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Global Intergenerational Week 2024

Volume 749: debated on Thursday 9 May 2024

[Clive Efford in the Chair]

I beg to move,

That this House has considered Global Intergenerational Week 2024.

For accuracy, I should point out that Global Intergenerational Week was in April, but it does such great work and it is a real pleasure to speak on this important topic. I am deeply passionate about this idea, and I thank Generations Working Together, who lead Global Intergenerational Week events in Scotland, for its briefing. I also thank all 407 contributors to the online public engagement activity for the debate. All 407 responses have been helpful and illuminating, and I will mention a few of them later.

The campaign theme for this year’s Global Intergenerational Week was focused on how intergenerational work is too often perceived as nice, rather than essential. Generations Working Together argues that intergenerational practice ought to be an essential consideration in upstream health policy, and an essential practice in social care, education, and urban planning and development. This is essential in order to build age-friendly communities—which I feel very qualified to talk about—defined by the World Health Organisation as a community that optimises opportunities for health, participation and security as people age. In an age-friendly community, policy, services and infrastructure are designed to respond flexibly to age-related needs and preferences.

As I said, Global Intergenerational Week ran from 24 to 30 April and was marked by events and webinars across 15 different countries, with landmarks lit up across the globe, including Melbourne Town Hall, something in Valencia—my Spanish is not up to pronouncing that; I would not want to murder the language—Adelaide’s Parliament House and, closer to home, Rhyl tower in Wales and Belfast City Hall, as well as the Hydro in Glasgow, and the University of Glasgow. The movement is moving forward.

We live in a time of huge demographic shift towards an ageing population, a phenomenon that is happening in almost every country across the world. That is frequently presented as a significant social challenge. People often look at it through a negative lens, but it also presents an opportunity.

The hon. Lady is developing an interesting area of public discourse. Does she agree that one of the most positive developments in recent years has been the creation and growth of the Youth Parliament? I had the opportunity last week to meet Shetland’s two new Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Joe Smith and Bertie Summers. I was struck by the fact that although we were talking about the same issues that Shetlanders would identify with across the piece, they brought a completely different and fresh perspective to them.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his useful intervention. I absolutely agree. I have met my MSYPs frequently. They bring a breath of fresh air to arguments and discussions, and we should treasure that. I am looking around the room, and I am not making any huge comment on age, but I know the person who helps us get speakers into Westminster Hall searched quite hard to find a very young Member of the SNP. [Laughter.]

Rather than reducing our ageing population to a strain on economic resources, we must use intergenerational opportunities as a powerful and cost-effective challenge to that narrative. Young and old people are often separated from each other due to age-segregated activities and living arrangements, changes in family patterns and the breakdown of traditional community structures.

Being a granny is my best job ever. I am fortunate enough to see my grandchildren regularly, but intergenerational interaction need not be confined only to within families. Older and younger people have skills and resources of considerable value to one another, and despite the prevalence of negative age-categorised stereotypes that are often perpetuated on social media, different generations have a lot in common and share many areas of common concern.

Older folk are not all the same, no more than younger people can all be categorised in the same way. Gemma, one of the contributors to the public engagement exercise for this debate, outlined how integration across generations leads to broadened perspectives. In her experience, she said that

“with older people, our values and political views may sometimes be different but there are always more similarities than differences.”

Another contributor, Catherine, responded:

“One can discuss different perspectives on issues. This tends to lead to healthy debate, and I find it a good way to temper modern idealism while allowing older generations to become more positive about certain issues.”

Intergenerational activity is one way of addressing the issues that are key to all generations. That is why it is so important to encourage intergenerational working and why that is the raison d’être of the annual Global Intergenerational Week. By promoting positive attitudes and breaking down stereotypes across age groups, we can build a more inclusive society that values the contributions of every generation. Will the Minister discuss that approach in his answer? Will he talk to people in his Department and across other Departments, because what we need is joined-up thinking right across the piece?

Embracing intergenerational integration will not only enhance social cohesion, but create an environment where sustainable intergenerational relationships can flourish, benefiting everybody. A response to the public engagement activity that I particularly enjoyed came from another Marion—not me, I promise—who described her interactions with young people as

“very uplifting, their energy, creativity and different way of seeing the world are inspiring and energising in themselves.”

I can only echo that from my experience as a further education lecturer, when I was in daily contact with young people—apart from the very generous holidays, of course. I worked with many young people across the piece, and I found that my perspective on things changed quite considerably through listening to them. This goes back to the stereotyping of ages and people, and actually believing that they are all the same, but that is not true.

A strengthening of social capital or civic virtue is at the core of this idea, building a sense of community through reciprocal social relations,. There are also benefits in education. The national mentoring partnership in 2017 reported that at-risk youths involved in intergenerational monitoring programmes are 55% more likely to be enrolled in further or higher education.

The benefits go beyond strengthening communities and education outcomes. Intergenerational practice crucially provides a setting that can help to relieve isolation and involve people in community activities, leading to improved general health and wellbeing. During Global Intergenerational Week in 2024, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) opened the intergenerational learning roadshow, attesting to the importance of good intergenerational practice in reducing health inequalities.

As an aside, an older person teaching younger folk how to do something as basic as making soup is a wonderful thing, because it provides the younger person with a sense of worth and a way of saving money. I see that often in my constituency when I visit some of these different organisations, as I do regularly, and see the value of people learning. The knitting group is another perfect example of that, giving young people a skill that they did not have before.

A report from Generations Working Together and NHS Scotland outlined:

“Poor health, negative stereotypes and barriers to participation all currently marginalise older people, undermine their contribution to society and increase the costs of population ageing.”

Likewise, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s neighbourhood approaches to loneliness programme documented that social isolation in later life is not just a risk factor for depression, but dangerous for physical health and mobility. That shows the important societal value of the practice, but it is also important to note that intergenerational practices help to combat social isolation across all age groups. Loneliness and social isolation are increasingly prevalent in our younger generation.

Research from Generations United shows that older adults who participate in intergenerational programmes experience a 20% decrease in loneliness. Again, I have seen that in some of the neighbourhood programmes locally, which do such good work. It is interesting to notice the difference in both the younger person and the older person—both benefit. The health impact of loneliness is comparable with smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, according to a study published in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal. Having had some personal experience of loneliness, that is very true. It can weigh down heavily sometimes on older people and, as I have pointed out, on younger people, too, some of whom spend more and more time alone.

Intergenerational practice is therefore a solution to loneliness right across the age spectrum. The value of bringing people together cannot be overestimated when it comes to challenging ageism and negative stereotypes. According to the World Health Organisation’s global campaign to combat ageism, intergenerational activity is a proven way to reduce it, and doing so can help us live up to seven and a half years longer—I am keen on that, I have to add. It is therefore essential that we improve and increase access to intergenerational activities. Not only does the evidence point towards the need for intergenerational practice to tackle a range of social problems, but there is a demand for it. The Centre for Ageing Better found that four in five people want to mix with people of different ages and generations.

We as parliamentarians must do our best to highlight barriers to intergenerational interaction, especially when we consider our ageing population. Some of the barriers listed by respondents centred around communication, where there are difficulties understanding terminology or descriptors, and some older people feel that they have to be more sensitive or careful. Other barriers mentioned were practical issues, such as rural deprivation, poor transport and a lack of face-to-face opportunities.

Many younger respondents feel that financial issues are the biggest barrier. Jenny outlined that

“many older people who have no mortgage/rent or dependants find it very hard to grasp the real impact of the cost-of-living crisis.”

Anna said:

“Older people frequently don’t understand the real practical barriers for people my age, from home ownership and being able to afford children.”

Tom felt that intergenerational interaction and communities were being eroded more generally due to low rates of house building and how it forces young people to move away from the communities in which they were born and raised, severing community ties.

It is essential that we attempt to remove barriers to intergenerational integration. It benefits society as a whole and each one of us can benefit from it. At a time when the world is becoming more polarised, never has community and understanding across generations been so important. I commend Generations Working Together for the crucially important work that it does and highlight the importance of Global Intergenerational Week 2024 for raising awareness of the topic. Does the Minister agree that we would all benefit from more intergenerational working, that health, social care, housing, education and, even more essentially, urban planning and development should be further moved, and that levelling up would be good for all generations?

Thank you for chairing this meeting, Mr Efford. It is great to speak in this debate alongside my hon. Friend and SNP colleague the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows). I am afraid I cannot profess to speak for young people, as I am now 38. I am told that if you are under 45 you are considered a young parliamentarian, but I can probably no longer consider myself young. Nine years in this job has given me quite a lot of grey hairs that I never had before.

I really appreciate the diversity within Parliament. It is not good enough yet—we are not as diverse a Parliament as we should be—but the plethora of voices and different outlooks means that we make better decisions, because we all have different life experiences and come from different backgrounds. I thank Generations Working Together for the work that it has done for Global Intergenerational Week, and particularly for highlighting it in Scotland and ensuring that as many people as possible are talking about it.

My hon. Friend said that intergenerational work should be seen not as something nice, but as something essential. I completely agree, but it is also something nice: it is something fabulous that should be celebrated, talked about and written into practice at all levels where the Government have a level of control. All kinds of public sector organisation should be expected to consider, work with and implement intergenerational practice wherever they can, so that we can get the best possible decisions made and the best outcomes for everyone.

Nobody is simply a strain on economic resources. Whether somebody is young or older, whether they are black or white, whether they are disabled or are running marathons every weekend, whether they are gay or asexual, whether they are a migrant or have lived here all their life, whether they vote or not, every single person has value. Every single person has a unique experience and a unique perspective that they can bring to the table. We have a responsibility as representatives to listen to all those voices—every single one—in order to make the best possible decisions. If we are listening and understanding all those different perspectives as best we can, we are more likely to consider them when we are taking decisions, and to make better decisions for everybody in our constituencies across these islands.

In Scotland and in the SNP, civic values run through everything we do. In Scotland the people are sovereign, not Parliament. We should, and do, celebrate diversity and value everyone for their perspective. I am unsurprised that this work has had a great base and has taken off in Scotland.

I want to talk about a few of my personal experiences and things I have heard. There was a great Girlguiding reception in Parliament this week, with the first Westminster Palace Brownies. It was truly brilliant to see the Brownies in Parliament—it was really cool coming up the stairs and hearing applause, because it is so rare to hear it in Westminster. Hearing that applause and hearing the Brownies singing was absolutely fabulous.

I was a Rainbow leader a number of years ago. One of the best things we did in my time was taking the Rainbows, who were very small—from age five to seven or eight—to sing Christmas carols for the older people in the nursing home next door. It was just such a fabulous event, because everybody enjoyed it: the Rainbows had a brilliant time singing and the older people in the care home really enjoyed it too. Maybe they did not see an awful lot of young people in their lives; maybe they were isolated and lonely, but they enjoyed those interactions. I genuinely loved doing it.

At a sheltered housing surgery in my constituency a few years ago, I met a chap from Aberdeen who had been a tram driver. The trams in Aberdeen stopped running in 1958, so he was a wee bit older than me. I am not a geek, honest—no, I definitely am—but I have a bit of an obsession with public transport. Hearing about what driving a tram was like and about his experiences and the routes he used to take made the history of my city come alive. I love the social history stuff, but actually being able to hear it from someone was one of the coolest things I have done in my time.

This week, I shared with a group of colleagues a photo of my family that was taken 13 years ago. We had five generations in one room, in one photo: me, my son, my dad, my granny and my great-granny. Most people are not lucky enough to have five generations together, but we have generations of about 25 years each. The experience for everybody was so affirming. It was so brilliant to be part of the thread that links those generations. We all come with different perspectives and all come with different experiences.

My great-granny’s dad was killed during the first world war. As a result, she grew up in absolute poverty. I compare that with the situation we are in now: my children have absolutely not grown up in poverty. The different perspectives and experiences, and the improvements we have managed to make in our own lives over the generations, were really lovely for my great-granny to see, hear and understand. She knew that my children would not have the same childhood she did or the same struggles she faced. It was really brilliant on that account.

Understanding between the generations breaks down barriers and makes for better decision making. I have mentioned this a few times, but there are studies that show that a company with a more diverse board makes more money as a result. That is empirical, solid, statistical evidence showing that diversity ensures that lots of people with different perspectives can come together and make the best possible decisions. It is incredibly important.

I have met Age UK a couple of times recently and have spoken in this House about digital exclusion—I am thinking particularly about older people, as well as people in areas of deprivation, for example. I agree entirely that lots of older people can teach lots of things to younger people, but younger people also have valuable experience and understanding that they can teach older people. There are organisations in my constituency like Silver City Surfers, which brings together older people and younger people so the younger people can teach the older ones how to access online banking or online shopping, or how to check online when their bin collection is. That intergenerational learning, which can be passed in both directions, is really brilliant. Everybody, no matter their age, has some wisdom that they can offer and some learning that they can share.

I have worked as a local authority councillor and have spent a lot of time dealing with various services in the public sector. There can be silos in organisations’ decision making, particularly in the public sector; I do not know whether it is the same in the private sector. We need to break down those barriers. Ensuring that people of different ages and different generations, and people from different public sector organisations, can spend time and make decisions together leads to better decisions for everybody.

In Scotland, we have the “Getting it right for every child” curriculum. Part of the approach in schools and local authority care settings is about ensuring that we get things right for every single chid. If I had a magic wand and were in charge of everything, I would definitely go far further and ensure that we are trying to get it right for every single person, looking at their unique circumstances and providing the support that they need to meet the challenges they face at that stage of their life.

One thing I talk about quite a lot in Westminster Hall—I am always surprised that Labour Members do not talk about it more, because they should—is the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. It is one of the most truly brilliant pieces of legislation I have ever heard about. It is on a par with some of the stuff on global domestic wellbeing that we are doing in Scotland, and the founding of the wellbeing economy partnerships. It is entirely about ensuring that decision making is protecting and improving the quality of life for the generations who are coming through. The Future Generations Commissioner in Wales ensures that the decisions taken by public sector bodies protect younger generations, not just older generations, and maintain or improve everyone’s quality of life. It is incredibly important to think about how our decision making improves wellbeing for individuals as well as for societies and communities. That Act is incredibly useful and underlines that point.

Lastly, I want to talk about trust and loneliness, which my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw has spoken about. An awful lot of young people who have been through covid and have spent a period of their school life at home have an issue with trust. They do not necessarily have trust in their teachers, in authority figures or in older people, because a period of their formative years, when they should have been learning about interactions, had to spent away from others, isolated and lonely as a result of covid. Breaking down the barriers and putting younger and older people together, so they can work together and do things as a team, rebuilds that trust. It makes it more likely that younger people will say, “Actually, I recognise the value, experience and wisdom that people of other generations bring to the table. I recognise that they might have a different perspective from mine, but it’s just as valuable and just as important as mine.”

Getting young people to engage with the systems that they need to engage with, instead of just feeling that they have to step out, is particularly important during a cost of living crisis. A Girlguiding survey last year said that 63% of girls living in the most deprived areas worry about the cost of living and its impact on them and their family. Young people are worried about that and are struggling to engage with authority figures because of what they have been through. Improving relationships and getting young people work with older people, so they realise that they are not terrifying—that in most cases they are lovely—really helps to break down the barriers and ensure that young people can contribute to the full extent of their talents.

Thank you again for chairing this meeting, Mr Efford. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Motherwell and Wishaw once more: I am absolutely delighted and honoured to stand beside her in this room.

It is a real pleasure to participate in this debate with you in the Chair, Mr Efford. I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for securing a debate on this subject.

I always say, and I really do believe, that being a Member of Parliament is the best job in the world, but I was delighted to hear the hon. Lady speak about her joy in being a granny, which is a very important job indeed. It is such a privilege to be here for the first time Parliament has debated this really important subject. Although Global Intergenerational Week was a few weeks ago, it is excellent to see colleagues gathered here to discuss it.

It is really important that we embrace intergenerational practice and relationships, whether that is as individuals, groups, organisations, Governments or political parties. We have heard many great examples during this brief discussion today, such as living arrangements bringing people together, as well as different projects and organisations, and oral history, which I agree is incredibly important.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) talked about children being brought into residential homes. My children also had that experience when they were attending a co-operative nursery. It was incredibly important for them, particularly as they do not have close relatives living nearby; I felt that was very important indeed.

As well as bringing people together, we also need to make sure that all people of different generations and age groups are protected from the kind of stereotyping that we are hearing about, and from discrimination. We need to ensure that everyone, regardless of age, is treated with dignity and respect, and treated equally in our society. As well as protections that apply to people of any age, the Equality Act 2010 enshrines in law protections against discrimination on the basis of age. No one should be discriminated against because they are or are not a certain age or in a certain age group. For 14 years, that landmark legislation, which many other countries have tried to copy, has protected people of all ages from direct and indirect discrimination, as well as from harassment and victimisation. It has helped to build understanding of the challenges that different age groups face. The hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw stressed that many of those challenges are common to different generations.

It was great to hear the hon. Member for Aberdeen North talking about some of the privileges we have as parliamentarians and the job that we do when we are seeking to represent everyone in our constituencies. I too had the privilege of seeing the Brownies at their first ever meeting in the House of Commons, which was very exciting.

Another privilege we have as parliamentarians—I am sure others will recognise this—is that people send us reading material. I was sent a fascinating book, “Generations”, by Bobby Duffy, who has done a lot of work looking into the stereotypes about different generations. The book comprehensively demolishes the idea that, for example, young people today are fixated on ephemeral issues, are only interested in having fun and that issues around the cost of living are not important to them. It shows that younger generations are concerned about the health, wellbeing and success of future generations. I am glad that the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act was highlighted. It is a great achievement of the Welsh Government, which ensures that the concerns of future generations are structurally represented in Government.

Some big challenges have been talked about this afternoon including mental health issues. In some cases, sadly, they carry across the generations. The issue of loneliness was rightly mentioned. For young people, social media use often exacerbates loneliness rather than brings people together to combat it. Lonliness is also a big challenge for many older people. Age UK has done wonderful work on this, but says that 1.4 million older people report themselves as often being lonely, which is a terrible statistic for us to reflect on, and surely—hopefully—to act on. It was great to hear about some of the projects combating loneliness in Motherwell. The Clockhouse Project in Blackbird Leys in my constituency also does great work bringing older people together. Clearly, though, we need to do more.

We need to do more across the generations when it comes to mental health, as well. In particular, we need to tackle the crisis in children’s mental health and the currently very long waiting lists for support. We need much higher staffing levels within the NHS, but we also need to ensure that this is integrated with schooling, so that there are specialist mental health professionals at every school. There must be much more open access to mental health care, whether that is for young, middle-aged or older people.

We have to break down barriers to opportunity at every stage. Today, unfortunately, inequality is entrenched across the country. We are seeing inequality that is regional, inequality that is racial, inequality between men and women, and class inequality. Traditionally in the UK, there has been a promise that we can tell our children and grandchildren, “If you work hard, you will be able to get on, no matter what your background is.” That increasingly has not been the case for many people in our society, unfortunately.

Many older people who have worked hard all their lives are in an increasingly difficult situation. The housing crisis was rightly referred to, and clearly that is a huge challenge for many young people, but as the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw rightly said, it is increasingly a challenge for older people, too. Lots of older people are now living in precarious, poor-quality, private rented sector housing. This is the first time that that has been the case for a number of decades, and we really need to be facing up to that.

We must consider all generations when it comes to big challenges such as combating violence in our communities. I pay tribute to the work of Age UK, but I was very concerned to hear that it was Age UK’s hard work that led to Government systematically collecting information about the rates of domestic violence against older people, and that the information had not previously been routinely collected. That is really concerning. It should have been routinely collected, because we need to learn from it to ensure that every older person is safe. Of course, we also need to understand new forms of violence and control. That means having a focus on the kind of online issues that were touched on in this debate.

We need to look at how, ultimately, the different generations are progressing or otherwise. There is a measure of that: income persistence. The UK currently has American-style levels of income persistence which are significantly higher than the OECD average. That means that your parents’ income determines a huge amount of what your income as a young person and subsequent generations’ will be. Other countries are far better at disrupting that persistence. We believe that we have to take action on this and that the Social Mobility Commission should be involved in recording and analysing data on it. We need to do that and to learn from analysis of other sources, such as the longitudinal education outcomes data, so we can ensure much greater intergenerational income mobility.

I feel that I cannot not mention the need to recognise the contribution of every single generation to our society and economy. One generation that I have talked about a lot is people in their 40s, 50s and 60s, particularly women. That group of women does not get talked about very much, and are not represented very much in the media. They do a lot, and though they tend not to complain very much, they are often squeezed at both ends. They provide huge amounts of care as sandwich carers. Many are trying to hold down a job. They are supporting children and often their partners or parents too, both financially and emotionally. Often they are experiencing health problems as well, and some are finding it challenging to manage menopausal symptoms alongside work that is not sufficiently flexible or suitable.

Politics simply has not kept up with the requirements of that generation. It should keep up, because the number of women falling into that generation and moving out of the labour market is very significant. We have calculated that our economy is losing about £7 billion in untapped potential because of those women being forced out of the labour market. Surely we need to do better there. We need to be acting on these issues.

I commend the hon. Member for highlighting that group of women. She is absolutely right: they do not get talked about enough. It is a responsibility of parliamentarians to ensure that we are talking about them, thanking them for their contribution and trying to make life better for them, or at least slightly more bearable than it currently is, so I thank her very much for doing so.

I am very grateful to the hon. Member for what she says. It is important that Parliament is in step with society as well.

We have seen a huge amount of change, with much of the focus on these kinds of issues. We have seen significant positive change across the generations. It is interesting that the amount of childcare undertaken by both parents has changed substantially in recent years, albeit still not the progress we would like. We see it in shared leave, at nursery and school pick-ups, and in time off when the kids are ill or during school holidays. All those things are now viewed as part of the parcel of not just being a mother, but being a parent. None the less, much more progress is still needed.

There has been change over the generations, and, as I say, Parliament and politics really need to catch up on all of that. In doing so, we can work together across generations and learn from each other about what has changed things in a positive direction. That really gets to the root of what Global Intergenerational Week is all about. It was mentioned earlier that more diverse teams tend to have far better outcomes—particularly in business, but it applies everywhere. If we do not include every generation in our decision making, we will not take the right and effective decisions. The work undertaken by those who have been promoting Global Intergenerational Week really underlines that. It also enables us to celebrate the wonderful contribution of all generations—surely we should be doing that too.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this afternoon, Mr Efford. I start by thanking the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) for securing this debate to mark Global Intergenerational Week, and all those who have contributed to the debate. I put on record my thanks to all the organisations in this country and around the world that have made it a really important week. It has been fantastic to hear about its success this year and the range of inspiring community-led initiatives that have encouraged people of all ages to come together in meaningful ways to build friendships and develop new skills that people probably did not realise they had.

I was struck by the hon. Lady’s comments on housing. My mum has been living in a housing association flat in a complex full of lots of—dare I say—older people, but we have just this month managed to get her into a bungalow on a street full of families; it is a housing association older people’s bungalow, but it is on a street full of families. The difference I saw in my mum in one day, going from that flat to that bungalow, was incredible, so I do think the hon. Lady is right to raise the issue of planning and housing. When I was Housing Minister, it was actually an area of work that I was trying to focus on; unfortunately, politics took over and I left that role, but there you go. I can assure the hon. Lady that we do talk cross-Government about many of these issues, and I will try to highlight some of the work that we are doing.

A number of Members have mentioned conversations and relationships with people from generations other than our own. I am sure that even as we get older, we all remember the advice given by our grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, or even the older people who lived down the road. I do not know if it is well known, but I love baking, and I learned some of my skills from people who knew how to bake really well. I have held that knowledge with me, and I look forward to being able to pass it on to the next generation.

As others have rightly mentioned, we know that a substantial number of older people suffer from chronic loneliness, which can lead to both physical and mental health strains—the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw highlighted analysis showing that it is comparable to the smoking of 16 cigarettes a day. A lot of that work has come from the US Surgeon General, who recently spoke at an event in the House of Lords. It was fascinating to listen to the medical evidence on the impact that loneliness can have on people.

Loneliness is not just a problem for older people, as hon. Members have said. We know that young people, particularly those aged between 16 and 24, are often the most likely to report feeling lonely. Evidence shows that transitions in people’s lives often bring about those loneliness moments. That is not surprising. Leaving home for the first time, going to university or starting a new job are instances where a young person can become lonely. That has been a focus of the work that we have been doing in the Department this year—trying to help young people who are going to university for the first time by engaging and interacting with them. We hope we can do some more of that work, and I will refer to that in a moment.

Bringing together the different age groups can be a great way of fostering better social connections. It is essential to building empathy, understanding the issues across the generational divide and dismantling any misplaced stereotypes. As the loneliness Minister, the idea that most resonates with me is the power of intergenerational relationships in combating social isolation and loneliness for all ages, because loneliness does not discriminate. People of all backgrounds can experience loneliness at any time of their life—I know that I have. That is why we are committed to tackling loneliness and ensuring that everyone can benefit from the power of meaningful connections, particularly the most vulnerable people in our society.

Our work to tackle loneliness is driven by the three main objectives set out in the world’s first strategy for tackling loneliness, which was published in 2018. The first is to reduce the stigma of loneliness by building a national conversation. Many people do not want to admit that they have experienced being lonely, or do not know what to do about it. To try to tackle that stigma, the national communications campaign that we run has now reached tens of millions of people since it was started in 2019. It tries to raise awareness about the issue and provides advice on what people can do to help themselves, or indeed help other people who they suspect suffer from loneliness.

The second objective is to try to drive a lasting shift so that relationships and loneliness are considered by organisations right across society. It is a complex issue that can be addressed only in partnership; the Government cannot do it alone. What makes this work so good in this country is the strong partnership with the Government. Many community and local organisations and national charities are helping us to advance that agenda. The Government and our partners have invested £80 million since 2018 on tackling this really important issue.

Last year, we launched the £30-million Know Your Neighbourhood fund to try to create volunteering opportunities to help to reduce loneliness. It supports new and existing schemes in the 27 most disadvantaged areas in the country. Last year, I had the great privilege of visiting one of the projects in Hull, where Age UK, a charity that has been mentioned by Members this afternoon, was creating volunteering opportunities for younger people to befriend older people at risk of becoming lonely. It was brilliant to see intergenerational relationships forming.

Older people who sometimes do not see people from week to week can suddenly have someone who regularly goes round to see how they are, checks on them, gets to know them and makes them feel that they are part of the community in which they live. I also loved the differences in conversations, with one person talking about tech and the other about post-war living. It was fantastic to see.

The final objective of the strategy is to improve the evidence base, which is important so that we can make a compelling case for ongoing action in this area. Our research really helped us to understand the prevalence of the stigma associated with loneliness. As I say, I am very proud to be the Minister for loneliness and to lead the work addressing such an important issue across Government. Like many hon. Members present, I want this country to be a place where we can all have strong social relationships and feel connected to the people we live around.

Global Intergenerational Week is also a good reminder that volunteering can be a great way of supporting intergenerational cohesion, much like the befriending service that I have mentioned. Stakeholders have told us that intergenerational volunteering can be a flexible form of micro-volunteering and can have a number of positive impacts. It can improve cross-generational mental health and wellbeing, and reduce age segregation, which itself can lead to a variety of issues—not just loneliness but anxiety and poor health. It also helps to foster attachment to local areas and provide positive community outcomes, such as community connectedness. We know that there is growing interest in the opportunities that intergenerational work presents, so we want to work with all the organisations that are already doing fantastic work in this area, and to learn more about the positive impacts that it can have and what more we can do to help to foster more of it.

It is also important to mention social cohesion, which we are trying to build by supporting sustainable communities. That is why we have given communities significant support to provide them with the power and resources to shape better and more connected neighbourhoods, and why we are currently delivering the new community wealth fund, which will be important. The idea behind it is to support communities to improve the social infrastructure in neighbourhoods that perhaps do not have that and therefore miss out on all the opportunities for grants and other things that may exist. It also aims to empower local people to make decisions about what they think is best for their community. I am therefore pleased to say that £87.5 million will be allocated to that fund, coming from the expansion of the dormant assets scheme.

When I think about other parts of my portfolio, there is another key way to get intergenerational connectedness happening, and that is through social prescribing. There are real opportunities there for bringing different age groups together. It helps to connect people to the community-based support, including activities and services, that meet the practical, social and emotional needs that affect their health and wellbeing. It can work well for those who are socially isolated or are experiencing low levels of mental health.

One of the themes for this year’s Global Intergenerational Week is building intergenerational workplaces, as the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw mentioned. We want to champion the benefits of such a multigenerational workforce and promote the importance of retaining the skills and experience that older workers have. My colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions are regularly engaging with employers and employer organisations to encourage positive attitudes towards older workers, and to help some of the people who hon. Members mentioned earlier to return to work.

I know that colleagues in DWP have been working with employers that team up workers across generations. One example is a pottery manufacturer in Stoke-on-Trent with a long history of producing high quality products, where traditional methods and modern technology often work together. Of course, both older and younger workers can use the differing technologies, but clearly those with more experience of the traditional methods can pass on their expertise and experience to their colleagues who have joined more recently. I hope that we see more of that work happening in future. We are committed to delivering a comprehensive package of support to help older people to remain in and return to work, and that will include the dedicated 50-plus champions at jobcentres and mid-life MOTs.

Other Members mentioned young people. In my role as Minister with responsibility for youth in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, I have been on some amazing visits around the country, and I think youth centres can help to form important relationships between generations. As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) mentioned, if young people are disengaged from school—I say this with no disrespect to teachers—that relationship is often different from their relationship with their youth worker, so that mentoring is important. Our hope is to roll out programmes that do more of that, so we are embedding in young people the benefit of having relationships with people from different generations. Hopefully, they will pass that on to the younger generation as they get older.

Other Members mentioned Youth Voice. I always want to have young people around the table when we are talking about issues that affect them, not least because they do it so brilliantly and articulate it in a way that I could not, but also because, as I say to them every time, there is no point in this grey-haired, middle-aged man trying to decide what young people want today. The Youth Parliament and others are great at providing such opportunities.

I am the Sport Minister, and we have a sport strategy to get more people active. I am pleased to see that Sport England is now spending a quarter of a billion on place-based investment. I went to see one such scheme in a leisure centre in Canvey Island, where it was great to see very young people playing with footballs next to older people doing chair exercises. Getting them together was important.

The Minister has made me think about Cruyff courts. I do not know if he knows anything about them—another one is opening in Aberdeen on Monday, and I am massively excited—but in creating them, the Cruyff Foundation pays money towards a football pitch, which has to be beside a community centre or some sort of community building. That means that there is that community intervention and space, and a football pitch that can be used by anyone in the community. It is a truly brilliant initiative, so I encourage him to look at Cruyff court systems.

That sounds really exciting. The hon. Lady is absolutely right: I am very proud of the fact that we are investing hundreds of millions of pounds in new sports facilities, but it is about making sure that it is not just the same people using them all the time. How do we get other generations using them? How do we get more women using them? The rise in women’s football has been amazing for us all to see, but the number of facilities that are available, or even appropriate, for women has not been good enough, and that is why we introduced the Lionesses fund. I will certainly look into the project that the hon. Lady mentioned.

This debate has been an important conversation, and I thank the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw and all Members for their contributions on an important and enlightening subject. I agree with the hon. Member for Aberdeen North: it is nice to see these different groups coming together. We are determined to do what we can to see more connected societies, and intergenerational approaches will be an important part of that work. I hope that we can come to realise and value the fact that intergenerational relationships build happier, healthier and more resilient communities.

There has been quality, if not quantity, in this wide-ranging debate. We have covered many different areas and I am grateful to everyone who has spoken.

I have learned more, and that is always a good thing. If anyone is watching this debate, they will learn an awful lot about how good intergenerational working is—either working in the job sense or just working together with a common aim to teach and to learn. Importantly, the Minister started by talking about his mother and how much better she was not being in an enclosed environment just for older people. That is at the heart of what we have been discussing: generations being together and being interested in what the other is doing.

It is very unusual, and my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) is very fortunate, to have had five generations together at one point, and I really envy her that. As the daughter of an older mother and having had children later myself, I will never see that, and I do not suppose that any of my family will, but it does not have to be family that does this work. Sometimes, it is better if it is not family. When I look at large families of different cultures, or different groups of families—on holiday, for example —the ones that are very cohesive are the ones that include all generations, which is great.

I do not have much time, so I will not dwell on this, but I will refer to the reading material that I am going to run and get: “Generations” by Bobby Duffy, which I think will be entertaining and enlightening. It benefits everyone if we talk about these things and read the evidence that the Government have gathered, which the Minister referred to, as well as the evidence in books and in general chat.

I want to thank organisations locally, as other Members already have, such as Befriend Motherwell, which is a fantastic organisation run by one of the churches. There are also other such organisations in my constituency that manage to bring together different generations who all learn from one another.

The fact that an older woman with dementia called Elspeth now asks her great-niece, who is headteacher at my Elspeth’s primary school—she is about to start in a few months’ time—is a really wonderful example of how bringing older and younger people together benefits them both.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Global Intergenerational Week 2024.

Sitting adjourned.