On 29-30 October 2012 delegates from Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Italy, Slovenia and Sweden took part in a peer review of age-friendly services and products, hosted by the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. Terry Madden, Social Work Consultant and Trainer in Ireland, and Lisa Schönenberg, Policy Officer with the Secretariat, represented ESN, delivering a paper and presentation based on the experiences and good practice examples of several ESN members.

Alongside the challenges of demographic change, the peer review focused on the following three areas of opportunity brought on by this period of transition:

  • promotion of social participation of older people
  • new waves of economic growth - due to a higher demand for products and services catering for the needs of older costumers
  • extension of labour market participation

To guarantee pension income adequacy and sustainability, and the provision of health and social care in the future, the host country Poland has introduced the ‘Solidarity Across the Generations Programme’, a set of measures to increase the economic activity and participation of people over 50. Social participation is a positive contributor both to older people’s satisfaction and wellbeing, and intergenerational solidarity.

“Although the number of older people volunteering in Poland compared to other European countries is low, we should keep in mind that older people contribute unofficially to society by taking care of their grandchildren or by caring for another person”, noted Marzena Breza from the Polish Ministry of Labour. Therefore, it is essential to value older people’s activity and participation at all levels of society. To promote social participation amongst older people it is also important to change prevailing attitudes towards them, so that they do not consider themselves a burden on society and are motivated to participate.

The delegates also discussed how an ageing society can bring opportunities for greater economic growth. ESN emphasised the involvement of users in the design of products and services as essential to understanding older people’s needs and wishes and to promote work participation amongst older people. Equally, ‘design for all’ products should be developed. Besides the silver economy, there is also a health and social care economy in which older people with short-term care needs or long-term conditions may act as purchasers.

In order to extend labour market participation, it is important to have a more flexible transition between retirement and employment, including financial incentives in pension and social assistance schemes. Many of the countries represented have already implemented active labour market policies, such as life-long learning measures and flexible retirement schemes, to enhance and extend working lives. Tailor-made training should be offered to lesser educated or low-skilled workers who are unable to continue working in their profession.

“Education and training should be available beyond what is required for employability alone”, said Asghar Zaidi from the Centre for Research on Ageing. Age-friendly products and services should also be guaranteed for people who have retired from low-skilled manual jobs and older workers in low-paid jobs. “The potential to earn for longer makes for a broader consumer base – not all older people retire with ‘lots of money’ or good pensions – older people on low incomes tend to be frugal and do not spend“, said Terry Madden from ESN. The potential of the silver economy depends on the recognition of the social participation of older people, the involvement of service users and age management in the workplace.