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 Soft on welfare? The challenge of a popular welfare policy that works

    Soft on welfare? The challenge of a popular welfare policy that works

    We are being told that Labour lost votes through being seen as “too soft” on welfare. But we must understand the complexity of public attitudes in this area, and the difficulties of reconciling these attitudes with policy that works, and with the reality of the hardship caused by a “tough” policy. It must be Labour’s role to lead the debate on benefits, as well as follow public opinion. We can challenge the misinformation behind policies like Universal Credit and the […]

    Read more →
  • News Mary Creagh says failure to act in Syria “opened the door to ISIS”

    Mary Creagh says failure to act in Syria “opened the door to ISIS”

    Shadow International Development Secretary Mary Creagh has said that the failure of western governments to act against Bashar al-Assad in 2013 helped give rise to jihadist group ISIS. Writing for Progress Magazine, Creagh describes the vote that stopped the possibility of UK intervention in Syria as a “shock defeat” that “reverberated around the world”. Following the use of chemical weapons in Syria two years ago, the Government put forward a motion to begin military action against Assad’s regime. Creagh outlines the series […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Workers under the hammer: Sotheby’s workers need all the help they can get

    Workers under the hammer: Sotheby’s workers need all the help they can get

    Last week, I had the privilege to speak on a panel a number of women speaking about their experience of being in low paid work in London. Two days later, one of these women, I can’t name her for fairly obvious reasons although it still somehow feels wrong not to, lost her job simply for protesting for better pay. The common thread in the very moving stories – as the women described the long hours, poor conditions and inadequate rates […]

    Read more →
  • Featured News Tessa Jowell slams the government for failing to build London Olympic legacy

    Tessa Jowell slams the government for failing to build London Olympic legacy

    Tessa Jowell has slammed the government for failing to build on the London Olympic Games to encourage children to play sport. Jowell is one of five people in the running to be Labour’ candidate for London Mayor. 10 years after London won their bid to host the Games, the mayoral hopeful,who was Minister for the Olympics, told the Guardian: “Instead of a generation of children being transformed by sport a generation of children have been robbed of the chance to discover […]

    Read more →
  • Comment Featured The idea of Europe

    The idea of Europe

    Almost 31 years ago the French President, Francois Mitterrand, and the West German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, visited the former battlefields of Verdun in north eastern France.It was a moment of deep symbolism: here, where as many as 750,000 men had died during World War One, the French and (West) German leaders held hands as the Marseillaise was played. Both had been personally affected by warfare. Kohl had lost his older brother during World War Two, while Mitterrand’s war years had […]

    Read more →
Share with your friends










Submit