Recruiting retired social workers is a shrewd move

Recruiting retired social workers is a shrewd move as one London group shows the over-60s have much to offer, writes Mark Drinkwater

Last month the Local Government Association announced a drive to recruit 5,000 former social workers back into the workforce. Bringing back older social workers makes sense – there is a wealth of experience among our pensioners that’s not being put to full use.

In the UK one person in five is a pensioner, so it’s worth reflecting on the positive contributions that older people can offer society. In my work in south London I’ve met some great older people through the local pensioners movement, particularly those involved with the Southwark Pensioners Action Group (SPAG).

This group shares an enthusiasm that is the envy of many of my younger colleagues and, over the years, I’ve learned a great deal from their members. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised they possess huge amounts of expertise, a lifetime of knowledge and skills to share.

Collectively, SPAG is a force to be reckoned with. As their name suggests, they’re a feisty bunch of individuals. But their activities aren’t confined to placard-waving. Recently they’ve been working on a number of projects celebrating the benefits of the pension.

It is 100 years since the state pension was introduced and SPAG has been using this centenary to highlight the concerns of pensioners today by working with schoolchildren.

Street scenes

Through a series of community events, young and old have come together to recreate street scenes of the Edwardian campaign that led to the introduction of the state pension.

Events like this keep people active and many of those older people involved can remember a time when communities were more cohesive. So these community events have been important in countering the social isolation experienced by some, as well as promoting a positive image of older people in the community.

I’ve been impressed by SPAG’s approach to partnership working. The group sought to involve younger people in projects and gave it plenty of thought about how best to engage with them.

In doing so, the members have embraced youthful forms of communication, including a website and education pack called 5 Bob (pictured) featuring cartoon characters and information about the history behind the pension.

Historical perspective

This historical perspective on the importance of pensions is not just of interest to young children, but anyone with an interest in social care should find it useful to look at how things have progressed in the past 100 years.

If you think our state of welfare is bad today, it’s worth looking at these online resources to see what things were like before the introduction of the state pension. In 1909 the first recipients received the princely sum of five shillings, equivalent to 25p. This weekly sum was enough to prolong the independence of many older people and keep them out of the dreaded workhouses.

Arguably, the introduction of a state pension was one of the biggest welfare reforms of the past century, and a decent pension is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago.

It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that older people are valued and are adequately provided for. After all, we’ll all be pensioners one day.

Details on Southwark Pensioners Action Group’s work

Mark Drinkwater is Community Care’s practice adviser

Published under the heading We Should Celebrate the Value Older People Can Offer Society in the 16 April 2009 edition of Community Care

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