Surprise! We are an ageing population, just in case you hadn’t realised. It’s all over the news how the health service cannot cope with the mounting population of elderly. How the elderly need to be cared for at home and so on. Britain cannot afford this drain on society I am so frequently hearing. I am sad to say that all this talk of us being a burden on society smacks of ageism.
I trained as a nurse in the late sixties then as a Health Visitor in the eighties. At the time I learned that somewhere in the future society would be struggling with too few young and too many older people. I am talking of more than forty years ago when sociologists predicted that this would happen. However, well before then economists were forecasting the high costs of the care of the elderly in the future. In the late 80’s it was argued that in a few years, the baby boomers would retire and before you know it Britain, and for that matter most of the Western world, would see the proportion of its population in a retirement balloon. They were right of course but governments then and since have ignored the warning. The consequences turned out to be depressingly predictable the budget deficit climbing higher and higher as pensioners collect their retirement and medical benefits, all to be paid by a shrinking core of taxpayers. After all of forewarning governments are still saying ‘we are thinking of how to deal with an aging population’. We the public are again informed of growing awareness in the importance of population. Mainstream demographers, economists, biologists, sociologists, and those from development and area studies along with public health, are all entering the field of ageing research, as if it’s something new.
Bit late now! Why has it not happened already since it was first noted all those years ago? Why are governments still thinking about it? Not one government has wanted to tackle the subject thus far because the so called aging population are voters. It’s like threatening to freeze pensions; the aging voter will withdraw their support of any party if that were to happen.
It is of course about the money but is it also because we fail to ask an important question, why have we slowly turned into an uncaring society? Why are old people neglected in hospital, by families and society in general? This is more about that than it is the aging population. All this talk is turning the young against the old, making them resentful and afraid of the future, in fact denying the ageing process because we have become a society seeking immortality and materialism. On the one hand the elderly are being medically propped up with the onset of new and wonderful drugs, whilst on the other, the health service is finding it hard to cope with longevity. It’s a contradiction isn’t it?
Research reveals that more than 10 million people are now aged over 65 within the UK, and an estimated 19 million people will be over 65 by the year by 2050. It is also reported the government is acting quickly in order to tackle a number of key issues, we have to believe that I suppose. They are now saying there will be improvements to the health service with emphasis on prevention. As a health visitor in the late eighties medicine was about prevention rather than cure, it was the new idea of the day but not a lot of good came of that ideal in regards the elderly. Elderly were the poor relation when it came to prevention and yet now all these years later they are still, (so called) dealing with the end of life care process. They have even reviewed the idea of housing reform to support accessibility for the elderly. There is some talk about developing working skills in support of those who care for the old and so on, Yada! Yada! Yada! Private companies however have taken a handle on assisted living ideals but it seems it’s only accessible to those who can afford it.
Recently my little granddaughter said that she wanted me to live to one hundred so that I could get a letter from the Queen, although I love my grandchildren very much I don’t think I want to live to a hundred unless of course I can be independent, a desire for anyone of us isn’t it? To be independent, managing in one’s own affairs, doing one’s own shopping and tottering down the road to walk the dog, which is possibly older than our-self. Well that is how I see myself and in an ideal world that is how it should be, but becoming less and less likely. How many of us came hopefully to retirement after working and bringing up families? Surely we should be able to expect, after paying a lifetime of taxes and national insurance, that we will be cared for in old age, that we will be respected and treated with kindness if ill or helpless. For those of us who have paid our way, why are we expected to pay more through low interest on our savings, tax on pensions, payment up front ideas for care, and worst still, expected to sell our homes which we have worked hard to own and maintain. Yet there are others who have the same privileges without having to pay. It has made me wonder what working hard, saving for my old age has really been about.
It seems that we cannot expect to have our savings, own our own homes, or be looked after by the welfare state even though we have paid into it. If one becomes incapacitated one has to rely up the kindness of others, the sensitivity of hospital nursing staff or care home attendance. In the past family have taken care of their own elderly, however nowadays it isn’t expected. Families have migrated to find a decent standard of living, housing and schools elsewhere, thus splitting the extended family apart. I predict that in time all of this will lead to voluntary euthanasia. If this resentment of the elderly continues along with poor elderly care, then for me it would be the best option.