July 5, 2011

UK: What the elderly need is the love and care of their own families

LONDON, England / The Daily Mail / Debate / Pension Reforms / July 5, 2011

It's not just about money. What the elderly need is the love and care of their own families

By David Blunkett

When I was a child growing up on a council estate in the north of Sheffield, people were considered old at 50, or even 40.

My mum and dad had false teeth by the time they were 40 — it was an era where the recommendation was ‘Best have them all out to avoid toothache’!

I remember people seeming to shuffle along the streets, partly because of the crippling jobs they did at the time, and perhaps also because of the lack of proper nutrition and good healthcare in those days.

The right way forward? Contributions to the debate seem heavily weighted
towards the funding of residential care

People feared growing old then; they feared having to leave work because it meant they would have neither the income nor the wherewithal to keep up a decent standard of living.

Staggeringly, the average life span after leaving work was as little as 18 months. Not only were men physically worn out from working in heavy industry, but retirement meant the loss of all they had known in life.

In other words, their jobs had been all-consuming, the hours crippling — and the outlook for enjoying retirement was very bleak indeed.

Yet, in those days, the elderly had something that is missing for so many today: they had the care of their family.

Families looked after one another, family members lived close to each other and gave support when it was needed.

Neighbours, too, chipped in if necessary, and as far as I can remember, older people were not generally seen as a burden.

Tragically, this is no longer the case. Today, far too many of our elderly and incapacitated are sent off to homes, where they live out their final days all but forgotten by their family.

This is one of the most crucial reasons why we need a serious debate about growing old; about working longer and how we manage to sustain our income in retirement.

Yesterday’s report from the economist Andrew Dilnot was a contribution to that debate. But disappointingly, his recommendations seem heavily weighted towards the funding of residential care. Can this really be the right approach? Shouldn’t we be endeavouring to keep people out of residential care and nursing homes for as long as possible?

Serious debate about growing old: David Blunkett MP

I have found so much of the debate around the Dilnot report depressing — a reaction that has probably been made worse by the fact I’ve always been worried about growing old.

By this I don’t mean a fear of living longer, but of being thought of and treated differently.

One of my early memories is hearing my mother’s friends and neighbours saying ‘I’m a pensioner now, you know’ as though the source of their income defined them as individuals and their place in society.

I don’t want to be defined as a pensioner. To be honest, I simply want to continue to be me, and not to be thought of as millstone. I’d like the option of continuing to work if I can, for as long as I feel able.

The heart of the debate: The scourge of loneliness in old age

My father worked to the age of 67, which was unusual for those days, when regrettably he met his death in a tragic works accident (I was 12 and he fell into a vat of boiling water in a gas plant).

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