Every year, 1 October arrives and reminds us all to stop and appreciate the older generations around us.
The day was designated by the UN as International Day of Older Persons in 1990. And this year it coincides with its UK’s ‘cousin’, Silver Sunday. This means double the reason to celebrate, and also double the encouragement to reflect.
The UN is calling for this 1 October to help drive greater awareness and protection of older people’s rights as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which itself turns 75 this year.
Those rights respond to major human needs like the need for dignity, liberty, security and leisure. They also recognise the right to a home, to adequate living standards and to participate in culture.
All these concepts are central to the practice and regulation of adult social care. The best organisations and individuals working with older people not only place those core rights at the heart of what they do, they work actively to protect them.
Human rights in adult social care
Around 430,000 of people in the UK live in care homes today. According to the latest census, this is around 2.5% of the country’s older population.
Care communities like our homes have a major responsibility towards those hundreds of thousands of people. How their basic rights as humans are acknowledged, and how much people feel seen and supported as individuals, rests largely with us.
This role is something we think about often at Greensleeves Care, as a provider with over 1,000 older people in our care, and a not-for-profit organisation committed to delivering tangible social impact.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been gathering content for our soon-to-be-issued Social Impact Report for the past financial year. This includes stories of lives improved by care: stories of recovery from ill-health and loneliness, of residents and families feeling listened to and happy with their care choices, and of professionals being empowered and recognised.
When asked to describe their experience in care, our residents’ most commonly selected answers have been “I feel safe,” “I feel content” and “I feel at home”. To us, these statements speak of core human needs being met, sometimes for the first time in a long time. “Large portions of my day were spent alone – it was not much of a life” is how our resident Ruth recalls her experience before moving into one of our care communities.
Meanwhile, Margaret, another resident, spoke to us of her reservations prior to moving into a care community. She feared she would be “told what to do, when, and how to do it”, only to realise that independence and agency are part and parcel of good care practice: “in actual fact, I am still very much in control of my life and I can still make decisions myself”.
Championing older people beyond the care setting
However, the impact we aim for doesn’t stop at our doorstep. Our homes are increasingly acting as a hub in their towns, and supporting other older people to thrive – from offering a seat at their Sunday dinner table to local neighbours at risk of isolation, to donating regularly to food banks.
Both in my role as chief executive and my volunteering work, I have been privileged to be part of efforts to help improve older people’s experiences both in the UK and internationally. In essence, improvements for our older generation come hand in hand with having their rights respected and celebrated in age-friendly communities and by age-positive employers.
1 October, and the promise it holds, is central to our work at Greensleeves Care and to the responsibility we share with the wider sector. Let’s use this day to fuel our collective drive for care that continues to uphold and champion older people’s rights.