One of the most serious problems facing our society in the coming years concerns demographic decline and, in this context, the place occupied by the large group of older citizens. This relevance is all the greater as we live in a period of our collective life in which, clearly, the country is melancholy impoverishing and this impoverishment affects, in particular, the most sensitive group of the elderly.
Another disturbing sign of this already long trend is the industrialization of the elderly in seniors' homes, an option that, in many cases, does not dignify the last years of our elderly people's lives, as, moreover, the press has widely publicized and is evidenced by the high number of clandestine homes.
We all know that a social security system based on the direct sharing of contributions by workers and employers between active and retired people will, in the long run, be on the verge of breaking down and as soon as the demographic decline, low incomes and the structural fall in employment motivated by the transformation digital technology and artificial intelligence make all their effects fully felt.
If, by then, there is no progressive but effective structural change in the method of financing social security that preserves the quality of life and well-being of our neediest and most unprotected elderly people, we have serious reasons to be truly concerned and to anticipate , from now on, the social responses that are imposed in this very adverse context.
It is therefore necessary, beyond this necessary structural reform, to review in depth the entire economy of social responses, as we are convinced that it is possible to do more and better with less, also in this domain, where we already have enough social and community innovation to diversify the offer available to senior society and, thus, progressively dismantle the old industrial model of homes for the elderly, which did so much with limited resources, but which, clearly, are also an almost exhausted model of social response that does not it dignifies the senior citizens of the post-industrial and collaborative society of the 3st century.
In terms of theory and literature, the economy of the social responses of senior society will mostly be part of the so-called economy of collaborative commons (Rifkin, 2014, BCC). Let's see some measures that can be inscribed in this line of new social responses.
– According to the principle that old age is a life project, retirement and retirement would not be mandatory, but optional; the law should also allow for multiple forms of flexible and intermittent work and, in general, not hinder access to this flexible market for the elderly;
– All common and community organization solutions and proposals must be sponsored, according to their specific merits, regardless of their greater or lesser specificity; community neighborhoods are a good example of equipment adapted for this purpose;
– Parish unions, misericordia, village and IPSS networks should promote their regrouping and launch proposals for social innovation that jointly consider cohousing – equipment and services common to several dwellings – and home care outpatient services; some villages, due to their characteristics, can even be used and experienced as senior villages equipped with these common equipment and services;
– Integrated and ambulatory care are, perhaps, the greatest challenge of these new social innovation proposals for senior society; nursing homes promote the fusion of nursing homes and continuous health care in a single, more complete and comprehensive social intervention structure;
– Third age and old age are a life project against loneliness, exclusion and confinement; local networks and collaborative platforms should create active aging programs, voluntary work banks, traditional arts and crafts centers, accessible tourism projects for groups with reduced mobility, the university for the elderly, initiatives that participatory financing or crowdfunding can sponsor and co-finance.
None of us wish the worst for the last third of our lives. Most homes, as we know them, correspond to a public-private offer that we could call industrialization and confinement of old age. It doesn't have to be that way, even if the current panorama of the welfare state in Portugal is not famous at all.
Between a private offer, expensive and inaccessible to the majority, and a public and social offer with serious financial and human limitations, there are, fortunately, many possible solutions of a cooperative, mutualist, community and associative nature that social and community innovation projects can and must promote.
Mercies, IPSS, city councils, health and social security services, higher education institutions, can and should constitute a social network and collaborative platform to undertake these new projects of senior villages, cohousing and nursing homes, active aging and social volunteering programs and new social and financial engineering formulas that, somehow, allow us to escape the growing constraints of the welfare state.
In 2050, according to INE, the average life expectancy of men could reach 83,8 years and that of women 89,5 years. This achievement of our civilization must be celebrated. Let us use our common intelligence and the wisdom of the elderly at the service of all, especially the most vulnerable, as this is the most distinctive sign of a developed society.