At our best, when at our oldest

17th December, 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.

To report anything from the comment section, please e-mail [email protected]
  • 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 News LIVEBLOG: Corbyn faces criticisms from frontbench and advisors

    LIVEBLOG: Corbyn faces criticisms from frontbench and advisors

    Corbyn is rapidly putting together a new front bench as resignations continue to pile in. While the Labour Party is in limbo, we will bring you all the Labour frontbench news as it comes through. 13.24 Lisa Nandy also wrote a column this morning. She disagrees with Abbot and urges those in the party to change their direction. “This is the choice before the Labour party: to turn outwards and lead, or inwards to certain destruction. If we choose the latter […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Round-up: All the resignations, sackings and appointments

    Round-up: All the resignations, sackings and appointments

    You can keep up to date with all the latest comings and goings on our liveblog here. Below is a quick round-up of everyone who has left their position or been appointed to a new one so far. We’ll keep the list updated as new names come through. Left the Shadow Cabinet Pat Glass, Shadow Secretary for Education Luciana Berger, Shadow Minister for Mental Health Maria Eagle, Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Lisa Nandy, Shadow Energy and Climate Change Owen […]

    Read more →
  • Europe Featured News Exclusive: Labour’s economic advisors criticise Corbyn over EU campaign

    Exclusive: Labour’s economic advisors criticise Corbyn over EU campaign

    Five of Labour’s top economic advisors have criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s efforts before the “major disaster” of defeat in the EU referendum. The group of five added to complaints about Corbyn’s role in the run-up to the Brexit vote by saying they are “unhappy” with his role in the EU campaign. In a statement to LabourList they also called for urgent action to tackle the “impasse” over Britain’s role in Europe. “We all share the view that the EU referendum result is a major […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News McDonnell urges calm as leadership prepares for contest

    McDonnell urges calm as leadership prepares for contest

    Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has said that he believes there will be a leadership election, as he urges calm among the Parliamentary Labour Party. Speaking this morning, the close Corbyn ally said “it looks as though we’ll have a leadership election”, as rebel MPs prepare to back a challenger – and one could come forward at some point today, with the likeliest candidates either Tom Watson or Angela Eagle. McDonnell accepted this scenario, but told MPs that they should “play by […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Scotland Dugdale casts doubt on Corbyn’s ability to carry on

    Dugdale casts doubt on Corbyn’s ability to carry on

    Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has weighed in on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership crisis, suggesting that he will not be able to do the job “effectively” following a no confidence vote this afternoon. Although Dugdale did not explicitly say that Corbyn should resign, she said that she would “not be able to do my job” if she was in his position and that he should “reflect” on the outcome of today’s Parliamentary Labour Party ballot. Dugdale is the latest major figure […]

    Read more →
x

LabourList Daily Email

Everything Labour. Every weekday morning

Share with your friends










Submit