In Praise Of The Older Person?

20th September 2008

Pamela Shields is not impressed…

The United Nations designates 1 October as ‘International Day for Older Persons’. Whatever next?

It gets worse. There’s a distinct emphasis on being Full Of Life. Having never been Full Of Life even as a Younger Person, that’s worrying. I hope I die before the UN makes it mandatory.

Did the clowns who dreamed this up actually talk to Older Persons? Ask if they want this commemorated? And why persons not people? Are Older People different from Older Persons?

And how old is an Older Person (be prepare to cut collective throat) anyway? According to Age Concern it’s anyone over fifty; Help The Aged didn’t reply to my query and DirectGov – which by the way is calling 1 October Older People’s Day – says that it’s anyone of pensionable age. The UN doesn’t stipulate a specific age, but is very clear on one thing: The fastest growing group of the older population is the Oldest Old, that is, those who are 80 years or more.

What is this thing called age, anyway? Ah… It’s the economy. How old a person is was never really an issue until 1891 when the government made it their business. Realising that European countries which offered free technical education were becoming more prosperous, it finally bowed to public pressure and followed suit. The 1891 Education Act made attendance at school free and compulsory for children between the ages of five and ten. The problem was that this was expensive to implement. Because it necessitated building schools all over the country and finding the budget to pay teachers’ salaries the government was determined not to provide one day of education more than was required in law. Suddenly a person’s date of birth became very important.

Today, one’s age is becoming irrelevant again… Why?… It’s the economy. Because the government can’t afford pensioners it has invented Age Discrimination. It’s no longer considered PC for employers to mention age when candidates apply for jobs.
The thing is Older Persons are not a homogenous group. Who does the UN have in mind? Older Persons grateful for Meals on Wheels or Older Persons who would rather starve? Older Persons who, according to Saga Holidays, participate in extreme sports? Ancients texting away in supermarkets asking even-more-Ancient back home in the armchair what he wants for his tea?

The UN has also adopted Five Principles for Older Persons (Resolution 46/91). Come again? Independence; Participation; Care; Self-Fulfilment; Dignity. Older Persons, they say, should have the opportunity to work, able to determine when and at what pace withdrawal from the labour force takes place. Ha! Fine words butter no parsnips, as Older Persons used to say. Today they say As If!
The über-hype about the UN’s special day co-incides with the release of the UK Office of National Statistics figures showing that, at eleven and a half million in total, pensioners outnumber teenagers. The concept of retirement is being phased out.

Older Persons, the UN says, should have access to educational and training to lead full, active and productive lives and to take on new challenges. Why, then, have local authorities stopped concessions for Older Persons in FE and HE colleges?

The UN wants to see lots of events to celebrate Older Persons. Here, mercifully, Age Concern and Help The Aged are ignoring the day (nothing to do with us, gov, it’s a UN thing, not ours).

Is anyone anywhere doing anything? As it happens, yes. Pupils in one local school will show Older Persons how to use the Nintendo Wii. A Manchester council is plugging its Pensioners' Play Park (no need now to sneak in after dark to go on the swings). Another local authority is offering a free service for Older Persons to deal with their dripping taps, draughts, blown light bulbs, wobbly shelves, window locks and blocked sinks. It’s also swapping electric blankets (safety hazard) for duvets, and offering free central heating. Sounds good? The drawback is you have to live in East Dunbartonshire.

Other authorities promote Silver Surfer Days. Promote? Why? Every day appears to be Silver Surfer Day in my local library. Then there’s Fit As A Fiddle Day – a cream tea afternoon with chair based exercises (hmmm…?).

Think I’ll give 1 October a miss. The 21st is more up my street: St Hilarion’s Day – patron saint of hermits.

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