Friday 15 March 2013

I'm old. Get over it.

When in a flippant mood I like to taunt the younger members of my staff with my freedom pass and my senior mega reductions on rail travel card! It strikes me that whilst there are some distinct disadvantages in getting older; there are also some advantages and one must must make the most of them .

Ageing is a strange and foreign country described mostly in negative terms in the media. As a splendid article by Yvonne Roberts in the Guardian yesterday described it, a mystery:

"for those whom, much to their surprise, find themselves lost in its hinterland, often unsuitably dressed and without a compass. A youth-obsessed society that makes a mint from mining the alleged horrors of growing older – all sag and no sagacity – has locked us into a set of taboos that means millions of us are moving from middle age into possibly decades of allegedly unproductive, dependent, parked-up old age without sufficient armament or attitude of mind to challenge prevailing prejudices."

So the report from the House of Lords group led by old friend and fellow Anglo catholic Lord Filkin points out that In the 1900s, very few lived to enjoy even a couple of years of retirement. Now England will see a 50% rise in the number of those aged 65 and older between 2010 and 2030. " Ready for Ageing" is a ground-breaking report by the House of Lords select committee on public service and demographic change. It is important , and not just because I own my freedom pass. It is the first coherent attempt to provide a passport for older life that treats those over 60 as active citizens, not liabilities. And we have the splendid example of the election of the new Pope at 76. What will I be taking on at that age I wonder ? I rather fancy Secretary of State for Health; entirely appropriate as the health service customers are largely in my age bracket!

The report reminds us that young and old are inextricably linked. It calls for leadership and vision and new initiatives. The business of ageing is not just about the practical and the medical and care costs associated , it is also about culture and the value we place on that which is beyond the reach of the market. Older people have assets and talents; they are often amplified by age.

So can we move this debate beyond demands that us oldies give up our benefits to how we capitalise on the growing army of talent in the older population.

As Yvonne Roberts suggests , "What remains to be seen is how we collectively respond to the question the poet Andrew Motion asks: “Is it only when you become like me that you will hear what I have to tell you?”

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