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

  • Comment Ed’s interview with the British people

    Ed’s interview with the British people

    “Hi, come on in. Sorry to keep you waiting but we’ve had quite a few of these interviews to get through…It’s Ed, isn’t it? Let me introduce everyone – we’re the British people. I understand you’ve met quite a few of us already. Do you have a copy of your CV to hand?…No, that’s fine, everyone forgets things. I think we have one here…yes, that’s all very impressive. What about in your spare time? It says here you like walks […]

    Read more →
  • News “He’s blown it”: Tory MPs slam “painful” Osborne speech

    “He’s blown it”: Tory MPs slam “painful” Osborne speech

    Backbench Tory MPs are privately despairing at George Osborne’s speech to Tory Conference yesterday. The Chancellor’s announcement that he plans to freeze all benefits for working-age people, amounting to a real-terms cut, has dismayed Conservative’s who are concerned with their party’s image among the working class. According to today’s Times (£), Tory MPs are unhappy that in-work benefits will be hit as hard as jobseeker’s allowance, sending out a message that it doesn’t pay to work. The Times reports: A Tory […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Ukip have no plan for the future

    Ukip have no plan for the future

    Lunchtime yesterday, eleven days on from the Scottish referendum, I found myself back on a street corner talking politics. And although the break-up of the UK wasn’t on people’s lips, some of the issues in the centre of Middleton were the same. A frustration about politics, worries about public services and a sense that in hard times people want a sense of a fairer, more prosperous future. I was in Heywood and Middleton to support Labour’s parliamentary candidate Liz McInnes. […]

    Read more →
  • Featured The Tories’ miserable little offer for Britain – and why it’s not working for them

    The Tories’ miserable little offer for Britain – and why it’s not working for them

    Shock and dismay were the order of the day on Sunday at Tory conference, as Lord Ashcroft revealed his latest “mega-poll”. His conclusion was that Labour would win a “comfortable majority”. Cue despair and incredulity from Tories, and delight and incredulity from Labour supporters. After last week’s Labour conference (certainly the flattest in recent years, at least until the final day) Labour members and activists were feeling understandably downbeat – especially following the Ed Balls hammerblow last Monday. But the Ashcroft […]

    Read more →
  • News Another Tory defects to UKIP

    Another Tory defects to UKIP

    Richard Barnes, Deputy Mayor of London between 2008 and 2012, has announced that he has left the Conservative Party to join UKIP. Barnes was also London Assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon between 2000 to 2012 – but lost out at the last London election to Labour’s Dr Onkar Sahota. Barnes, who had also been a councillor for Hillingdon since 1982 (and became leader of the council in 1998) then stood as an independent council candidate in Harefield but failed […]

    Read more →
7ads6x98y