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  • Writer's picturechris walsh

why are older people ignored by the left

As someone who have been active in age related politics, fighting for a better deal for older working age people (50+), for age friendly cities and environments and trying to challenge ageist myths in the media, in government at all levels and foremost among employers, I see that many older people are progressive and many more facing increased hardship that only inclusive, redistributive policies can overcome. Yet there remains a blind spot among many on the left, including at national, regional and local levels, as well as among the commentariat, which is that the older you get the more right wing you become and therefore that older people in practice are written off.

The second myth spread through think tanks, the media and onto the general public is that older people are much better off than younger ones and are taking the wealth and opportunities from the young.

What is left out is that while yes there maybe up to 25% of pensioners who are technically millionaires ( fed often by increased property values) there are over half of the pensioner population who are under or near to the poverty line. Those include particularly pensioners have not have not bought their own homes, do not have decent employer pensions and may not even have full state pensions, due to lack of NI contributions, often the result of their caring responsibilities. Single women are particularly vulnerable , with over 1 million in or near near the poverty line, as are those from ethnic minority backgrounds and those with long term disabilities or health conditions.

Who suffered most from COVID hospitalisations and death,? Again those elders in poor accommodation, those with front lines jobs with little job security and low wages and older people from ethnic minorities.

For a truly age friendly UK, we need to be inclusive of all those, both young and old ( who bear the brunt of cuts, inflation and low employment levels) and to understand that age is not only an equality group suffering from exclusion and discrimination but that those who already face such distress, from racism, sexism, anti LGBTQ+ prejudice and disablement prejudice discover that it becomes even worse once you get older.

In the face of all of these issues and in the light of the heat or eat dilemma for many including the elderly who have been badly hit by the current crisis, cuts, low wages and high levels of long term unemployment ( not only for those 50-66 years old but also the 1.2 million pensioners still working) the time is right for progressives to focus on the needs and demands of older people but also to be open to the many benefits that older people bring. Not only are over 70% of older workers still actively employed, plus 1.2 million working pensioners, but over half of all carers are aged 50+ the majority being women. Without the voluntary input from pensioners there would be no voluntary services, and increasingly it is those organisations who are meeting the needs of those who can no longer rely on their wages or government benefits to survive.

This age blindness is prevalent across many who fight for social and economic justice elsewhere, from the GLA who still have not produced an age friendly London action plan let alone implemented it, to Trade Unions who often agree with the bulk of redundancies being imposed on the 50+ thinking that as their redundancy packages are bigger they will benefit without realising that once redundant the great majority of older people will never get another full time job again.

If Labour or the other political parties of the left do not fully and actively engage with older people and the campaigns for equality and justice they are are fighting for then not only will they be continuing this ageist blind spot but will not regain the silver vote.

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