Pardon my indiscretion, but I fear Germaine Greer may be turning
into the grumpy old lady she so decried in her recent Counsel and
Care lecture on the portrayal of older people. She recently
attacked Maureen Lipman and Prunella Scales’ TV characters in
adverts as portraying older people as grumpy.
Am I alone in finding these characters hilarious precisely
because I know they are caricatures? Who actually bases their
attitudes towards others on Victor Meldrew or Miss Marple? Maybe
Greer should listen to The Archers on Radio 4. Now there’s an
interesting assortment of older people. Sure, they are all parodies
but we know that. The way to avoid being misunderstood is perhaps
to follow the lead of Freda from The Archers – don’t speak!
Which leads me to my next point, that when you say something
there is always a danger that people pick up on the headline-
grabbing angle, but they miss the serious message. And if we are
talking about discrimination, I think the more important part of
Greer’s speech was the recognition that “clearly there are two
kinds of aged: the powerful and the powerless”.
Those who have enjoyed reasonable economic security in their
younger days are more likely now to be living in sound housing, to
be enjoying reasonable health, and so to remain active, pursuing
hobbies, taking holidays and enjoying their grandchildren. They are
not likely to be part of the 2.2 million living below the poverty
line or spending day after day trapped indoors.
We live longer than previous generations, but some of us live
longer than others; and so it is right and proper that we stretch
those middle years, enjoying life to the full. But it is also right
that there should be a rethink of how we will pay for it all once
we stop earning, because there’s going to be a longer period of
Maybe we don’t like to think about pensions in our youth, but it
is not fair to interpret that as a denial of old age. This
government has made some progress towards delivering fairer
pensions to older people.
It is easy to complain that it is not enough, but I don’t see a
long queue to vote for a government promising to raise taxes to pay
for a better system.
In the meantime, please don’t anyone let Germaine Greer watch
Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support
workers and a social worker.