Cultural diversity is not just about ethnic differences, it is also
about age. Yet, despite the rhetoric about culturally sensitive
services, little has been done to recognise or respond to the
cultural norms and attitudes of older generations.
A recent example of this is the attempt by the Department for Work
and Pensions to persuade older people to have their pensions paid
directly into a bank account. This has met with huge resistance
from pensioners’ groups as well as from older people themselves.
Many older people, due to traditional attitudes towards money
management, prefer to have their pensions paid in cash.
Direct payments also have a low take-up rate by older people, even
though they are potentially one of the biggest client groups that
could benefit. Department of Health statistics show that only 2,700
older people were in receipt of such payments in 2002, far fewer
than younger people with physical or mental disabilities.
This poor take-up may be partly because of lack of knowledge and
the poor resourcing of direct payments for older people. But it may
also be due to the fact that older people do not want the hassle of
setting up such payments or becoming an employer.
As such, trends towards a consumerised welfare market and
client-led assessments may be incompatible with the attitudes of
older people. These generations are likely to have been brought up
with the notions of self-reliance and frugality rather than the
contemporary culture of consumerism. They are also likely to have
expectations of practical and accessible welfare support from the
cradle to the grave in preference to user-led participatory
If the state welfare provision is to be truly inclusive and social
justice is to be achieved, then these age-related needs and
aspirations should be addressed. Services for older people need to
be evaluated to find out how compatible with their needs and
aspirations they actually are. An ageing population means that
these issues have never been more relevant. When younger people
become older, will they share similar attitudes or will they have
different expectations of welfare provision?
Elaine Argyle is an Economic and Social Research Council
post doctoral research fellow at Sheffield University.