This blog was contributed by Andy Glyde, Senior Campaigner at Age UK.
The BBC season on ageing, When I’m 65, produced some excellent hard-hitting documentaries on what it is like to get older. As a self-confessed telly addict and campaigner on older people’s issues, it was right up my street.
The good thing about the season was its boldness for not holding back. This was strikingly clear in the first programme, When I Get Older, which exposed some of the toughest issues faced by older people: poverty, isolation, loneliness, bereavement and caring for a partner, followed by life in a care home. Even I have to admit to shedding a tear or two as the four older celebrities went through their journey of discovery.
The crucial thing throughout the entire series was that all of the older celebrities involved were honest about their pre-conceptions about later life; Lesley Joseph thinking that families should be fine to care for loved ones, John Simpson seeing little point to living with dementia and Tony Robinson having such a negative attitude towards care homes. As one might expect with such stories, each experienced an epiphany to one level or another about how they had completely misjudged the situations they found themselves in. Not that later life is always rosy, but it certainly is not always as bad as one might think.
For me, the most inspiring show of the season was the one that seemed to arouse the least attention. How to Live Beyond 100 met some of Britain’s centenarians and found out their experiences of life having reached the big 1-0-0. From playing golf to swimming to being involved in the community, each highlighted the importance of being active in later life.
My particular favourite was Fauja Singh, the 101 year old marathon runner, for whom I have a huge amount of respect for, particularly as I ran past him in the London Marathon earlier this year.
The Town that Never Retired, aka The Apprentice for Older People, ran an experiment to see how pensioners would manage when they returned to work. Builders, healthcare assistants, factory workers, estate agents – they were all given the chance to prove that ability is more important than age.
Sadly, this show was alone in the season in drawing on a lot of stereotypes, particularly in the second episode where the remaining older workers were then put in competition with younger unemployment people. Rather than addressing some of the prejudices towards age, it seemed to reinforce the premise that older people are incapable of keeping up with the times, while younger people are just a bunch of layabouts, too lazy to work. Having said that, I, like much of Twitter it would seem, was cheering towards the end when Ruth was offered the opportunity to continue waitressing on a part-time basis.
The final show was as hard-hitting as the first. June Brown, Walford’s favourite Dot Cotton, went on her own journey of discovery in Respect Your Elders. As much as anything else, this show was heartfelt as June seemed to struggle with the idea of what growing older might mean; something that is not uncommon among many older people. Difficult discussions were had among her family about what would need to happen if she needed care one day, and the pressures that putting off such conversations can have on the rest of the family.
The season ended with a strong message from June about the way we should be helping older people in this country. The need to re-establish intergenerational links was the only way, in June’s eyes, to make sure we do not undervalue and ignore older people in society. In today’s world where the media seems to at times fixate on the idea of young vs. old, such a message could not be more topical.
All in all, the BBC One season on ageing was a massive success in highlighting what life is like for Britain’s older people, holding nothing back on the trials and struggles that can come about from growing older. Having followed what was being said on Twitter as the programmes were shown, it was clear that many of those watching these excellent documentaries agreed.
Last year, Age UK helped 500,000 people put £120million back in their pockets through free benefits information and advice. This year, we will continue to break down the barriers that prevent people from claiming, in particular older people not realising that they are eligible for some additional income. For more information, please visit http://www.ageuk.org.uk/moremoney