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 Miliband announces plans to scrap the Lords – and introduce an elected Senate of Nations and Regions

    Miliband announces plans to scrap the Lords – and introduce an elected Senate of Nations and Regions

    In a speech to Labour’s North West regional conference in Manchester, Ed Miliband will announce that a Labour government would abolish the House of Lords and replace it with an elected Senate. That has (broadly speaking) been Labour policy for some time. But there’s a twist. Miliband wants this new Senate to be a representative body made up of those from all of Britain’s Nations and Regions, as part of a new constitutional settlement to be decided by a constitutional […]

    Read more →
  • News Miliband speaks out on anti-semitic abuse targeted at Luciana Berger – and calls on social media companies to act

    Miliband speaks out on anti-semitic abuse targeted at Luciana Berger – and calls on social media companies to act

    As we reported last week, Labour MP and Shadow Minister Luciana Berger has been the victim of a sustained torrent of disgusting online anti-semtic abuse. Ed Miliband has hit out at Berger’s abusers today, calling on social media companies to be more proactive in tackling sustained, orchestrated abuse. He told Jewish News: “The anti-Semitic abuse that Luciana Berger has experienced over recent days is utterly appalling and has absolutely no place in our country. We must have no tolerance for this vile […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers

    The debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers

    Big numbers abound in housing debates and rightly so. Two-hundred thousand new homes – the number the Labour frontbench has committed to building annually – is a response to the housing crisis that is starting to approach the scale we need. But the debate about building ‘the homes we need’ has to go beyond numbers. To make the point, look at the extreme case of ‘buy-to-leave’ homes that are bought off-plan as investors’ latest fancy and sit there empty in […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The mansion tax is a progressive tax and Labour in London should support it

    The mansion tax is a progressive tax and Labour in London should support it

    For those of us who believe in progressive taxation the last few weeks in London Labour have been pretty dismal. We seem to have an array of Labour MPs (mainly wannabe London mayoral candidates) and council leaders rushing to the press denouncing the proposed mansion tax as a’ tax on London’ (or if they were more honest a tax on the rich parts of London). Yes the promotion of the Mansion Tax has been inept and it would more accurate […]

    Read more →
  • Comment It’s time to put the Green Belt back on the table

    It’s time to put the Green Belt back on the table

    The UK’s housing crisis has finally been recognised across the political spectrum as an issue that needs urgent attention. Yet despite this consensus, political inertia on housebuilding has seen subsequent governments fail to create policies that address the issue coherently and strategically. Labour’s recent Lyons Review demonstrates a commitment to house-building, with a target of constructing 200,000 homes a year. Yet while the Review recognises that the housing crisis is not evenly spread, requiring different solutions in different places, there is […]

    Read more →