Guest blog – A new ageing population: People with Cystic Fibrosis

This guest blog was contributed by Dr Jill Edwards, School of Healthcare, Leeds University.

When I was born I was not expected to live long enough to go to school, but a few months ago I celebrated by my 50th birthday. I have cystic fibrosis (CF).

Ageing with CF is now a reality for many people with the condition (nearly 9,000 in the UK). Most people with CF used to die before they became adults, but now there are more adults than children with this disease. And over the last 30 years, the life expectancy of people with CF has increased drastically, with a median age of survival ranging between 35.9 and 48.1 years. More and more people with CF are now likely to face ‘old age’, yet it is not known how prepared we are.

Cystic fibrosis is a serious, inherited, long term condition. A fault in a gene prevents salts (sodium and chloride) from passing in and out of cells in the body properly. This results in the production of thick, sticky mucus in organs. To be born with CF a baby must inherit two faulty genes, one from each parent. Continue reading “Guest blog – A new ageing population: People with Cystic Fibrosis”

Guest blog: What burden of ageing?

This guest blog was contributed by Rob Greig, Chief Executive at the National Development Team for Inclusion (NDTi)

The area of government policy that has continually depressed me the most (and I’m talking successive governments here) is that around older people and ageing. What we at NDTi call the ‘demographic dialogue’ of public policy and the media creates a culture whereby older people are seen as a problem and a burden on society.

Read almost anything from government policy, think tanks or the national press and you will see older people being described negatively. They are ‘bed blockers’ in hospitals, creating a ‘financial precipice’ in public finances and the cause of a pension system crisis that means younger people will have to work longer. Older people are portrayed as being the cause of problems that government and society have to address.

I beg to differ.  There are 3 fundamental flaws in this perception of older citizens:

  • It sees older people as primarily passive recipients of services provided by the state or wider society, denying or even discouraging their capacity to continue to give to the communities around them.
  • The service and cost modelling is substantially based on an assumption that we will do the same in the future as we have done in the past – rather than explore more innovative options that could change the financial parameters
  • It conveniently appears to forget the contributions that people have made to society, through their work, taxes, caring and creativity. Is it too old-fashioned to still think that society may have some obligation in the form of ‘pay-back’ time that should argue against using the language of burden?

I will put the third point to one side as it is primarily influenced by values and opinions and instead focus on the first two – and tell you about Ted.

Continue reading “Guest blog: What burden of ageing?”

Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?

This blog was contributed by Jo Moriarty, a Research Fellow at King’s College London, in the Social Care Workforce Research Unit. She co-authored the evidence review Diversity in older people and access to services with Unit Director, Jill Manthorpe.

The Equality Act 2010 made existing anti-discrimination legislation simpler and removed inconsistencies. It covers nine so-called ‘protected characteristics’, aspects of our identity such as religion, race, gender, age, or sexuality, which cannot be used as reasons for treating us unfairly.

photo by spruce bingsteenSome older people may avoid asking for help because they think they won’t receive equal treatment, in spite of sharing a particular protected characteristic, such as being gay.

Age UK asked us to investigate whether five key services – falls prevention, home from hospital schemes, handyperson schemes, befriending, and day opportunities – successfully offer support across all older people, regardless of any ‘protected characteristic’.

It seemed a straightforward task. Researchers today have access to masses of material. We can trawl through specialist databases containing thousands of research papers published each year. Many organisations such as Age UK publish their research reports online and for free. Continue reading “Guest blog – Protected or ignored characteristics?”

‘Missing’ older workers could boost UK

With the UK still mired in economic troubles and unemployment high, it is perhaps obvious that we need to get more people into work.

Among older people, who find it harder than any other age group in the UK to move into work, this needs to be a real priority, in particular when we look at how poorly Britain fares compared with our international competitors. We see that getting more people aged 50+ into work can be done.

According to some new research by the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank which focuses on people on low to middle incomes, the employment rate for 55-64 year olds in the UK lags well behind the best performing countries from around the world.

While the average of the 5 best performers is about 72%, the UK falls well short with only 57% in work. Continue reading “‘Missing’ older workers could boost UK”

Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects

This guest blog was contributed by Bill Bytheway, Visiting Research Fellow at the Open University, and author of Unmasking Age (Policy Press, 2011).

On page 124 of my book, ‘Ageism’ (1995), I attempted to describe how ‘a room for older people’ might admit anyone, regardless of age, on the basis of self-definition. I argued that it would be perfectly feasible and acceptable for anyone to enter it, and request services designed to assist ‘older’, rather than ‘younger’, people. In making the case, I remembered a woman of 55 who lived on her own and was in hospital with a broken leg. At the time (the mid-1980s) I was working for a hospital discharge scheme that focused exclusively on patients aged 65 or more. ‘Is there any help available to people like me?’ she asked. It was this simple question which made me realise how ageist all forms of age bar are, no matter how well-intentioned.

The RoAD (Research on Age Discrimination) projectwas undertaken between

The research team and field workers from the RoAD project

2004 and 2007 by a team based at the Open University, working in collaboration with Help the Aged. When we were planning the project, we decided to involve older people at all stages and in all roles and that, in implementing this aim, we would not impose any age bars. No one would be deemed too old or too young to take part. The only requirement was that participants should understand that they were involved, possibly amongst other things, as ‘older people’.

Continue reading “Guest Blog: The involvement of ‘older people’ in research and other projects”

Elder abuse and safeguarding

This guest blog was contributed by Mary Cox, Safeguarding Advisor in Age UK’s Service Development team.

In England there is no legal definition of elder abuse and no specific legislation for protecting vulnerable people in later life from abuse. Yet not a week goes by without our staff and volunteers encountering situations where a person’s human or civil rights having been violated by another person. This is why safeguarding is central to Age UK’s duty of care towards all people in later life.

Safeguarding encompasses prevention, empowerment, protection and justice. It is a process that allows people to live with as much independence as possible while maintaining their fundamental human right to live a life free from abuse and neglect.

Photo: Rosie O’Beirne

Our commitment to preventing the mistreatment of people in later life includes promoting awareness of seven types of abuse: emotional, financial, physical, sexual, discriminatory, institutional and neglect. But in practice it is rare to find one type of abuse occurring in isolation. Often, situations involve ‘multiple abuse’ where two or more types of abuse are occurring simultaneously.

Understanding how and why people abuse, whether it is deliberate or unintentional, is central to our work. Also, being aware of the barriers that people face in sharing their concerns about the way they are treated by relatives, friends or ‘professional’ personnel is essential in responding effectively to our clients’ needs. We have found that there is a strong correlation between providing training and support to staff and volunteers, and an increase in the number of abuse cases we have identified.

Find out more about elder abuse and safeguarding

Beyond the headline, Seldon judgement is a victory for older workers

Yesterday the Supreme Court handed down its judgement on the case of Leslie Seldon, a solicitor who took on his employers over the legitimacy of its forced retirement policy.

It lands a blow in the fight against age discrimination, cementing the abolition of the Default Retirement Age and making it clear that it will be very difficult for employers to justify forced retirement.

But in order to see its potential impact, we need to look beyond the headlines.

While Mr Seldon had his appeal dismissed, and parts of his case will have to be re-examined by an Employment Tribunal, much of the judgement is a significant victory for those of us who believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of age.

The majority of the judgement relates not to Mr Seldon’s specific case, but to the principles on which direct age discrimination can be allowed.

While it is still possible to justify discrimination (this was never really in doubt), the new ruling ensures there are additional safeguards which should protect older workers against forced retirement and direct age discrimination.

The Seldon judgement raises the bar on the level of proof needed by employers if they wish to force someone to retire, setting out that employers will have to meet a number of tests in order to prove that their aim in discriminating is ‘appropriate and necessary’.

Some key points here are:

  • The employers objectives in forcing someone to retire will have to relate directly to government policy rather than being simply private.
  • The policy aims must have a genuine application to the individual’s situation, and cannot be crudely tacked on to window-dress justification.
  • The ‘gravity of the effect upon the employees discriminated against’ should be considered.
  • Flexibility for the employer is not a legitimate aim (although it can be a relevant factor in some circumstances).
  • Forced retirement has to be proven as the least discriminatory means possible to achieve the legitimate aim.
  • Performance management should be used wherever possible rather than making assumptions relating to age.

An employer will not, as is being reported in some media, simply be able to say that they are retiring someone ‘to promote intergenerational fairness’ – while this may be a legitimate aim in some circumstances, a substantial level of proof is required to ensure it genuinely applies to the particular role in question, and that there is no better way of achieving this objective.

Crucially the judgement effectively rubbishes the argument that it’s more dignified to force someone out of work than have ‘unseemly’ conversations about capability. Again, this can be a legitimate aim but in most cases it will simply be stereotyping.

Overall it seems the Supreme Court has handed down a balanced and fair judgement, which sets the level of proof needed for direct discrimination at an appropriate and fair level.

While the judgement does continue to allow the justification of age discrimination, we are optimistic that it serves the interests of many older workers.

Of course the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and we will have to wait and see how this is all interpreted in the Employment Tribunals and lower level courts.

In any case, we hope that employers do not go down the route of attempting to justify discrimination. Instead, investing resources in developing good age-neutral management systems will improve performance of staff across the workforce while delivering other business benefits like improved staff retention and better utilisation of skills. 

Helping employers do this is where the Government’s emphasis should now lie.

Read a blog by The Age and Employment Network about the Seldon case

Find out more about Age UK’s equality and human rights work