The age of opportunity? revisiting assumptions about the life-long learning opportunities of older people using social care services

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Shifting national policy in the UK emphasizes choice, independence and social inclusion for older people using social care services through the promotion of healthy, active lifestyles and increasing user involvement (Department of Health, 2006). Older people are a diverse population. Their definition of a 'life worth living' and support necessary to achieve this are cited as paramount within public policy formation. Simultaneously, older people coming into contact with social work are primarily conceptualized as 'a challenge' within the current social, economic and political environment, in which ageing is perceived as a time of difficulty and loss ultimately leading to increased structured dependency (Townsend, 2006). This paper makes links between discourses on life-long learning within public policy with those in social care. Both are concerned with increasing participation, citizenship and social justice for older people. It highlights contradictions between aspirations towards life-long learning derived from Freirean approaches seeking to promote 'active ageing' with negative political rhetoric about the burden of ageing and practice of managed care. Social workers play an important part in facilitating learning opportunities within their relationships with older people. Where and how these might be used to promote more inclusive strategies and approaches within practice for the engagement and further emancipation of service users is explored.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)496-512
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Issue number2
Early online date9 Feb 2009
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2010


  • active ageing
  • discourse
  • empowerment
  • lifelong learning
  • older people
  • participation
  • social care

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