At our best, when at our oldest

December 17, 2012 5:17 pm

Last Friday, the Archbishop of Canterbury called our attention to the place and contribution of older people in society by sponsoring a House of Lords debate that lasted five hours. It was a wise invitation in that this is central to the changes we need to make in our understanding of, and action in, the world.

The debate drew my attention to the fact that the Lords is unique in our politics in providing a place where older people, women and men with distinction and experience can have their voices heard – where they have a place and can make a contribution.  It is vital that this respect for skills, experience and accomplishment is retained in our conception of the Lords. (If we do ever have an elected second chamber, perhaps an age threshold should be set based upon vocation rather than location? That could be good way of keeping the Lords’ distinctiveness within a framework of democratic reform.)

The hard reality we need to look at, entering into a world with less money, is that in Britain we have not treated older people very well for a long time; within a marketing environment that promotes youngness and newness as overriding virtues. This took a step change under Margaret Thatcher when an entire culture of work and skill, carried in the shipyards and mines, was abandoned to its fate. And priorities didn’t change very much under successive Labour governments, which concentrated more on the skills of the young developed by modern methods.

If we view our skills shortage as a ‘resource’ problem then we take action to allocate and train in order to redirect the missing factors. We encourage immigration and engage in retraining programmes for example, to fill the gap. Far from being a burden or a problem, older people are a constitutive part of our inheritance and an undiscovered treasure through which the future can be shaped in a way that brings us together.

The Common good is a politics that seeks to conciliate estranged, divided and, indeed, hostile interests. There is a significant body of literature that sees older people as having at best, too large a share of existing assets and at worst, as a drain on resources. We are living longer, with a larger older population in Britain and an inadequate system of care. All the warning lights are flashing, but if approached in the right way this could be the making of us.

We have a problem with skills, vocation and the ethics of work, which older people are a crucial part of transforming. If we are to redeem the abandonment of the old then the renewal of vocational institutions, and the role of older people in the education and training of the young is vital. The idea of lifelong learning has become a cliché but if accompanied by the idea of lifelong teaching it comes back to life, because life itself is a great teacher. With experience of work, and a culture of skill, tenacity, solidarity and courage, older people have the values we need.

By not being bamboozled by university degree entry and academic aspiration when it is beside the point we can integrate the generations in the renewal of value. We need the retired ward sisters in the training colleges teaching young nurses the centrality of care and the importance of honesty. We need the discarded shipbuilders back in the colleges training for new maritime technology. Older people are our greatest teachers but we exclude them from passing it on, from shaping the future. If we change that we will have made a great contribution to national renewal.

There is a lot else to do to broker an inter-generational society. Above all however, we must have a commitment to status and honour for older people to show us how to survive and flourish in the modern world.

Lord Maurice Glasman is an academic, social thinker and backbench Labour Peer in the House of Lords. This piece first appeared at the Labour Lords blog.

  • Dave Postles

    Now more than ever, we need to focus on the young. Many of ‘us old uns’ have had a pretty good innings. By all means, make provision for those who are old and in need, but forget about those of us able to fend for ourselves. The young need our help more than any other cohort and they are not responsible for any of this mess.

  • Martinay

    There is a parallel between the increasing recognition of older people as a benefit and the decreasing attachment to neo-liberalism in society. It’s a parallel that I am surprised Maurice does not make.

    It corresponds to the simultaneous rise of neo-liberalism that was apparent by the late 70s and the rise of what was called ‘youth culture’.

    Youth culture was short-termist (a quick fix of one kind or another) just as neo-liberal economics and politics is short-termist. Despite its brevity, we all had to aspire to act young.

    “Age culture” is longer-term by definition (you have to wait quite a few decades to get there) and by nature (quick fixes are out, considered responses are in)

    Rather like responsible capitalism.

Latest

  • Featured Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite donate £1.5 million to Labour’s election campaign – and may donate more

    Unite, Labour’s biggest affiliate, have announced that they’re donating £1.5 million to the party’s campaign – and will consider donating further. The news was was made public in a statement from the union’s Executive Council. The union expressed concern that the Tories could be elected on a ‘tide of big business cash, while Labour remains under resourced.’ In July, we reported that the Tories campaign fund was three times bigger than Labour’s and over the summer it emerged the Conservatives had raised millions from private […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Practical ways to get more young people registered to vote

    Practical ways to get more young people registered to vote

    Recently, there has been a lot of comment about the drop in the number of people registered to vote. But instead of just talking about it, I suspect most colleagues are looking for are practical suggestions as to how this can be remedied. In my Borough of Sandwell, the Electoral Participation Officer has carried out research looking at whether 17-to-18 year olds who attend secondary schools in the area are registered to vote.  Of the 16 schools in the borough, […]

    Read more →
  • Comment No, of course Labour haven’t approached Sinn Féin about a coalition

    No, of course Labour haven’t approached Sinn Féin about a coalition

    It was hyped up with a story in The Sun(£). By yesterday afternoon, the Tories had turned it into an online attack poster. Funny that. The claim? That Labour are hoping to rely on Sinn Féin MPs to prop up a Miliband Government in a hung Parliament. The glitch? Sinn Féin refuse to sit in the British Parliament. We all know this already. But it didn’t stop the Tories photoshopping Ed Miliband rubbing shoulders with Gerry Adams outside Number 10. Ivan Lewis, […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News You’ll never believe what’s said in the latest Lib Dem political broadcast

    You’ll never believe what’s said in the latest Lib Dem political broadcast

    UPDATE: One of the first comments on the video is a man claiming to appear in it – who says he did not know it was for the Lib Dems. We’ve not yet confirmed if this is true. —————————– The Lib Dems have a new political broadcast – and it’s not bad. Nick Clegg knocks on a few doors, and voters say a few nice things about him and the Lib Dems over some uplifting music. Standard fare really. And not […]

    Read more →
  • News Tory backbenchers attempted to sabotage documentary on Westminster

    Tory backbenchers attempted to sabotage documentary on Westminster

    It’s emerged that a group of unnamed Tory backbench MPs tried to covertly put a stop to a documentary about goings on in Westminster. Michael Cockerell the documentary-maker, who’s well known for making ‘Hotline to the President’ that analyses Britain’s relationship with the US, said he was tipped off by House of Commons Doorkeepers. He explained that “the doorkeepers are eyes and ears of the place and the internal security system.” It was through them that he found out about the […]

    Read more →