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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries
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Q&A: Baroness Sally Greengross

What are the main objectives of the ILC-UK?
The International Longevity Centre — UK is one of 12 organisations across the world making up the ILC Global Alliance. We are dedicated to addressing issues of longevity, ageing and population change. Therefore, we are primarily looking at ageing across society and across the generations to see how we can plan for the future, taking these vast demographic changes into account.

The impact of ageing does, and should, influence policy, whether it is through social care, economic performance, health or wellbeing. One can only measure the impact through policy changes and hope that the work we have done helps to change policies and practice to meet the huge challenges we face.

What has been your greatest professional challenge to date?
My current challenge is a long-term one in the field of ageing. It is an issue that matters little to many, but one that I care about deeply. The Society campaigns constantly to get rid of the stigma and discrimination associated with old age. Many organisations campaign nationally and internationally for the UN bodies to produce a declaration, eventually leading to a Convention on the Human Rights of Older Persons. I am pleased to be associated with this campaign.

However, by singling older people out we run the risk of marginalising or infantilising them as being different from other adults to whom the current Human Rights Convention applies. Older adults should primarily be seen as adults and age should ultimately become irrelevant. This is a dilemma we always face in our work.

Many of the roles or posts that you have held in the past share a common theme of ageing. How did you come to specialise in this area?
I was lecturing and doing research at the London School of Economics and Political Science. I decided being a long-term researcher and academic wasn’t for me. Prior to that I had worked in both academia and industry. I was attracted by the idea of the voluntary sector when I applied for a job at Age Concern. I did not have special knowledge — in fact, on the contrary, I had only worked with young people, mostly marginalised and in trouble, particularly those involved in the Criminal Justice System. So it was a huge change for me to work with older adults. I was lucky to be there and to have had that opportunity.

You have been an independent crossbench member of the House of Lords since 2000 and you chair four All-Party Parliamentary Groups. One of them is on Intergenerational Futures: Old & Young Together. Tell us more about that.
The challenges that the group addresses go back to the main issues that the ILCUK addresses, such as planning for the future in the light of demographic change. We would like older and younger people to be closer, to do more together and not to lose touch as is sadly so often the case. Society tends to separate the generations and there are hidden dangers in some of the policies we adopt, for example abolishing the Default Retirement Age, which was necessary and long overdue. However, many young people are now unemployed leading to worries that intergenerational conflicts could easily emerge. We try to ensure that the dangers do not materialise by adjusting policies and practices. We look for examples in the areas of employment, healthcare, care funding, the built environment and design, which should reflect the mix of age groups and cultures in society.

Looking to the future we need to change attitudes, which tend to lag behind legislation. For example, technology has totally revolutionised education, so someone could be living in a remote village somewhere and watch a lecture by a world-renowned academic. We could question why we need to separate the generations in all learning situations, as younger and older people could often learn together.

Much could also be done, such as mentoring two ways, using skills that benefit both younger and older people. We are trying to find new ways to improve relationships and to alert policymakers to changes that are needed. Good examples of this in practice are intergenerational centres where people come together to relax. Music and theatre activities, such as arts and cultural activities, are particularly good ways of bringing old and young together, to enhance each other’s performance. Some of the mixed-age recreation centres that already exist are quite inspiring.

I will always remember visiting one of Age Concern’s day centres when I first worked for the organisation. The organisation was small, with few resources, so it was hosted in a volunteer centre. Walking around, one would see a mix of able-bodied and disabled people there, also some ex-offenders and volunteers of all ages as well as staff. I had no idea who was who and from where. It was splendid and I learned a great deal from being there.

The actuarial profession has a role to play in many of the fields in which you are involved. What more could actuaries do to add value?
I am delighted with the work that the ILCUK has done with the Profession. Actuaries have the expertise which we need in much of our work. We bring a more ‘social science’ approach, partly through economics/health and social care expertise and the blend of our skills strengthens, I believe, both bodies. We know that collaborative working has a great potential.

I am proud to have been an honorary fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries for a number of years now and, more recently, an actuary, Colin Redman, has become a trustee of the ILCUK. This can only pave the way to increase collaboration.

How do you measure your success?
My own success is only measurable in terms of being reassured that some things I have been doing are influential in achieving a better life for those on whose behalf we are working. I am also a commissioner on the Equality and Human Rights Commission, working to protect disadvantaged or vulnerable people and uphold their rights. The success of our work will be measured through triennial reports, measuring fairness across the country.

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Baroness Sally Greengross has been a crossbench (independent) member of the House of Lords since 2000 and chairs four All-Party Parliamentary Groups: Dementia, Corporate Social Responsibility, Intergenerational Futures and Continence Care.

She is the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ageing and Older People, and is treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Equalities. Baroness Greengross is also chief executive of the International Longevity Centre — UK, co-president of the ILC Global Alliance and, in December 2006, was announced as a commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

She was director-general of Age Concern England from 1987 until 2000. Up until 2000, she was joint chair of the Age Concern Institute of Gerontology at King’s College London, and secretary general of Eurolink Age.

Baroness Greengross is also chair of the Advisory Groups for the English Longitudinal Study on Ageing (ELSA) and the New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA). She is president of the Pensions Policy Institute and honorary vice-president of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health and a global ambassador to Help Age International. She holds honorary doctorates from seven UK universities and is an honorary fellow of the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries.