Friday, December 08, 2006

Age and dependency

Right, here's an appeal to everyone out there: a friend needs some help with her studies and has noised me up on the following question.
I have come against a bit of a problem, and [...] thought it might be interesting to hear what you think on the subject. It is generally to do with ageing and ageism and cultural attitudes.

A recent (2005) government audit of the 'National Service Framework for Older People' , points to 'a deep rooted cultural attitude to ageing, where older people are often presented as incapable and dependent'. Despite a mandate set out in the Framework that treatment and services will be provided regardless of age and on the basis of clinical need alone, local NHS services were 'hampering' its implementation, and not considering older people when designing their services.

I've been looking at this 'deep rooted cultural attitude', trying to decide if it exists and if it does what can be done to change it.

However, all of the texts that I have found that address the issue are very left wing. Ageism and any form of prejudice/oppression are seen as the fault of capitalism, and to change cultural opinion we need to challenge capitalist ideas and herald in a new era of democratic socialism/communism/other nice but un-workable political ideal. It's doing my head in I'm sure there must be an alternative view, I just can't find it.

Do you right of the centre people have an opinion, and or written any interesting books on the subject?

So, has anyone out there got any thoughts—or, of course, literature on the matter?

I jotted down a few really swift thoughts that ran thusly.

Socialism/communism, etc. encourages dependency since, by its nature, it removes responsibility for the well-being of communities from the people and transfers the responsibility to the state. (This is the kind of attitude that Mrs Thatcher was criticising when she said that there "was no such thing as society".)

Thus, it is not ageism that leads to 'a deep rooted cultural attitude to ageing, where older people are often presented as incapable and dependent' but the state that entails that attitude.

Look at it from a libertarian perspective. Currently, the state forces retirement at age 65 (or 60 for women), thus ensuring that older people must become dependent for their income on something other than there own freely exchanged labour. Often, these people are left entirely depedent on the state pension and, hence, the consequence that older people are perceived as 'incapable and dependent'.

Unfettered capitalism, or the free market works differently. Generally, would you rather have a still sprightly 66 year old -- who knows his job (and your company) inside out -- or spend money recruiting and training some new lad of 19? Most companies would go for the experience and knowledge any day.

Then a social libertarian would argue that people should be able to work for as long as they like and that they themselves should provide (in the main) for their own retirement. Thus, although they would need to provide their own pension (as many of us already do) they would be able to continue working for as long as they liked -- and thus increase their pension payout -- and their pension would be dependent on their own hard work (and not, as the state pension essentially renders them, dependent on the hard work of others).

In this way, it can be perceived that it is, in fact, the state's interference (as regards retirement age and in the provision of a state pension as the main source of income upon retirement) that creates this cultural attitude to ageing. Thus it is 'socialism/communism/other nice but un-workable political ideal' (which we libs generally refer to as statism) that creates the dependency and the culture.

So, over to you people. Any ideas? Please feel free to leave them in the comments...


Tom Paine said...

I don't think the attitude is "deep rooted" or "cultural" at all. In traditional societies people have lots of children as the most basic form of social security. Their behaviour relies on the assumption that the children will love, respect and therefore maintain them if, in their old age, they become incapable of looking after themselves.

Does this suggest an inclination to prejudice or oppression? If those people thought they were going to be oppressed, surely they would save the money spent bringing up children in order to make selfish provision for their old age?

"Ageism" is, like all such other "isms" a construct designed to justify well-paid government non-jobs for people who might otherwise have to do hard, dirty work.

Serf said...

Tom has made an important point.

The Left has always wanted the state to replace the family, whilst the Right has supported the family. It is the former that has led to ageism, as old people (not your own parents / grandparents) become seen as burden for society, a problem.

Our traditional culture has always respected age, it is the more modern age that has seen getting old as such a disaster. In a society that respects the elderly, there is far more chance of old people finding a useful role, than there is in one where that respect has gone.

S. Weasel said...

Oho! As a septic who spends a lot of time in the UK, I have to say this is INCREDIBLY striking. Americans like their politicians and newsreaders to be doddering, silver-haired old farts, so it's distinctly noticeable that nobody in public life in Britain seems to be over, like, 35. The company I work for stations its International Director of Marketing in Windsor. He's 30.


I wouldn't trust a thirty year old to make me a decent cup of coffee, let alone be my International Director of Anything Whatsoever.

I don't know where you guys stuff your old people, but let a few of them escape. It would make an improvement.

The Questioner said...

Thanks for your comments so far, but I have a couple of buts...

**Family support vs state support**

I think you have a point here, but interestingly I was reading a research paper that suggested that the prime ageist agents in healthcare were the family.

"On the face of it, ageist practice would appear to be connected to staff's behaviour with older people. It was of interest, therefore that the groups implicated relatives as being instrumental in engendering the potential for discrimination to take place. Strong feelings were expressed about the conduct of relatives and the conflicts inherent in managing care decisions that were non-ageist and in the best interest of the older person.'

Families would prefer there older relatives to be in badly run, inhumane care homes, so they can work and live there independent lives (good capitalist values?) rather than provide support.

**Respect for the old in society**

Is the idea that old people were once respected in society just nostalgia?

Anyway, the comment that 'there is far more chance of old people finding a useful role, than there is in one where that respect has gone' is right, but my problem is that I think society has lost this respect. How can we get it back? My text books suggest socialist revolution but we both know its not going to work, what's the alternative?

** -isms as a way of justifying jobs**

Maybe, but surely we must up hold values of Human Rights, and that prejudice is generally a bad thing and should be discouraged.

RightForScotland said...

I don’t think any of us want our parents in badly run inhumane care homes. If a care home is the best place (location, special needs etc) then we expect them to be well run and decent.

In today’s UK there is an unfortunate need to work. A similar thing can be seen with child care. We pay so much in tax that families cannot live on a single income. When I was growing up my dad was the sole earner and while we did not live like kings I never wanted for anything. Today the financial pressures on us mean that a majority of us will not be able to look after elderly relatives and that reflects badly on us as a society. We cannot afford to be full-time carers because Gordon wants his pound of flesh.

I fall into the social libertarian category that DK outlined. In years gone past people expected that their NI contributions (their “stamps”) would provide for them in later life. Of course we know now that this is a load of cobblers and another example of socialists screwing over the working man. Today if you want a decent pension then you need to save for it out of your wages which is only fair.

By the same token that anyone who wants to work can, if you want to retire then you can. Tony Blair once said that OAPs had to “put something back into the community”. Such a statement can only come from one so obsessed with the present.

Those who have retired spent a lifetime working and contributing to the wellbeing of the state. In their infirm years they should expect to be left alone, their work having been done. I found the PMs remarks to be arrogant and short sighted.

We need to restore the special tax status of the pension funds to help solve a crisis that is largely of the Chancellor’s own making. We need to remove VAT from fuel to allow pensioners to heat their homes better, we need a simpler tax system (surprise surprise) to allow old folks to live of whatever meagre income they have.

As for –isms keeping people in a job I tend to agree. All of these isms are defined and campaigned against by special interest groups and shakedown artists. With a director on 6 figures a year it is not in the CREs interest to declare Britain racism free. When was the last time one of these quangos declared that Britain was now free of whatever it was it was campaigning against and disbanded?

Summary: People should be free to behave in any legal manner as long as the State does not have to support them.