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Posts Tagged ‘demographic change’

I was invited by The Economist to attend their conference on Ageing Societies, held in London (UK) during the 29th and 30th of November. I will not pretend to summarize one and a half days in this short post. I will try, nevertheless, to bring out those three interventions and a message that, to me, were more relevant.

Let´s start with the message. I have been involved with ageing for a long time. My first public intervention was at the London School of Economics in March 2011 although, previously, I attended the AAL Forum at Odense in 2010. Since then I have focused the problem on “older people”. No wonder, since I have worked with several hospitals dedicated to the rehabilitation of older people since 2006. Ten years make a mark on a person. So, the first realization was that at the conference we were not talking about “older people”; we were talking about “Ageing Societies”, which is completely different. The world population is ageing; from Asia to Europe and America and even in Africa. Societies are ageing. The socio-economic infrastructure was designed to care for a nice population pyramid, not for a population cylinder or, even worst, an inverted pyramid. Accordingly, we have to redesign the socio-economic infrastructure in general and the care infrastructure in particular so as to be able to handle an Ageing Society.

John Beard´s presentation (from the WHO) was a masterpiece introducing the importance of health care for the future of our societies. His presentation, based on the “Report on Ageing and Health”, highlighted two important aspects that we tend to forget. One is that older people are diverse. Probably because we are used to giving certain benefits linked to age, for example free entrance to museums or cheaper public transportation for over 65s, we put everybody over 65 into the same category. Of course this is not real and older people have very different functional capabilities. This was the second aspect. The category used to guide our efforts in dealing with an ageing society should be functional capability. The above mentioned report states that “burdens of disability and death arise from age related losses in hearing, seeing and moving, and non-communicable diseases”. So, it is my interpretation that we should move from focusing on age to focusing on those disabilities that hinder our functional capabilities. And it should be noticed that those kinds of disabilities do not come only with old age. They pop up at any time; how many young people need glasses?

It was mentioned by someone during the Focus on Asia interview that “the problem in an ageing society lies with the young people in their 30s”. Natalia Kanem (from the UN Population Fund) expanded on the same idea, and more. She introduced us, through the “The State of World Population 2016”, to the fact that “investing in 10-year-old girls could yield huge demographic dividends”. It all boils down to the same idea: prevention is the key to a successful design of our ageing societies. It is my belief that, unless we invest in our youth now, our societies are not going to be able to cope with the on-going demographic change.

And finally, the last intervention that I would like to bring to you was about breaking silos. When talking about ageing and its related problems, there is a part of society which focusses almost exclusively on social and health factors. There are also other professionals that focus exclusively on economic and financial factors. To my knowledge, very little has been done to bring those two worlds together. And a token sample of that lack is the composition of the speakers in the panel: both of them were from the financial sector with no representative of the other silo: the care sector. Nevertheless, the point was made: silos have to come down and the financial aspects of an ageing society have to be intertwined with the care aspects. So far their courses have run parallel. Now they should start running together.

I could summarize that tackling the problems of our ageing societies needs an intervention in our youth of today, fostering the development of their own functional capabilities in a holistic way, combining the socio-health-financial aspects of every human being.

And this is my summary of one and half days of a very intensive and interesting event.

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I have borrowed the title of this post from an article in the leading Spanish paper El País[1]. It reflects something I have been asking myself since the beginning of the actual crisis and, till now, I haven’t found an answer. Why? Of course there is always the excuse that we have the leaders that society deserves, but that answer is too sad to make it part of my outlook on life.

The challenges facing Europe, and (for that matter) a good part of the developed world, are well known. The most relevant is the demographic change that will make Europe, according to some apocalyptic analysis, a kind of geriatric ward. Following that analysis, the working population will not be able to sustain the increasing mass of retirees. Since older people are the main drivers of care costs, the only solution is to reduce entitlements linked to retirement as well as care benefits.

A clear and easy solution:  let´s cut costs by rationing the expense linked to those pillars of the welfare society that was built, precisely, to overcome the ills of a rapidly changing society in the aftermath of the II War World.

Looking back, Europe was able to manage a similar demographic change when, in the 60’s, the working mass was able to pay for the health and education of an outpouring of new born kids –the baby boomers-. Maybe it was because the extra hands needed for paying for that were allowed to migrate, so that Europe could take advantage of the surplus labor of other countries; just the opposite that certain populist leaders are suggesting these days.

But of course, those were different economic times. Europe was devastated and the needs of the reconstruction created a demand and subsequently an economic bonanza. Today there is no bonanza; as a matter of fact our very non-intelligent leaders have been able to create not one, but two economic crisis in a row. That was quite predictable. If the main “customer” – that is, the State – responsible for 49.4%[2] of the national demand drastically reduces its level of expenditure, what could the result be other than a recession?

And why? Because in their narrow mindedness there is only one mantra: ration. They think, and are proud of saying out loud, that they are like a “good housewife”; they spend only what they have. But I don´t want a “good housewife” leading my country, or any other country! A country is by far more complex than my house, than any house! Leading Europe in such simplistic terms is what has brought us to this sorry state. We need leaders capable of transforming our society, not a bunch of nerds in a position of command, blaming “Brussels” for all ills, hiding the fact that “Brussels” is them.  What comes out of Brussels is their collective will: if you put rubbish in, rubbish comes out.

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