Of chocolate and jobs

Last month I visited York’s Chocolate Story, a visitor attraction in the centre of the city of York. A very lively tour guide told us about the Quakers who established the chocolate industry in York, and we saw how filled chocolates are made (and got to eat some) and made our own chocolate lollies (and got to eat them too). The other visitors included several grandparents, who seemed to be enjoying the experience at least as much as their grandchildren!

As the UK population gets older, the leisure industry has observed that we are becoming far more interested in acquiring ‘cultural capital’. Since 2009 household spending on recreation and culture has risen faster than total household consumption (VisitEngland, 2013). Older people, whilst more numerous, are getting ‘younger’ wanting to undertake new experiences and acquire new knowledge and skills – whether it’s baking, gardening or learning about history or art.

This creates new employment opportunities that we should be actively promoting.  Rather than working in yet another retail mall, young people can acquire knowledge that they can then share. Enriching an older person’s life is far more rewarding than stacking shelves or driving a delivery van. Of course there are concerns that these will be low paid jobs. However older people, whose incomes have been protected most in the years since the recession are likely to be able and willing to pay, and indeed this could be a good transfer of cash from the old to the younger generation.

Spending on recreation and culture is also far kinder on the planet.  The power of the ‘grey pound’ has grown significantly in recent years – with consumer spending by over 50s growing by £100 billion over the last 10 years. Rather than spending this money on new cars, kitchens and foreign holidays resulting in bigger emissions of greenhouse gases, would it not be better for older people to pay to learn new skills and increase their knowledge? Doing things carries a far lower carbon footprint than having things.

What would this mean policy-wise? At a national level, more attention should be given to the positive opportunities arising from an ageing population. Much will be down to local and city level government for example promoting ‘skills holidays’ for older people run by local visitor attractions, working with schools to use their classrooms for evening courses, and working with local colleges to train future workers in the ‘cultural capital acquisition industry’.

I would not claim that such policies will result in an employment revolution as the sector is likely to remain a relatively small part of the economy. However an active strategy to promote opportunities for older people to widen their cultural knowledge could deliver benefits across the generations and for our planet.

* Cara Jenkinson is Vice-Chair of Haringey Liberal Democrats and PPC for Enfield North

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  • Cara
    Think you are seriously onto something here. I’ve often felt that retiring, especially folk with useful practical skills is a bit of a waste. Skills often need upgrading but its eminently do-able, and retired people would also benefit physically, mentally and socially, from extending their useful activity beyond ‘normal’ retirement, which for many can feel like ‘dropping off a cliff’ socially.

    I’m early 60’s and retired, but in the last couple of months I’ve been going to a local ‘Hackspace’ Club, (of which there are many around the country). . They’re clubs where anyone of any age can meet up and learn coding (for APP’s, websites etc), and learn basic computer controlled electronics and robotics. Mainly frequented by 20’s to 30 something’s, with a couple of oldies thrown in, it’s a good atmosphere, to learn and share ideas. I’m not new to engineering, but these Hackspace meetings let me keep my skills up to date with 3D printing and the like.

    One idea perhaps.? : It might be a worth investigating the creation of a government policy to establish a kind of volunteer ‘Silver Territorial Army’, where over 60’s who feel fit enough can join and provide useful skills, in certain emergency situations. For example during the Devon floods, they needed a lot of sandbag filling and moving stuff to dry land. I know a lot of over 60’s very capable of such volunteer work, but don’t necessarily have the financial resources to pay for basic (to and from), travel, and accommodation at the event site.?

    I’m not talking about paid work as such, and taking jobs from people who need them. The activities might be defined as ‘community spirit’, volunteering, but where the organised group of volunteers (Silver TA’s), are bussed around the country to where they are needed for a few days at a time.?
    The minimal cost to the government would be to provide coaches to and from such events/situations, plus maybe opening up a local sports or leisure centre where ‘Silver’ volunteers could get a shower and enough space to roll out a sleeping bag for a couple of nights, I’m convinced that there would be a huge ‘enlistment’, of retired over 60’s willing and able to help out where they’re needed.?

    In the bigger picture maybe we just need to re-define what retirement means.?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Aug '16 - 2:53pm


    a very good article , with thoughtful and imaginative topics for consideration. As someone involved in the arts , creative industries , and culture , who is a Liberal Democrat with a background of study of philosophy, history , and politics, involved in thinking for the benefit of our party in these areas , I like your approach .
    I do think we can , today , do better on phraseology , across the board , not only here however , “cultural capital” makes me think of a city becoming a City of Culture , as in , say , Liverpool not so long ago ! And “cultural capital acquisition industry, ” sounds like a large corporate takeover !

    Can I suggest , “cultural skills and interests” , and ” sharing cultural skills and interests, ” as far more likely to appeal , and be understood ,especially as the target age range for your sincere and valuable suggestions are older people.

    It is , I feel ,important that culture does not become the preserve of an elite or of “modernspeak “, a phrase I use to describe all today that says things are “a game changer ” rather than “a turning point ” , “a big ask ” rather than “an important question,” and ” above my pay grade ” rather than , “not my area of responsibility ” !

    There are ways to advance your suggestions , and I would welcome developing them , and providing input , as I say , an area of interest to me too.

  • Tom Papworth 12th Aug '16 - 3:46pm

    This comes across as a little bit patronising, I’m afraid.

    Rather than assuring that retired people are going to be hobbling off to the Chocolate Museum, you might consider that their substantial buying power and ever-greater health and fitness means that they are far more likely to be making multiple international flights. (Which also puts in doubt the claim that “Doing things carries a far lower carbon footprint than having things”).

    Suggesting that the elderly need a “strategy to promote opportunities for older people to widen their cultural knowledge” is also a rather jaundiced view of people who’ve had over half a century to learn. Frankly, younger people (among whom I still count myself) would be better off listening to elder people rather than trying to teach them less.

    Finally, you may consider “Enriching an older person’s life [to be] far more rewarding than stacking shelves or driving a delivery van”, but many people enjoy driving and (as it is a skilled profession) make a very decent living out of it.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Aug '16 - 4:10pm

    @ Cara,

    A great idea,.

    There is not only evidence that people are moving away from wanting experiences rather than things , but there are several psychological studies that conclude that experiences enhance lives making them happier.e.g The Science of why you should spend your money on experiences not things’.

    My husband and I have just been bought vouchers to go round the East End Liquor Company, a visit that will increase my birthday boy husband’s happiness to stratospheric levels.

    A few years ago, a friend and I set up a knit and natter group in my home where people could visit to people to combat loneliness and isolation. The blankets etc., knitted over chatter and tea, then go to charitable causes which leads to interest about the areas that they go to and the lives of the people there. All wool is now donated to us.

    The same sort of initiative would work with, for example, growing ones own vegetables etc. Even digging is pleasurable when it is done as a group and one is chatting and putting the world to rights.

    Even if initially young people are not gainfully employed when they are helped to start an initiative, they could be helped to become social entrepreneurs, this sort of thing being the first stepping stone.

  • Jayne Mansfield 12th Aug '16 - 5:17pm

    @ Cara,
    Of course, I meant moving towards wanting experiences rather than things.

  • Cara Jenkinson 12th Aug '16 - 6:20pm

    thanks @J Dunn – Hackspace sounds interesting (as an ex-IT professional!). Like the idea of the silver TA as well. I suspect we will find older people doing multiple roles in the future – some part-time paid work, caring for grand-children, cultural activities etc, and yes the whole idea of what retirement means, and the opportunities presented by this growing group of fit, experienced people with some time on their hands. Lorenzo – accept the points on phraseology – cultural skills and interest better! Tom, I agree about the international flights, but I wonder if older people would go on so many of them if they felt they had purposeful activities to undertake (though I suspect flying will need to be made more expensive if we really want to discourage it – and the alternatives rail etc cheaper). Will people that have not been interested in culture/new skills for 50 years be interested when they retire? Yes, I think so – many people have hectic work-lives where they just don’t have time to consider anything else. In terms of delivery driving – whilst some may enjoy it, many are self-employed and held to ridiculous schedules by the likes of Amazon and earn below minimum wage. Jayne I’m glad the article struck a chord with you – I agree doing things as a group is great for motivation!

  • John Shoesmith 12th Aug '16 - 8:08pm

    Our young people face massive challenges – decarbonising the economy, paying off the national debt, investing to make the infrastructure proof against global warming, maintaining our exports and global service industries after Brexit, earning enough to buy a house, and educating their children so that their life chances are as good as those in other countries. We need to invest in the advanced technologies and skills that our young people will need to do all this. Too many of our best young people already spend their lives simply providing services for the old.

  • The University of the Third Age (U3A) is a wonderful example of peer-to-peer education and cultural enrichment for older people, all on a voluntary basis. It has 350,000 members in the UK, and yet many younger people will not have heard about it.

    Active retired people do not need to have things done for them. In fact, they are a huge resource which so many voluntary organisations rely heavily on. I write as someone who is using the same skills in retirement as I used when employed, the only differences being that I am not being paid for them, and I have more control over what I do.

  • Rightsaidfredfan 13th Aug '16 - 6:16am

    We have moved on a lot since modern technology made it so huge numbers of people didn’t have to work in agriculture just to feed us. As technology and automation improves less and less people will be required to produce the products that society needs and let’s face it, there is only so much we can consume. I think the sort of jobs cara describes will become more and more common for the reasons I have given.

  • grahame lamb 13th Aug '16 - 8:40am

    Cheap labour. It’s all right if you’re retired and also have savings and a good pension. But please don’t steal the jobs of those in the community who need the money.

    Are the Liberal Democrats the party of the rich?

  • Jayne Mansfield 13th Aug '16 - 11:21am

    @ Grahame Lamb,
    In York, a city that Cara mentioned, it costs £60 to attend a one day beginners sewing course, £45 for one day beginners crochet course. People are already setting up half day or two hour courses etc. that give people a new experience or skill.

    These sort of places are booming. I usually buy vouchers , or pay the costs for members of my family, to attend ‘experiences’ and they reciprocate, precisely because they are expensive and they are a present that one probably wouldn’t award oneself.

    According to Sky news report , ( I don’t know there source of their research), £ 2.1 billion was spent on unwanted Christmas presents. There is now opportunities to replace this waste with something that the recipient would value rather than more ‘stuff’. Young people may need help to gain the skills necessary to set up these businesses whilst they are becoming a growth industry.

    Mary Reid is correct, there are already many such interesting courses like U3A, They and WEA courses offer a respite from grand -parent duties, working in charity shops, manning libraries , helping in hospices and the other voluntary activities that so many retired people throw themselves into when they retire, but there is still a market, and a growing one, for these private ventures.

  • @grahame lamb

    ‘Cheap labour’ is a rather offensive way of dismissing the huge input into the voluntary sector by active retired people. Indeed this party could not function at all without volunteers, and in fact I devote most of my time to the Liberal Democrats. Now exactly whose job am I stealing?

  • The story of Rowntrees of York has a relevance to Liberals and radical liberalism..

    The Rowntree family were not only Quakers but very active Liberals. Arnold Rowntree was a radical Liberal MP for York and championed the rights of conscientious objectors

    Seebohm Rowntree conducted an in depth study of poverty and social conditions in York which was published in 1901 and influenbced some of the social welfare programmes of the 1906 Liberal Government. We could learn from this initiative today. The firm were enlightened employers..

    I believe the Rowntree Trust is still a generous donor to Liberal Democrat interests – Jo Grimond and Richard Wainwright were both heavily involved, as is David Shutt.

    Sadly this once great firm was taken over by foreign interests – as were Cadburys – and it is yet another example of how multinational companies sweep away progressive employment to the detriment of working conditions.

  • Sue Sutherland 13th Aug '16 - 6:07pm

    Many grandparents do as much caring for grandchildren as they can, partly because it’s fun, but also helping their children cut the cost of child care. Many who are retired take holidays in this country and abroad to visit art galleries and museums and they do this as well as volunteering, so I’m not sure that this would be such a growth industry as you imagine. At first I thought this was a welcome change from the blame the over 65s have been getting recently but I really don’t think this would be meeting a deep need for older people. These are relatively wealthy people too, of course. I am more concerned about providing people of my age and older a decent income if they only have a state pension, so they don’t have to choose between basic needs like heating or eating. Of course it would be wonderful if that income covered some of the costs of taking up a class as well.

  • grahame lamb 14th Aug '16 - 8:53am

    To Mary Read in particular. No offence intended. I have nothing but admiration and respect for volunteers. Indeed my mother was a member of U3A and a lifelong supporter of the Liberal Party and worker (helping Ruth Bright in East Hampshire – her photo was often in the local newspaper) until illness intervened and she died.

    But I don’t like the way that so many “jobs” are being voluntarised. Are the Liberal Democrats doing anything about this and zero hours contracts for example. It’s a matter of principle chiefly but in reality a matter of votes and MPs. I am thinking about this. And very carefully. Does anyone at HQ read this and take notice? No. That’s why the Liberals were destroyed at the last Election. Where are Liberal values ? Somewhere else I imagine.

  • Helen Dudden 15th Aug '16 - 6:46am

    Not everyone will be healthy as they are. For years I have suffered sight issues. Spent time without my sight and that is not good when you are in the job market with the attitudes by some employers. Not to forget attitudes within society.

    Be careful what you wish for!

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