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.

  • 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 The SNP’s argument that the way to get a Labour Government is to vote against Labour doesn’t stack up

    The SNP’s argument that the way to get a Labour Government is to vote against Labour doesn’t stack up

    We are only on day two of the formal General Election campaign, but already we have learned a lot about the choice facing the people of Scotland on 7 May. Let’s start with Labour’s positive offer. We have a plan to make Scotland the fairest nation on earth. We will make sure working class families in Scotland get a fair shot at life. So we will bring an end to the failed austerity agenda of George Osborne. Unlike other parties, we won’t rely […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Polling Wales Labour lead by 15 points in Wales

    Labour lead by 15 points in Wales

    Welsh Labour have a huge 15 point lead over the Conservatives, according to new polling. The latest YouGov research for ITV shows that Labour are up four points from their result in 2010, when they won 30 of the 40 Westminster seats in Wales. The Tories are down just one point, the Lib Dems are down 15, UKIP are up 12 and Plaid Cyrmu’s support has remained static. The standings suggest Labour could be on course to win around 75% […]

    Read more →
  • Comment The Coalition have risked turning access to justice into the preserve for the wealthy

    The Coalition have risked turning access to justice into the preserve for the wealthy

    This government’s extraordinary hike in court fees risks turning access to justice yet further into the sole preserve of the wealthy or those who have clear cut cases that lawyers know they can win. If we believe that a judicial system is reflective of society, the ‘principles’ of this government cannot be anything we should aspire to. And, while historically the UK legal system has often been a model followed by other countries, our status as international leaders in legal […]

    Read more →
  • News Wales Former Plaid Cymru leader says party “haven’t convinced” voters

    Former Plaid Cymru leader says party “haven’t convinced” voters

    On the day that Plaid Cymru launch their manifesto, their former leader Daffyd Elis-Thomas has said that he has “no issue” with Wales voting for Labour. Elis-Thomas, now a Plaid peer, said he did not think the Welsh people had been “convinced” by his party, and that they were yet to have a clear message. Speaking earlier today, he said that he felt it was Plaid’s “responsibility” to do better than it currently is. He told the BBC: “I have […]

    Read more →
  • News National Executive Committee Report – 24th March 2015

    National Executive Committee Report – 24th March 2015

    National Executive Committee Report by Local Government Representatives Jim McMahon and Alice Perry                                                      The March NEC meeting covered a range of different areas including the General Election Campaign, local government, international politics and Europe, as well as reports from the Leader, Deputy Leader and General Secretary. Our NEC report focuses on the topics and discussions […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit