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Prof. Alan Walker - International Federation on Ageing. Sheffield, , GB

Prof. Alan Walker Prof. Alan Walker

Professor of Social Policy and Social Gerontology | University of Sheffield


Professor Alan Walker was the Director of FUTURAGE, the European Research Area in Ageing and The UK New Dynamics of Ageing Programme




Prof. Alan Walker Publication Prof. Alan Walker Publication



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Professor Alan Walker is Professor of Social Policy and Social Gerontology at the University of Sheffield, UK. He has directed several path breaking UK and European research initiatives including MOPACT (Mobilising the potential of active ageing in Europe), New Dynamics of Ageing Programme, INNOVAGE Project, The Growing Older Programme, European Research Area in Ageing and FUTURAGE.

He is co-founder and Chair of the European Foundation on Social Quality. He was a leading member of the Technical Committee responsible for drafting the UN Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing. Previously he chaired the European Commission's Observatory on Ageing and Older People. He has been researching and writing on aspects of ageing and social policy for more than 40 years. Recent books include The New Science of Ageing, The Political Economy of Ageing and Later Life, Active Ageing in Asia and Social Quality, From Theory to Indicators. He has held visiting Chairs in Canada, China, Israel and Japan. As well as being a scientist Alan Walker is an active participant in older people's organisations as patron of the UK National Pensioners' Convention and the Greater London Forum for Older People. He also chaired the Sheffield Fairness Commission 2012-13 and continues to chair the Fairer Sheffield Campaign Group.

Industry Expertise (2)

Research Education/Learning

Areas of Expertise (4)

Social Policy Gerontology Social Quality Quality of Life

Accomplishments (5)

Commander of the Order of the British Empire (professional)

The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire is the "order of chivalry of British constitutional monarchy", rewarding contributions to the arts and sciences, work with charitable and welfare organisations and public service outside the Civil Service.

Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award (professional)

Presented to Professor Alan Walker by the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Sheffield, 2014.

ESRC Impact Champion (professional)

Economic and Social Research Council's first Impact Champion

Medal and Honorary Diploma for Advances in Gerontology and Geriatrics (professional)

European Association of Gerontology's first Medal and Honorary Diploma

British Society of Gerontology’s Annual Outstanding Achievement Award 2007 (professional)

First recipient of British Society of Gerontology’s Annual Outstanding Achievement Award

Languages (1)

  • English

Research Grants (6)

MOPACT (Mobilising the potential of active ageing in Europe)

The University of Sheffield 

MOPACT (Mobilising the potential of active ageing in Europe), 2013-2017
This ambitious project ran for four years from March 2013 to February 2017 and included 29 partners in 13 countries. The consortium comprised a multi-disciplinary group of leading researchers who have proposed innovative ways to realise active ageing in Europe.

The project supported the goals set by Horizon 2020 and the European Innovation Partnership in Active and Healthy Ageing to increase average healthy life expectancy across the EU through a series of policy, practice, service developments, product development and innovations required to support this aim.

MOPACT developed the research and practical evidence which could enable Europe to ensure its ageing population is an asset to society and the economy.

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The University of Sheffield 

INNOVAGE, 2012 - 2015
INNOVAGE was an ambitious project dedicated to developing and testing, as well as surveying and cataloguing, social innovations that will have a solid impact on improving the quality of life and well-being of older people.

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New Dynamics of Ageing Research Programme

The University of Sheffield 

New Dynamics of Ageing (NDA) Programme, 2005-2015
The NDA Programme was a ten year multidisciplinary research initiative with the ultimate aim of improving quality of life of older people. The programme was a unique collaboration between five UK Research Councils - ESRC, EPSRC, BBSRC, MRC and AHRC - and was the largest and most ambitious research programme on ageing ever mounted in the UK.

The programme aimed to develop practical policy and implementation guidance and novel scientific, technological and design responses to help older people enjoy better quality lives as they age. This required integrating understandings of the changing meanings, representations and experiences of ageing and the key factors shaping them (including behavioural, biological, clinical, cultural, historical, social, economic and technological), through direct engagement with older people and user organisations. The programme harnessed inputs from a wide range of disciplines to reveal the dynamic interplay between ageing individuals and their changing technological, cultural, social and physical environments - local, national and global - to develop methods and means for overcoming the consequent constraints on the quality of life of older people.

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The University of Sheffield 

The European Research Area in Ageing 2 (ERA-AGE 2) was a three year project funded by the European Commission, under the Seventh Framework Programme.

The aim of ERA-AGE 2 was to enlarge the consortium to a critical mass and use this to mount Europe's first ageing research programme supported principally by the Member States: the New European Dynamics of Ageing Programme (NEDA).

ERA-AGE 2 comprised thirteen partners who were each public authorities responsible for the funding and coordination of national research programmes, and since 2009 recruited six associate partners. The expansion of the consortium enabled and maximised the sharing of experiences and build a critical mass of ageing research.

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The University of Sheffield 

FUTURAGE was a two-year project funded by the European Commission, under the Seventh Framework Programme, to create the definitive road map for ageing research in Europe for the next 10-15 years.

Drawing on experts and specialists from Europe and beyond, the road map represents the most extensive consultation ever conducted in this field and identified the main priorities on ageing and health from a multi-disciplinary perspective.

Through a chain of events, academic and non-academic stakeholders engaged in a state-of-the-art assessment of research priorities, emerging fields and methods to build consensus on the research priorities in ageing until 2025.

The Road Map itself can be downloaded at: http://futurage.group.shef.ac.uk/road-map.html

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Growing Older (GO) Programme

The University of Sheffield 

The Growing Older Programme consisted of 24 research projects focussed on how to extend the quality of life in old age. They were commissioned together as part of a £3.5 million investment by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). It ran from 1999 to 2004

The research produced added value and made a substantial impact on policy and practice. It was well-known that people live longer but very little attention had been given by UK social scientists to the factors that determine the quality of life experienced by older people.

The Programme has two main objectives:

To pursue a broad-based multi-disciplinary programme designed to generate new knowledge on extending quality life.

To contribute to the development of policies and practices in the field and, thereby, to make a direct contribution to extending quality life.

The Programme covered six research topics:
Defining and Measuring Quality of Life (6 projects)
Inequalities in Quality of Life (5)
The Role of Technology and the Built Environment (1)
Healthy and Productive Ageing (3)
Family and Support Networks (6)
Participation and Activity in Later Life (3)

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Featured Articles (13)

Pension system reform in China: Who gets what pensions? Social Policy Administration

Huoyun Zhu, Alan Walker


This article is the first examination of pension reform in China and its effects on different social groups over the past three decades. China's pension system has undergone radical transition from the state‐employer model to a state‐society one based on the combination of an underlying aim of supporting the economic reforms and learning from international experience. Although the pension system has expanded over the past three decades and the majority of people are now covered by social pensions, this remarkable policy change has created new inequalities. First, an important aspect of social stratification has been reshaped into five distinct pension scheme classes. Second, the new pension model has strengthened the link between benefits and contributions, which privileges the better off. In this newly stratified pension system, those with high human capital and family capital, and who are in the more developed regions are the clear winners. To tackle these inequalities, future pension reform in China should focus on promoting equalization and de‐stratification.

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The gap in social care provision for older people in China Asian Social Work and Policy Review

Huoyun Zhu, Alan Walker


Because of its unprecedented sociodemographic changes, particularly rapid population aging, China faces huge challenges in social care. Using data from the 2012 Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey (n = 9,765), this article examines the need for social care, as well as the major sources of provision. The findings indicate that the majority of older people face some restriction in their daily living activities. From their perspective, however, the most urgent social protection services are related to health care and legal aid rather than services supporting daily living. Although Chinese Government policy since the 1990s has been a strategy of social welfare socialization, the role of government, both as provider and funder, is limited and focuses only on the most deprived and on urban areas. The result is a massive “care gap” between the need for social care and its supply. The primary responsibility for care provision is borne by the family. The direction of social policy in the future should focus on shared care between the family and the state, giving priority to expanding the coverage of social care services, especially in rural areas.

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Why the UK Needs a Social Policy on Ageing Journal of Social Policy

Alan Walker


This article makes the case for a radical new strategy on ageing which focuses on the whole life course with the intention of preventing many of the chronic conditions associated with old age. The case is built on recent research evidence and the life-course concept of ‘active ageing’ is used to encapsulate the practical measures required. Combining biological and social science insights it is argued that, while ageing is inevitable, it is also plastic. This means that it not only manifests itself in different ways but also that it can be modified by mitigating the various risk factors that drive it. Such action would have considerable potential to reduce the personal costs of chronic conditions such as strokes and those falling on family carers but, also, to cut the associated health and social care expenditures. The question of why such apparently beneficial policy action is not being taken is discussed and a range of barriers are identified. One of these appears to be the UK's extreme brand of neo-liberalism, which militates against the collective approach necessary to implement a social policy for active ageing. Although the case is made with primary reference to UK policy and practice, the call for action to prevent chronic conditions has global relevance.

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The Need for Community Care Among Older People in China Ageing and Society


The social care system of China has come under close scrutiny from policy makers due to the rapid ageing of China's population. Unfortunately, there is very little Chinese research evidence that might be used to plan future service developments. This article is a contribution to filling that gap and it provides essential new information on the expressed demand among older people in China for various community care services. The data are from the 2008 wave of the Chinese Longitudinal Healthy Longevity Survey. According to the characteristics of the dependent variables, we used Binary Logistic Regression Analysis to analyse the need for community care among older people in China. The results show considerable need for such care, but China is still a developing country and there are insufficient resources to fund a Western-style social care system (even if that was desirable). Thus, it is argued that the development of social care in China should emphasise community-based care, in partnership with families, with institutional care as a last resort. In addition, it is argued that China (and other countries) should introduce measures to prevent the demand for social care.

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Active and Successful Ageing: A European Policy Perspective The Gerontologist


Over the past two decades, "active aging" has emerged in Europe as the foremost policy response to the challenges of population aging. This article examines the concept of active aging and how it differs from that of "successful aging." In particular, it shows how active aging presents a more holistic, life course-oriented approach than successful aging. We provide a critical perspective on active aging too by, first, tracing its emergence in Europe and then showing how, in practice, it has been dominated by a narrow economic or productivist perspective that prioritizes the extension of working life. It has also been gender blind. Nonetheless, it is argued that an active aging approach has the potential to enable countries to respond successfully to the challenges of population aging because of its comprehensive focus and emphasis on societal as well as individual responsibility. Finally, we set out the basic principles that need to be followed if the full potential of active aging is to be achieved.

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Gender and Active Ageing in Europe European Journal of Ageing


Increasing longevity in Europe should be a cause for celebration. However, demographic ageing creates challenges. Over the last 10 years the leading policy response to these challenges has been “active ageing”. Despite much positive political rhetoric, it is evident that there is considerable uncertainty about what this means in practice. Also it often serves as a convenient term for a range of policies which affect men and women differently. This article argues that an active ageing strategy can provide a basis for countries to respond to the challenges presented by an ageing population. However, this strategy must reflect the need for a partnership between citizens and society and be comprehensive, noncoercive, and inclusive in its approach. In particular, it needs to acknowledge the gendered nature of ageing and previous life course events and emphasise well-being rather than just the production of resources and services. Finally, it contends that the designation of 2012 as the European year of active ageing provided the context for a renewed focus on active ageing policy in the European Union, an opportunity which should be embraced urgently.

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The Big Society: Rediscovery of 'the Social' or Rhetorical Fig-leaf for Neo-liberalism? Critical Social Policy


This paper subjects to critical scrutiny the idea of the ‘big society’ which, at present, is the UK Coalition government’s big idea and the personal mission of the Prime Minister David Cameron. First of all the concept is explained, with reference to some of the rhetoric surrounding it. Then the philosophical foundations of the ‘big society’ are unpacked, with particular reference to Red Toryism and libertarian paternalism. This is followed by an assessment of the big society and reference to the other major plank in the government’s social policy agenda, large cuts in public expenditure, that reflects the neo-liberal engine driving the strategy – the hollowing-out of the state – which has implications for the community initiatives and NGOs favoured by the big society’s promoters but which are entirely unacknowledged by them. Then a comparison is made between the present big society idea and Margaret Thatcher’s denial of the existence of society, which reveals many similarities in substance despite the rhetorical distancing. The final part of the paper examines the parallel Blue Labour analysis and suggests an alternative participatory democratic approach.

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The Big Society in China: A Failed Experiment Social Policy and Society


From 1988 the Chinese Government pursued a policy of ‘small government, big society’. The policy was determined at the highest level and, after a pilot study in Hainan Province, was implemented vigorously in a series of political reforms. It was the chief political dimension of the economic restructuring which led from state ownership of enterprises to the so-called socialist market. Like its economic counterpart, it reflected China's adoption of neo-liberal ideology. The aims were to encourage both civil society and the private market to provide social welfare and, thereby, to restrict demands on public expenditure. However, it failed to realise these goals and was recently replaced by a more state oriented approach. The article discusses the Chinese big society project and, specifically, examines why it was introduced, what it consisted of, its impact on social welfare, the criticisms it attracted and its recent changes in nature. The article concludes by considering some possible lessons for the UK Coalition Governments’ big society project and any similar initiatives attempted in other countries.

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The New Ageism The Political Quarterly


This article takes issue with the apparently entrenched political narrative about ageing and older people which is routinely expressed in both ministerial rhetoric and media headlines warning of the ‘burden’ of dependency and intergenerational strife. It argues that this narrative is rooted in the potent combination of ageism and neoliberalism and is being ramped-up by the Coalition Government's austerity fixation. The social and political risks of this omnipresent narrative are discussed as is the persistence of the case that generational conflict is inevitable, in both the UK and US, despite the complete absence of any evidence supporting it. The article finishes by urging action to alter the course of both individual and societal ageing and so avoid future spending demands as well as improving the quality of life of current and future generations of older people.

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Employers and older workers: attitudes and employment practices Ageing and Society


The research on which this article is based examined the relationship between attitudes towards older workers held by personnel managers and directors in large organisations (500 or more employees) across virtually the whole range of industrial ...

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The Ageing Workforce: Employers' Attitudes towards Older People Work, Employment and Society


This article reports the results of a national postal survey of employers' attitudes and policies towards older workers supported by the ESRC. The survey's key findings are discussed in the context of the declining labour force participation of older people over the last twenty years and the recent turnaround in official and some employer attitudes towards this group...

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Towards a political economy of old age Ageing and Society


Although widespread poverty in old age has been recognized in Britain for at least 100 years, research on age and ageing has tended to concentrate on individual adjustment to old age and in turn, on narrow functionalist explanations of depressed social status. The ...

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The social creation of poverty and dependency in old age Journal of Social Policy


This article examines in detail some recent data on the living standards of elderly people. It is argued that poverty is related to low resources and restricted access to resources and therefore the article includes summarized information about a wide range ...

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