The Guardian journalist Jackie Ashley has been suffering from a broken bone in her foot, and for months she has been hobbling around on crutches or sat on a wheel chair at the mercy of others. ‘A chastening experience’, she says in her usual Monday column. It has been, she says, a small hint of what it must be like to be old or disabled. Small but repeated inconveniences compared to what some people have to put up with, but it has been a revelation of what it must be like to be dependent on others. She discovered that in a wheel chair for some people you don’t exist, whilst for others ‘you need to be talked to –very – slowly – because – let’s face it, if you can’t use your legs you’re probably a bit simple’. She has seen humankind at its best and worst.
Ashley moves on from her personal situation to make some sharp comments on the provision of care and support for older people, quoting the recent statistic that there are now more pensioners in Britain than young people under the age of sixteen.
11.6 M of us. It can’t go on like this, she says. If medicine has produced fit, alert 70 year olds, ‘the notion that they shouldn’t work, even if they want to, is barmy’. The present level of state support can’t continue for the next generation of older people. The clear social contract about a guaranteed retirement age pensioners benefit from today, will be a thing of the past for people now beginning their working years. Politicians don’t like these topics. It doesn’t get them votes. ‘If I’m going to be expected to work in my late 60’s I would like to know now. If I need to cut back my spending to save for the years after that, politicians need to start insisting. That’s leadership’.
Arising out of her temporary experience of .being an oldie’, Ashley is direct in her politicising of these issues, ‘politicians are betraying the millions who need more consideration now, and the rest of us who will one day be in their position’.
She says ‘the trouble about discussing ageing is that it is depressing. ‘But’ she says, ‘there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had in one’s 80’s and 90’s. There’s a whole world of gallows humour, sardonic reflection and wisdom’. Indeed!
This is all so important. We are back in Julia Neuberger territory again.