"Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point however is to change" - Karl Marx

This blog is my interpretation, I will do everything I can to change the world along those line

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Age and Ageism

It is clear that in Europe there is an ageing population with a significant amount of people of retirement age, in Britain this stands at around 20%. This growth in the elderly can clearly be attributed to advances which the working class have taken over the last century, through the introduction of the NHS and other gains won through the welfare state. Which has helped rise life expectancy to an average of 79.

The picture in Wales is slightly different though, the life expectancy is lower particularly in towns such as Merthyr. Now it would be ridiculous to just assume some kind of random geographical anomaly, but a real class distinction in life expectancy, you only have to look at the deprivation in Merthyr to see that. Despite this the elderly population in Wales make up approximately 1/6 of the overall population, yet still face severe discrimination, but why?

It is clear that elderly people are worse of than those of working age and worse than the elderly of 10 years ago. This is the case despite the government allocating more funds than previously to the provision of services for the elderly. This is clearly not just bad accounting but an ideological offensive, it is widely known that the New Labour policy of tendering out public services to private tender is not only more expensive but offers less. Hence more money is spent but less help is available for the elderly.

Throughout history we can see this disdain for the elderly, in most class societies this is something that we can see quite clearly. In Roman society the elderly were tossed over a bridge into a river when they had outlived their usefulness and in Britain we need only to look back at the experiences of the workhouse to see how the elderly were treated here. This is a clear feature of a class society were everyone is determined by the economic worth. Whilst an elderly working class person is deemed as worthless because they are unable to work effectively, the elderly of the ruling class are held in high regard as nothing has changed for them; you can live of the profits of others however able you are.

With this as the background we have a situation where 65% of pensioners survive solely on the pitiful state pension The savings they have been able to scrape by on throughout their lives are swallowed up to cover the gaps in their income and as we see the continuation of the privatisation and closures of state funded facilities for the elderly such as care homes, this again helps to swallow up any money they were able to put aside. The elderly along with single mothers constitute the poorest sections of British society, yet both these groups are among the most in need of help.

The discrimination against the elderly is not simply felt economically but it is also cultural. Elderly people make up the main body of TV viewers but are hugely under represented. The elderly are marginalised in most spheres of leisure activity and there is a huge emphasis in modern society on the appearance of the body and how it should look, with particular emphasis on looking young, something of course which the elderly have significant difficulty in doing. In fact the only sphere in which the elderly have not be marginalised is within organised religion, but that itself has become extremely marginalised.

In modern British society we can see the almost complete disenfranchisement of the elderly who are virtually tossed on the scrapheap when they have outlived their usefulness but even workers approaching retirement age who find themselves unemployed are likely not to find employment again. Those who are in employment are in most cases forced to leave upon reaching the retirement age. This is the background in which we find the rise of 'grey power' or pensioner power. But how significant is this power? Over 55's make up 30% of the electorate so it would seem to be a significant power particularly as this demographic is more likely to vote than any other. This poses the question most starkly in a marginal constituency, where a campaign amongst pensioners could shift the balance of power.

The media particularly around election time always go out of their way to show that grey power is extremely strong but in reality it is not that strong, While they may be able to change the winner in a marginal constituency they slit have the same choice of the major parties that everyone else has, they still face 5 years of lies from politicians after the election as everyone else does. Even more of a factor though is that 5 years on many of them may either have died or face heath problems which seriously restrict their abilities to carry on actively more so than any other demographic.

For this reason the government is very unlikely to take the concerns of pensioners seriously, and why not, in the logic of capitalism they are no longer useful and are a drain of resources. We can see the governments attitude to the elderly displayed quite obviously. £4.6 million in benefits lay unclaimed by pensioners every year, some of this will be accounted by pride getting in the way of pensioners claiming these benefits but it is also attributed to ignorance about what are entitled to, for 2 reasons, there is simply not enough helped offered to explain this and because most government information about benefit entitlement is now on-line, the elderly are the least likely to have access to the internet. It is clear that there are some in the ruling who want to make it even harder for the elderly with recent proposals revealed in the Telegraph that children should be forced to care for the elderly so the state does not have to.


  1. I think thats a good article on a neglected issue. Another thing is that all the main parties want to everybody work beyond 65, so in addition to all the insults the elderly face that you have outlined, they will (and so we will) be worked into the grave.

    I think the differences in life expectancy are important as well. Dave Nellists article in this weeks Socialist pointed out the dramatic difference between his ward and the neighbouring one, I think there's an even bigger difference (about 20 years) between a man living in parts of Glasgow and a man living in East Dorset. Capitalism kills by various means, grotesque inequality is one of them.

  2. Indeed Jim,I think Dave Nellist pointed out that in St Michaes the life expectancy is something like 65 or 66 so they wil literally work unti they drop. Cleary there is a huge class divide even in health.

    There is also some evidence which suggests that the elderly are being bumped down the queue on NHS waiting lists, I can only assume this is because it is more acceptabe for an old person to die so does not look as bad on the stats. But also because the ederly are 'economically worthless' so what is the point of repairing their bodies

  3. Can most definitely vouch for Mr Nellists piece on St Michaels Ward, which has many elements of the third world within it-slum housing; mass unemployment and diseases such as TB, all due to the enormous poverty faced by a largely non white working class. Your essay makes some very good points, especially concerning the poverty of pensioners. We are likely to see a collapse of all private pension schemes over the next five yrs or so, at least those based on employee/employer contributions, making the whole thing ten times worse. The resistance mounted by the pensioners movement is vital to fighting not just for a better pension, but for the defence of elderly care, housing, meals on wheels. Thankfully, some of the best trades unionists retire into being pension activists.


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