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24 February 2015
Our relationship with age is all too often distorted by labelling and ignorance

Our relationship with age is all too often distorted by labelling and ignorance

Politicians and ex-politicians, believe it or not, are people too and like every other Scot, we are all getting older.

As a so-called ‘baby boomer’, age is a number on life’s journey. We should recognise that everyone deserves dignity, respect, value and a fulfilling life regardless of their years.

There has been real progress in Scotland over the past decade where we have personal care free at the point of need, a national health and care service in the making, and a compassionate view of age and its varying consequences. 

For just under one million Scots, though, our relationship with age and older people remains complex and is all too often distorted by labelling, ignorance and in too many instances we think that retirement from paid work is the same as retiring from life itself!  

All of this raises profound questions about how we can see life as a more productive and ongoing continuum without society imposing arbitrary cut-off points where individuals are supposed to behave differently because a particular number has been reached, which is an increasingly outdated idea in the kind of world we live in.

The priority we attach to the wellbeing and dignity of those who have dementia and other age-related diseases, and the extent to which we as a society wish to invest in building a culture of care, compassion and appropriate levels of support for health, social and personal development, are now among the most important challenges facing our society.

Personal care, a landmark policy in Scotland, has enhanced the lives of thousands of Scots and kept them close to home and loved ones. But it was also a statement of intent about what kind of Scotland we wanted to live in. 

Scotland is a rich country.

'The importance of people and their worth to society should not diminish with age nor should we use labels and numbers to 
divide society'

The consequences of getting older will increasingly impact on our politics where creating wealth is vital but so too is the idea of how that wealth is distributed. The importance of people and their worth to society should not diminish with age nor should we use labels and numbers to divide society and exclude people from opportunities open to all.
The statistics are compelling.

Between 2012 and 2037, Scotland’s population will rise to 5.78 million and we will see the number of under-65s in the same period rise by 3 per cent cent against a 54 per cent rise for the over-65s.

The total population of over-65s will rise from 0.93 million to 1.47 million, that is, 1 in 3 of all electors and 1 in 4 of the population. This is the demographics but what about the politics?

On a recent trip to the US, I came across a remarkable advert in one of the airline magazines which seemed to capture the worst excesses of the market approach to older people.

In most other countries, this type of advert would be a spoof, but this is America where market excesses in healthcare are legendary and where you quickly realise that morals always lose out to money and the market! 

The advert was about a company called ‘Home Care Assistance’, which urged readers to “stop making other people wealthy. Do something for yourself with a Home Care Assistance Franchise.” This is the first step, you are now being asked to view older people like a big Mac, fries and a fizzy drink.

The next step is for you to absorb the claim that “70 per cent of successful franchise owners, open for at least 24 months were now in the Million Dollar Club”.

Reassured by the next comment, “Home care is a solid growth market with HUGE DEMAND”, you are then advised, if you were ever crazy enough to think this was needed, that if you have “No health care experience? No problem”.

Clearly excited about making millions from your franchise, you are cordially invited to “Contact our friendly franchise support team today” and as the final clincher you are told, “$1,648,000 is the average annual revenue of locations open at least 12 months”.

Of course, this is Scotland and this kind of thing could never happen. Or so we like to think, but let us never forget that we are fast moving from a market economy to a market society where some of our most cherished ideals are under threat.

There is no moral basis for an unfettered market in the hopes and aspirations of older people.

Dignity and decency are worth defending.

Let us never replace uncomfortable ethical choices with the market imperative and find ourselves reading spurious advertising claims that acknowledge a fact of life we all have to face, and our concerns about how we’ll manage to pay for care costs, then offer business opportunities to be made from that with the dreadful prospect of wellbeing and quality of life in older age being in the hands of people with ‘no health care experience’.

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