In my lifetime, I am not sure that the gap between the young and old has ever been wider; a situation exacerbated it seems by the Brexit result. Andrea Sutcliffe, Chief Inspector of Adult Social Care, raised concerns about this in one of her excellent blogs shortly after the vote. She wrote: 'Some of the comments I have seen on social media have been truly awful. I understand why people may be angry but pitting young against old will not help.'
So it is absolutely imperative that as much as possible is done to break down these barriers. This is where innovative approaches to providing care and support can make a huge difference, improving outcomes for both the young and the old.
As is often the case it seems, the Netherlands is doing some pioneering work to foster cross generational relationships. In the seaside town of Deventer, there is a care facility run by Humanitas which in addition to housing older people who need nursing care, provides accommodation to young students in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work per month. Residents report feeling less isolated, whilst the young people gain access to cheaper accommodation and learn new skills.
Back in the UK, there have always been efforts in social care to bring the young into more contact with those who are older, e.g. through bringing young volunteers into residential care homes. More recently, a new Homeshare programme, which we are evaluating, seeks to create opportunities for young people to board with older people in return for providing support. But much more could be done.
Firstly, there is huge scope for younger volunteers to support older people with their care and support needs, improving outcomes whilst reducing the burdens on employed staff. So in the capital, North London Cares organises social clubs that enable the young and old to: 'hang out, share laughter, time and some of London's exciting experiences.' But the benefits are real: an independent evaluation showed that 81% of the neighbours in the network feel better connected to other people as a result of their participation in the Cares family, proving their mental health and wellbeing.
Secondly, providers need to be happy to open up to very different ways of providing services, taking a few risks along the way. In one care home in London, worries about residents being lonely in the evenings, led them develop a partnership with the charity Magic Me and provide cocktail parties run by local younger volunteers. Now being delivered across London, evaluations of cocktails in care homes demonstrate that they have improved the wellbeing of residents and relatives and staff satisfaction.
Thirdly, much of this good practice can only arise if people who use services are closely involved in the design of services. Good commissioners will often have great ideas about how generations can mix, but they will only know if it works once they test it with both young and old people themselves. Co-production - an approach to jointly developing services - can guide this process. Cocktails in care homes resulted from residents telling the homes that the loneliest part of the day was the evening.
Young and old alike have a huge amount in common, and a lot they can learn from each other. Working together, they can also reduce social isolation and improve the quality of care. Social care can play its part in bringing people together again.