Select Committee on Science and Technology Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Third Age Trust on behalf of the Universities of the Third Age


  1.1  Briefly, the Third Age Trust is the national representative body for some 410 Universities of the Third Age that are distributed throughout the United Kingdom and have between them close to 100,000 individual members. The U3As are democratic, self-funded, self-managed, locally based organisations that provide low cost day-time learning opportunities for men and women no longer in full-time employment. Membership is open to all and between them the U3As offer their members an opportunity to pursue a shared interest from a wide range of subjects in the company of other like-minded people. The U3As are in fact lively, dynamic outward looking organisations for those retired men and women who do not want to be just passive recipients of social services support.

  1.2  While the work of the U3As is primarily educational, because of the fellowship generated by peer group activities, the members gain an enhancement of their physical well-being and an increase in their self-worth which goes a long way to eliminate the "scrap heap" feeling that often accompanies retirement or redundancy. In our view the U3As have an important social welfare role, particularly for single older persons, and it is our firm belief that through active involvement with U3A the individual members stay healthier and keep active longer, thus delaying the onset of the "fourth age of dependence".


  2.1  As far as members of the Third Age Trust are able to judge the EQUAL initiative has largely been unnoticed by members of the U3As. They will be aware, to varying degrees, that there are many research projects in operation but these seem to be mainly long-term projects which will have little or no current impact on the daily lives of older people. The impression in the minds of older people in general is that these research projects are devised by people in their second age based on their perceptions of "older people"—usually stereotypes—without any effort being made to seek the views of the older people themselves.


  3.1  Introduction

  The author recently attended the seminar organised jointly by Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the European Community's "Quality of Life" research programme on the theme of "Independency in Later Life—What are the Research Priorities"? The majority of the projects described were long-term and there was no evidence that there had been any consultations with the potential beneficiaries of this research. Indeed very few of those invited to attend could be described as a "third ager".

  3.2  The Trust believes that much more effort should be devoted to consulting members of the "third age" about their views on the priorities for extending the quality of life. It is wholly wrong to rely solely on the views of people still in their "second age" even though they may be employed to serve the needs of those in the third age, and not to do otherwise will perpetuate the stereotypical image of the older person. By definition, someone still in their second age can have no first hand experience of what it is like to be in the third age.

  3.3  Members of U3As would obviously support long-term research to obtain a better understanding of the various degenerative conditions that can affect the older person but the research priorities should focus on how best to prolong the period of purposeful independence of older people. This means considering issues such as:

    (a)  Encouraging older people to actively participate in self-help organisations (eg like U3As) because the membership of these organisations leads to the development of a new network of friends who are mutually supportive and so help combat isolation;

    (b)  Ensuring that the local milieu is conducive to the continued operation of such self-help groups, ie local authorities hire out meeting rooms at concessionary rates, offer help with printing or photocopying, make low cost small loans, etc;

    (c)  Facilitate the continued membership of such groups by older persons by providing better local public transport;

    (d)  Encourage older people to participate in learning, see "Learning in Later Life: Motivation and Impact", DfEE Research Brief No.183.


  4  While various government departments pursue their own agendas and their narrow projects very little progress will be achieved on the issue of "extending the quality of life". It is the view of the members of the Third Age Trust that significant progress will only be made on this issue if there is co-ordinated and concerted effort by all relevant government departments. It has been a big disappointment that the "Inter Ministerial Group to Co-ordinate Government Strategy for Older People" has not been able to achieve very much in the two years of its existence and to have three chairmen cannot have helped. To emphasise this point it is relevant to include, as an Annex, the Trust's comments on the DSS consultative paper "Building a Better Britain for Older People".

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