important for giving the individual the freedom and opportunity to take responsibility for their own health.

Participation in society - the role of civil society and culture

Section three dealt with the role of civil society and culture. The participants were Maria Larsson, Minister for Children and the Elderly from the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Benny Marcel from the Swedish Arts Council, Christine Cars-Ingels from The Internet Infrastructure Foundation and the Digidel 2013 campaign, and Caroline Haar from Äldrekontakt.

Christine Cars-Ingels spoke about the Digidel 2013 campaign which promotes increased digital participation in Sweden. There are 1.2 million adults in Sweden who do not use the internet at all; most of them are elderly.  The aim is to get at least another 500,000 Swedes using the internet before the end of 2013. It is important to seize the opportunities which the internet offers so as to make everyday tasks easier, to participate in social development, to get better care and treatment, and to have greater work opportunities and better education.

Barn- och äldreminister Maria LarssonMaria Larsson stated that the whole of society needs to continue to change its attitude towards the elderly in order to see people individually rather than collectively. We need to broaden our discussion extensively regarding how the character of ageing has changed.

Caroline Haar reported on the non-profit association, Äldrekontakt, which through its operations seeks to promote health and well-being in the elderly by tackling loneliness and social isolation. Äldrekontakt organised regular meetings for elderly people who live alone, who have difficulties getting out on their own, who have little contact with family and friends, and who long for company. 

Participation in the labour market - how long do we want, how long are we able, and how long are we allowed to work?

The participants in section four were Thomas Fürth from Kairos Future, Anna Pettersson Westerberg from the Swedish Ministry of Health and Social Affairs, Ellen Landberg from the Thematic group on equality, Barbro Skoglund from Age Management in Sweden AB, and Göte Tengman from Vattenfall Service Nordic AB.

Thomas Furth stressed how our view of ageing has changed in an historical perspective. In agrarian society, people looked up to their elders. They were considered wise because they had been around for longer. Age was an advantage in a society with a circular sense of time. Those who had witnessed the most seasons understood when it was most beneficial to sow to get the best yields, for example.

Industrial society with its linear view of time, where changes came in quick succession through new technologies and economic growth, rewarded those who could assimilate new things and who could best handle change. It favoured the young who had invested least in terms of experience. They were least bound by tradition. The old and elderly were now seen as those who had played their part and were consequently often worn out after a long life of manual labour. As a result, the elderly were to take it easy in their later years.

We now seem to be facing a new stage where more and more people want to work longer. The number of 66 year olds in work is increasing and more and more people want to combine their pension with gainful employment. Demographic changes also mean that this is becoming a necessity. In 2012, for the first time the population has more over 65s than under 18s. This gap will increase so that by the mid 2020s, the population may have more over 65s than under 25s.

In the long run the minority will be looking after the majority. This equation does not make sense without more people having to work further into their old age. This will probably also be facilitated by a change in work away from the likes of manual labour, Thomas Fürth explained.

Anna Pettersson Westerberg presented the background to the investigation into the retirement age and discussed the key issue of a longer working life with more hours worked. It is an unavoidable fact that the minority will be looking after the majority. But a longer working life must also result in major investments in the working environment and more flexible systems which make it possible to retain an ageing workforce.  Greater opportunities for skills development and possibly a complete change of career are also factors which may encourage a longer working life.

Both Barbro Skoglund and Ellen Landberg spoke about age norms from a power perspective. Age norms relate to notions of what we are expected to engage in and how we are expected to look and behave at a certain age.

The young often earn their rights while the elderly are expected to relinquish them when they reach a certain age. Belonging to a norm has its benefits. The fewer norms that are relevant to you, the fewer opportunities you have to exert influence. On the other hand, those who find themselves within a norm have a sort of unspoken right to speak on behalf of those who don’t.

Ellen called for a challenge to the static view of the exchange between generations and skills transfer as it implies that the elderly are blocking access to the labour market for the young, and that the number of jobs is constant. She said that we need to raise the level of knowledge about age as a norm and grounds for discrimination so as to create awareness of the elderly and to develop leadership which is conscious of the elderly whereby we connect these methods to efforts towards equal rights and opportunities. We need to be elderly-conscious in our work, regardless of age.

Solidarity between generations - learning and exchange between the young and the elderly

The fifth discussion dealt with Solidarity between generations and included Roland Kadefors from Best Agers, Martin Norkvst from the Glada Hudik Sports Park, Jan Schreil from the FRAM social fund project, and Åsa Lindh, Director General of the Swedish ESF Council.

Åsa Lindh, generaldirektör Svenska ESF-rådetÅsa Lindh stressed, for instance, that strategic efforts are needed to highlight and change attitudes towards and myths surrounding the young and the elderly in the labour market. The myths are characterised by short-term measures which do not take into account the long-term goals of and benefits to society. The polarisation of different age groups complicates a lifecycle approach to employment.

The need to adapt employment structures according to the “normal ageing” of individuals will increase more and more. We also need new methods for exchange between generations which build on long-term workplace learning, knowledge transfer, coaching, team building, and which also include knowledge acquisition for all groups, explained both Roland Kadefors and Åsa Lindh.

The law against age discrimination - the key to the future
The day closed with a discussion between the moderator, Hanna Zetterberg, and MP Barbro Westerholm (Folkpartiet).

Barbro Westerholm noted, for instance, that industrial society resulted in the reduced importance and role of the elderly compared to the previous agrarian society. The pension reform of 1913, which admittedly was necessary, also laid the foundations for an increasingly passivated, and somewhat excludatory life for the elderly. It is a deeply existential question to know that you are needed, she said.

Many people want to continue working and playing a role at work, and the elderly are truly needed too. The doors, therefore, not least to the labour market, must be opened. A key to success lies in the newly expanded law against age discrimination, she pointed out, and called for everyone to be aware and report age discrimination in the labour market to the Discrimination Ombudsman so that we have examples and practise as this increases our awareness of discrimination in the same way as we have become aware of discrimination against women, for example, when earlier we didn’t even see it taking place.

Two more things are needed, concluded Barbro Westerholm,

- We older people need to stand up and demonstrate that we exist. And we all need to remember to speak about the elderly as individual people, not as one big anonymous group.