Senior citizens or older people. Workers who are getting on in years are a resource which should not be wasted and should be valued for the knowledge they have, which can make an important contribution to both social and working life. "It's important to protect them, as we would lose a great deal without them," says Giovanni Lamura, director of the Centre for Socio-Economic Research on Ageing within the National Institute for the Care of the Elderly (INRCA).
Italy currently has 14 million over-65s. This figure becomes 7 million if we consider only those over the age of 75. This is a substantial proportion, which makes the Italian population the oldest in Europe according to Eurostat's analysis, based on the 2019 data. Compared to 2010, the number of senior citizens has increased by 1.8 million, a sizeable figure if we consider that the number of under-15s has fallen by 400,000 and the population has meanwhile grown by 1.2 million. A number bound to increase in the coming years. This is why it is becoming increasingly important to act at a political level both in Italy and in Europe.
But all too often senior citizens are treated in a cursory manner, valuing only their impact on work life. "The analysis of their role is wrong; there is more than just the employment side. They should be viewed from different aspects," maintains Giovanni Lamura. For this reason, the active ageing index (AAI) is used internationally, which allows for a more objective evaluation that not only takes work into account.
"Senior citizens also have an important role to play in other areas. One example is volunteering, a sector that would collapse without the involvement of senior citizens. Another area is caring for grandchildren, which is more important nowadays than ever since families often do not know whom to leave their children with." These are activities that are struggling at the moment due to the health emergency related to the fight against coronavirus. "It is certainly a risky time, but we must give the right signals. It is important not to shut out senior citizens and to make them understand the importance of staying active even now, in order to live a better and longer life."
There is more than just the employment side. They should be viewed from different aspects. Senior citizens also have an important role to play in other areas. For example, in terms of volunteering and caring for grandchildren.
Being a senior citizen is even more valuable if you are a worker with experience within a company. According to a 2019 Istat survey on the labour market, there were 643,000 workers over 65 out of a total workforce of 18 million. This figure has increased by 60.8% between 2008 and 2018, as a result of the Fornero Law, and is bound to grow further. According to the European Commission, one worker in two will be over 65 in 2070.
In the view of Andrea Principi, a researcher at the Centre for Socio-Economic Research and an expert in the field, "management of more mature staff must always be the responsibility of the company. In fact, companies have long been involved in "age management", which means managing older staff who have important values, such as loyalty, which they can pass on to younger staff." This is an example of intergenerational learning where "in return, young people can pass on values and knowledge, especially from a digital perspective, which may be useful to those who risk being excluded from society," Giovanni Lamura points out.
This mutual exchange would benefit everyone, avoiding unnecessary rivalries. "However, we need a change of pace, both from companies and the politicians. Companies are facing a major challenge. It is essential that they continue to work on more mature employees to keep them active and up to date; otherwise, there is a risk of them becoming demotivated and encouraged to leave," underlines Giovanni Lamura.
However, the state must also play its part. Two years ago the Italian Government signed an agreement with INRCA and has recently concluded a monitoring initiative targeting a new promotional campaign for active ageing. There is no shortage of shining examples in Europe, such as Ireland, one of the first countries to incorporate the principles of active ageing into its legislation. In 2013 the government in Dublin presented a "National Positive Ageing Strategy", tailored by each of the Irish regions and continuously updated by a special committee. "The state has done well so far to leave this matter to companies but must provide them with more support. When older workers are mentioned, we immediately think about the social welfare aspect. But there is the whole thing about the economic sustainability of the system that needs to be protected to a greater extent," concludes Andrea Principi. The early retirement of so many older workers could lead not only to a decline in the size of the workforce but also to lower tax revenues, posing a risk to the pension system, which is not sustainable, especially in the long term.
When older workers are mentioned, we immediately think about the social welfare aspect. But there is the whole thing about the economic sustainability of the system that needs to be protected to a greater extent.
Active ageing and lifelong learning for senior citizens are already an important factor nowadays, but will also be in the future. According to Istat, there will be 15 million people over the age of 70 in 2042. This is a considerable figure. Add to this the analysis of the Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Global Human Capital, which highlights how the Italy of the future will have an ever-growing number of educated senior citizens, with qualifications equivalent to diploma or degree level.
"This is a fact that will lead even the most sceptical to realise how myths which portray senior citizens as being frail, unable to contribute to society or even imposing an economic burden are destined to disappear. The number of baby boomers is steadily rising, resulting in the spread of a better use of technology, which can be a useful tool for keeping them integrated in society," points out Andrea Principi.
Technology can provide a means, but the end always remains a peaceful old age. According to what is stated by WHO Europe, in the decade of active ageing 2021-2030, it will be important to remove all obstacles that prevent senior citizens from enjoying the longed-for third age. "In this sense, we need a commitment from the state and everyone. Even in the time of a pandemic, they must not get left behind," concludes Giovanni Lamura.