Old people seem to be permanently in the news in the U.K. these days. There are scandals about some care homes run so badly that there criminal cases are in the offing. Some hospital trusts have been condemned for the premature deaths of older people who have not been properly looked after. At a time of severe financial restrictions politicians are beginning to take seriously the imbalance between the rights of pensioners for particular privileges and the economic hardship of young people: those at college having to pay enormous sums for their education, and unemployment schemes that suggest the young are somehow in the wrong for being without work.
Longevity is creating a new balance in society’s priorities, as the country faces this the major social phenomenon of the twenty first century. And there increasing pressure on our health and welfare systems as people live longer with increasing need for medical and practical help. It seems fair enough that people who have paid their taxes all their lives and contributed to the wellbeing of the country should be supported in their old age, even though ‘old’ is becoming older.
Against that there is a sense of unfairness that people still in work should be taxed to pay for such care (though one day they too will be old). My work pension, for example remains at a reasonable if modest level, but only because others in my profession who are still working, have to make a higher contribution to the pension fund, which seems unfair.
One of the present U.K. government’s most major injustices (and there are many of them) is to suggest that the poor are poor through their own fault, and that people with physical disabilities are a drain on the country’s resources. There has been a recent analysis of our crumbling national health service which suggests that the mentally disabled are discriminated against, much of their support being handed to commercial interests whose prime interest is profit.
Here again, why should the elderly be given special treatment, whilst such as these with little statutory support are denied the help they need?
Perhaps there is a commission facing this unique issue of longevity and mutual justice across the spectrum of society, but I don’t know of it. There certainly should be.
Meanwhile we remain in the headlines of unresolved controversy.