General Election mania in the U.K. is affecting a serious attempt by the government to engage people in a debate about a new social care system for elderly people. The Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, has attempted to bring together people of all political parties and national charities caring for older people, to move towards that ambitious end.
But whilst the Liberal Party were supportive, the Tory party has withdrawn from the exercise, misrepresenting one of three proposed options to pay for a new “national care service” which would have involved a direct contribution from older people – as if this was a fixed government policy, instead of a matter for open discussion. Alarmist posters were published to propagate this misrepresentation.
This is all so important; much, much more important than political posturing. Younger people must be bored – or anxious – but every day there is some reference in the news to the needs of older people – their health, their accommodation and their wellbeing.
It is estimated that by 2026 one in five people in Britain will be 65 or over, and by that time total spending on care services could top £25bn. Politicians are not good at long-term planning, but without a national consensus, older people are going to be the scapegoats of society, instead of members of an honoured community, in which all of us inevitably at some time will become part of.
A more optimistic note is stuck in an article in last Sunday’s New York Times. The writer, Kathlyn Hotynski, accepts the downside of getting older – wrinkles, memory loss, mortality, but goes on to say ‘fears of the inevitable can obscure the upside of getting older : being at the top of your game. As baby boomers age, many of them are realising that life after retirement is not merely a long slow decline. There is still wisdom to be gained, work to be done, and adventure to be had.
She cites some of the mostly famous remarkable older people who continue to flourish. But we all know many others who don’t get written about but enrich our common life. I was talking to one of my allotment friends this afternoon. He was saying that he has never known the ground to be so dry in March. He is 85, and was getting rid of weeds ‘before they take over’. ‘Salt of the earth’ us older ones?
There are many uncomfortable things about getting old – and being turned into a political football is one of them. But many good ones too. Let’s enjoy and celebrate them!