I’ve just read the nastiest piece of ageist copy I’ve seen in a long time. You may have seen it already. It was by Jeremy Paxman in the Financial Times. In ‘Cull the Grey Vote’, he argues that older people should not be allowed to vote in the EU Referendum because they ‘scarcely know what day of the week it is, yet their ballot papers are worth the same as a Cambridge professor’s. And politicians know that older people are much more likely to vote — as one put it to me privately, “there’s not much else going on in lots of their lives.” He adds that the young are concerned about many things whereas ‘old people simply moulder away in their bungalows’, watching them increase in value.
Clearly, Mr Paxman needs to get out more. He should meet people like David Attenborough, now 90 and still producing excellent work, and the nonagenarians who took part in ITV’s celebration of the Queen’s 90th birthday. They included Judith Kerr, 90, the illustrator and writer of children’s books such as The Tiger Who Came To Tea. (Two of her books were released last year.) And Jean Miller, 93, a Vidal Sassoon hairdresser who drives an hour to work and an hour back each day. Also fashion designer Joan Burstein, 90 still working at her Bond Street store. There are many, many more, of course. In my book (Dementia: Pathways to Hope) I mention David Chapman, 93, who inspired the formation of a Friends’ Group from local churches to support the Christian ethos of the care home in Wales where he was a resident. He ran the whole thing, from getting advice, to emailing the churches, to arranging a ‘Friends’ launch event to putting a press story in the local newspaper.
He’s not the only one who thinks older people should be deprived of their right to vote. GQ magazine said outright, ‘WE SHOULD BAN OLD PEOPLE FROM VOTING’. But it admitted because this was because the younger generation hadn’t ‘pulled their finger out’ and bothered to register to vote, so the older people should be prevented from doing so. They were more likely to vote to leave the EU, than the younger. Also, it adds, those of retirement age have little or no stake in country’s next era. They will all die before it comes in, it infers. GQ clearly hasn’t read the stats about elongating life spans.
Matt’s cartoon in the Telegraph recently summed it up with a drawing of younger people tipping older people in wheelchairs over a cliff edge.
If these articles, and others like them, had been published about an ethnic group the authors would be hauled up for racism. Even on a superficial level, they show a huge ignorance about older people. Older people have qualities that are an immense benefit to all ages, according to Laura Carstensen Professor of Psychology and Professor in Public Policy at Stanford University. She [i] says ‘Older people are more positive in their outlook and less inclined to negativity, have increased knowledge and expertise, are more given to reconciliation than confrontation, and have better balanced emotional lives,’ she said. Criminality decreases with age, as does stress, worry and anger. Older people do not take unnecessary risks. (The financial crash of 1998 was largely brought about by young bank traders. Nick Leeson was 26 when he brought down the 800 year old Barings Bank.)
How people like Paxman and others can ignore the reality of older people amazes me. Not just their qualities, but the contributions they’ve made to this country – and are still making. Older charity volunteers are said to be worth £17 billion to the economy per year, and there are concerns about what will happen when people stay at work longer to match their extending life times.
Equally amazing is a total lack of awareness that one day these age disparagers will be old themselves. Unless someone pushes them over the edge of a cliff beforehand, of course!
But more than anything it shows how far our society has drifted from God. He has a high view of old age. ‘Grey hair’ (donating wisdom) is a crown of glory,’ says the Holy Spirit in Proverbs 16:31’. ‘Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD,’ instructs Leviticus 19:32. We’ve become a country that neither cares for the vulnerable nor respects the elderly.
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If this were racism, not ageism, these newspapers would be sued.