By Leon A Smith
March 15, 2013
Since the Queen’s recent imposition due to illness, the subject of gastroenteritis has obviously been in the forefront of the minds of us all. After a brief recovery, there would appear to have been some kind of relapse and there is now speculation as to whether the Queen will be able to continue at her significant age to perform her public duties on a full time basis. There is now talk of there possibly being the establishment of a Regent to take on the day to day public responsibilities with the Monarch herself remaining as the figurehead.
As always , there is scope here for a football analogy – Sir Alex Ferguson on retirement presumably will be elevated to a Directorship and will continue to be very much the face of Manchester United whilst the younger Mourinho becomes the day to day manager (the odds are currently 3/1!).
Elevating seniors in this way is perhaps a dignified way of dealing with the reality which is that human beings cannot carry on forever working at the same pace or in the same way. This subject then opens the wider thought process about whether the abolition of the mandatory retirement age was a good or a bad thing. Clearly it is important to recognise that many older people continue to have enormous value to employers and to society generally after they reach some artificial age. Yet by the same token youth unemployment is at an all time high – and it goes without saying that jobs are being hung onto at the top of the age range. This limits the scope of younger people to come in at the bottom. This is of course a very simplistic way of looking at workforce planning.
A report out this week has reached the astonishing conclusion that society as a whole is unprepared to deal with the ever increasing number of older people. The National Health Service, Pensions etc. There are apparently more than 1.5M people currently aged over 85 in the UK and this number is projected by 2030 to have doubled. This in turn will have dramatically changed the demographic make up of our country.
A House of Lords Committee has highlighted the affect that this is going to have on society. Put simply, the make up of our population will be such that there will be an ever increasing proportion at the top end rather than at the bottom end, particularly if birth rates are static or declining. Many of us have an image of older people as being frail, sick, grumpy, and demanding – but in reality we need to be changing our image and stereotyping of older people. How can one possibly lump a huge segment of society together and classify them all as “older people” – as if they all have something in common any more than we can talk about young people – as in “….the problem with young people today…..”. We live in a society – certainly in this country – where there is a necessity to constantly label people – poor people, rich people, working class, middle class, young, old, indigenous, immigrant, obese, etc etc. It would be wishful thinking to believe that this obsession with labelling will one day disappear. However we do need to be more accepting of the fact that in this sense there is no such thing as “older people”. We should also bear in mind the fact that hopefully one day we are all going to be “old”.