The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury opened the debate and discussed the contribution older people make and how they are perceived by society .
He explained: 'As things stand, more than half the over-60 population are involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work.' He added: 'A conservative estimate of the value of the voluntary work already done in caring and family maintenance alone by the over-60s is in the region of £50 billion.'
He continued: 'We must recognise that it is assumptions about the basically passive character of the older population that foster attitudes of contempt and exasperation, and ultimately create a climate in which abuse occurs.'
Referring to the Commission on Dignity in Care for Old People's Delivering Dignity report, published in February this year, he said: 'This returns us to the challenge of the commission's report, which flags up the need for integrated care, drawing together home, hospital and care home.'
Baroness Pitkeathley (Labour), vice president of Carers UK, argued: 'Too often when we discuss the place of older people in society, we focus on the problems. We talk about the demographic time bomb, the drain on the resources of the NHS, social care problems and so on. I do it myself all the time when I speak about the problems faced by those delivering social care both now and in the future. But what it is easy to forget is that older people themselves are often the ones providing care, and it is on that caring contribution that I want to focus. We should recognise the contribution made by older people as providers of social care and childcare for grandchildren.'
Lord Wei (Conservative), Big Society government adviser and adviser for the Community Network Foundation, focused his remarks on the coming decade by saying: 'The coming baby-boomer retirees represent the youngest ever retiring generation.'
He explained: 'Their energy and ideas, their leadership and resources can be a great benefit to this country. Let us find ways from within business, the voluntary sector and government local and central, to unleash on their terms their skills, energy and potential, to support them where it is needed, and to see later life not primarily as a source of decline and expense but increasingly as a rich source of wisdom and an asset - one which can benefit us all, not least those in or entering retirement themselves.'
Baroness Warsi (Conservative), senior minister of state for faith and communities, responded on behalf of the government by saying: 'I believe the mark of a good society is how well it treats its older people.'
She concluded: 'Older people are not just recipients, they are contributors. They are not just helped by volunteers, they are the volunteers. They are not just the cared-for, they are the carers. This growing proportion of our population should not be seen as an issue but as an asset.'
Other speakers included:
- Baroness Butler-Sloss (Crossbench), president of the Grandparents' Association
- Lord Dholakia (Liberal Democrat), former spokesperson for communities and trustee of the Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity
The debate was Dr Rowan Williams' last debate as The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury.