Age of equality beckons

    The advent of the proposed Commission for Equality and Human
    Rights, whatever its shortcomings, will be an historic moment. It
    will challenge discrimination in all its variety and assert the
    rights of all people, regardless of age, race, gender, religion,
    disability, or sexual orientation. But, at least where age
    discrimination is concerned, it is only the beginning. We stand on
    the edge of a social revolution in which the voices of older people
    themselves will be heard ever more loudly.

    You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing will ever
    change. Older people still languish in hospital, residential care
    and day centres in much the way they have done for the past several
    decades. Age discrimination, the systematic exclusion of older
    people from the civilised norms of decency and respect, remains
    rife. Direct payments, promoting older people’s independence
    by enabling them to purchase their own services, are scarcely used
    by local authorities even though they now have a duty to make them
    available. Even where direct payments are made, the amounts are
    frequently equivalent to a laughably low level of traditional
    services.

    But complacency about the way older people often have to live
    their lives must soon become a thing of the past. The government
    will not have overlooked the fact that they are becoming a force to
    be reckoned with at the ballot box, much as they already have in
    the USA. There, one of the most important pressure groups is the
    American Association of Retired People, a powerful organisation
    that governments cross at their peril. Here, in only a few years
    pensioners will outnumber under-16s for the first time and the
    signs are that the “never had it so good” generation will have much
    higher expectations and be much more vociferous in support of them
    than its predecessors.

    Speaking at Community Care LIVE last week, health
    minister Stephen Ladyman called on social care workers to put
    forward radical ideas for a new vision of adult services. They were
    told not to be afraid of saying the unthinkable, effectively an
    invitation to consider rebuilding services from the ground up while
    putting the older person, their autonomy, dignity and self-respect
    centre stage. It will have to happen soon or it will not be
    services that are built, but barricades.

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