Populations in Western nations are ageing. By 2024, more than one in four Britons will be over sixty. But we are not the only country facing an ageing challenge. Japan has the world’s oldest population (27 percent of people are over 65 right now), and the social consequences are profound. Since 1980, the number of seniors living alone has increased six fold. Some are becoming so lonely that they are resorting to crime, just so they can experience personal contact and community in prison!
Over half of older people caught shoplifting live alone, but even those with families can feel excluded and poorly understood. One 80-year-old woman says, “I thought about my life. I didn’t want to go home, and I had nowhere else to go. Asking for help in prison was the only way. My life is much easier in prison.”
On being arrested for shoplifting, another octogenarian comments, “I was taken to a police station, and questioned by the sweetest police officer. He was so kind. He listened to everything I wanted to say. I felt I was being heard for the first time in my life.”
And Ms O, sentenced for stealing food, says, “Prison is an oasis for me—a place for relaxation and comfort. I don’t have freedom here, but I have nothing to worry about, either. There are many people to talk to.”
(Find out more in “Japan’s prisons are a haven for elderly women”)
What’s going on?
It seems that the more we prioritise material wellbeing above all else, the more we risk losing the relational foundations of our societies. In the UK, community relationships have been withering for several decades. Social “shock absorbers” like extended family, neighbourhoods, churches and pubs have atrophied since the 1950s. Statutory provisions such as social services and the NHS do an amazing job, but they can never replace friendships and community. That’s up to us!
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