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

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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