Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Those whom the gods love...

IF YOU'RE very lucky you'll die before you get old.

It used to be the other way around - that getting old was a piece of good fortune which meant you got to spend time with grandchildren, kick back and relax.

Not any more. Those citizens are no longer seen as senior.

If you survive the granny tax you'll be caught by the pension reforms. If you get a winter fuel payment the power companies put prices up (they never put them down, has anyone noticed?). If you exercise your right to vote whatever government gets in will ignore your needs, and when you need a little help it won't materialise unless you pay through the nose with money you haven't got.

When I grew up we spent a lot of time with older people. My parents made sure I had a good relationship with all my grandparents, at harvest festival the teachers would take us to the local sheltered housing to hand out donated food, and once a week the local Darby & Joan club would eat in the school hall and the pupils served them lunch.

My gran gave up her spare time to visit a geriatric hospital with the Women's Royal Voluntary Service. At half-term she would take me along with her as she pushed a trolley of cosmetics and sweets around the wards, selling them to the patients and having a little chat.

The hospital was old, but clean. There were patients who had been there for years and would die there, and others who were in temporarily. One or two had serious psychological problems and dementia. Quite a few made a fuss of me - I must have been about nine or ten I suppose - because they didn't get to see their own grandchildren very often.

Sometimes I had to go through these patients' bedside tables to find their purses so they could count out their change to buy some shampoo, and try to understand barely-there words from mouths without dentures. My gran always spoke about them as though they were old - when to my young eyes she wasn't an awful lot different, because she had white hair and wrinkles and sometimes walked with a stick.

I remember saying something like that to her once, and she replied: "I'm 16 on the inside."

I've never forgotten that, or the lesson that is gained from spending lots of time with people outside your normal social circle. When she gave me 50p pocket money and I looked a bit scornful my mum told me that she was poor, and to be thankful. And when Gran trounced me at every card game we ever played, laughing her head off, I learned that luck is what you make it.

My gran died at the age of 76, after six weeks in which her organs slowly gave up on her one at a time after an infection. In her last conscious moments she was giggling with my mum about a new handbag, which gave exactly the same kind of joy to her inner 16-year-old that it always had. Up to the end she always wore shoes with a slight heel, and freesia perfume.

She used to buy Christmas presents in the January sales, so about a month after she died I got the present she'd been keeping for me all year - a Parker pen, because she knew I wanted to be a journalist.

I was 15 when she died and because I had the blessing of knowing her well she's still with me. And when I see stories like that of Emma Winnall, a great-grandmother beaten almost to death in her own bed, I know exactly what she would have said.

She would have said that Emma didn't see herself as old, or frail, or want to be a pain to anyone else. She would have said that this 93-year-old lady felt no different on the inside than she had as a girl, even when her body let her down and needed a pacemaker and two replacement hips.

She would have said that the reason Emma was beaten senseless, leaving her with a fractured skull, broken arm and wrist, and partially severed finger, was because there was someone, somewhere, who didn't have a grandmother of their own.

And she would say the deeper cause was the disgusting way we treat our older citizens.

She would be horrified that the number of elderly patients who die with bedsores had risen 50 per cent in a decade to 27,000 in 2010. She'd be appalled that four, generally old, people die of dehydration and starvation on our wards every day because they are left to feed and water themselves and cannot do so. And she'd be worried that hospital she used to visit closed down a long time ago, and its patients now have to fend for themselves.

She'd point out older people are nearly a fifth of the population, that the number of people over 85 has doubled since 1985, and that they have electoral power if only they want to seize it.

She'd say that we're all going to need looking after one day and unlike our leaders would try to come up with suggestions for a way to fund it, to keep people working if they want to, to stop people losing their homes and the rest of society losing respect for those who came before us.

But more than anything else, I think she'd say that she was glad she wasn't here any more.

If she was, she'd be about the same age as Emma Winnall - which is 16 on the inside.

* There is a £5,000 reward to help catch Emma's attacker. Anyone with information can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

EDIT: Emma passed away on May 28 as a result of the injuries she sustained. The investigation is now being treated as a murder inquiry.


Amanda Kendal said...

It's not just the elderly, Foxy. It started in the 1980s with 'care in the community' – a synonym for not wanting to spend money.

And yet at the same time as educating everyone to believe that 'greed was good' and encouraging one and all to be 'aspirational' (wanting more things) we actually also saw the start of lowering wages, rising unemployment and security.

Brecht was right when he said that morality is something that the poor cannot afford. So perhaps we reap what we sow?

That 'aspirationalism' has seen jobs such as carers reduced to being something to deride – along with so many other public service workers. You have carers who are supposed to do everything for an elderly person – in a visit of just 10 minutes, while their contracts mean that they're not paid for travel time between those visits. Profit is far more important than meaningful care.

We have private companies running care homes – where they don't want to spend the money of proper training. Profit is more important.

We currently live in a country where someone like IDS can snidely tell Remploy workers to 'get a proper job'; where the disabled can be labeled as scroungers living off the sweat of 'decent, hard-working families;.

It's not just the elderly who are treated badly – anyone who is not a profit-making member of society who then spends, spends and spends is a 'burden'.

But there are also some myths, I think. At the beginning of that decade, I did a stint at a local hospital on a psycho-geriatric ward: there was one woman I particularly remember, who had been flung into what had been, at the time, the local asylum by her family – because she was pregnant.

If we think of the London of Dickens, it won't have been a genteel places – or certainly not the no-go areas.

But you make some seriously interesting and salient points – and not least in describing how young people used to mix with other generations. We've seen that change in the last decade or so: socialisation – particularly between generations – has decreased. I don't know why that's happened, but I suspect that it isn't positive.

Tommy said...

Attacking the old is abhorrent but let's not start blaming the government for everything. Old people these days have it far cushier than their predecessors.

You talk about when people used to kick back when they were retired but let's remember the retirement age when it was introduced was 5 years after the average life expectancy. It is now 15 years before the average person passes away.

The state pension used to be incredibly low, now pensioners are in general better off than those on the minimum wage. A £1/week granny tax that only hits those pensioners who have a second pension at a time that they're all being given an extra £5/week isn't going to change this.

About 15p in every pound is spent on the state pension, plus benefits for the poor. This is higher than pretty much any other time in history. This also doesn't include NHS spending, the bulk of which goes on the elderly.

We are an incredibly generous country (or at least the government is on our behalf). We give almost 50% of everything we earn in tax for the state to redistribute to those less fortunate and that's before we include that privately we're also one of the most charitable nations in the world.

Perhaps we should try being a bit more grateful for what we have? You say that the number of elderly people with bedsores has risen by 50% but that doesn't tell the real story. What proportion of elderly people in care is that? Has, by any chance, the number of elderly people in care risen by more than 50% over the past decade?

I know my nan (aged 84) is incredibly grateful to live in Britain and in the modern age. She is constantly telling me how much better things are than when she was young. When she was a kid there was rationing, food was scarce, there was a war on, she spent most nights terrified of the Germans, disease was rampant, hygiene was poor and she aspired to one day have electricity and simple things such as cloth napkins.

She now has all these things, due to her hard work, frugal nature and the modern, cheap world that we live in that sees even the poorest able to enjoy things top-notch healthcare, social support, a world-class education and the opportunity to get what they want out of life.

Amanda Kendal said...

Actually, for one of the richest countries in the world, the UK state pension is lower than pretty much anywhere else in western Europe.

That's a trio from two wildly different sources politically.

It is also worth noting the high cost of living in the UK – and it's rising. While the income gap has also widened considerably over the last 30 years, with real incomes falling for the overwhelming majority.

I'd suggest that saying that pensioners are better off than those on minimum wage is hardly something to boast about. What sort of a society do we really want to live in? One where pensioners are considered to be economically worthless once they stop working and therefore only really deserving of the most basic pension?

And it's getting worse. The philosophy of the past 30 years of neo-liberal deregulation has seen people miss sold private pensions, employers being able to take pensions holidays and a drive to bottom on pensions in general.

Add to that the chronic difficulty of trying to find decent savings schemes: to give but one example, I have been trying to save for some time, since my wages rose above the level of barely eking out a living. I have a couple of ISAs amongst other things. One – the slightly riskier one – has barely recovered what it lost in the financial crash – the other managed to give me a whopping big dividend of £10 on over £5,000 of savings this last year. What the hell is the point of that?

What happened to the basic, simple savings accounts that banks used to offer?

But hey, as long as some company/bank gets to make a profit out of me, that's fine and dandy, isn't it?

And then we're told by jumped-up little twerps and politicians that we're all supposed to become effing financial whizzkids overnight and – because we obviously have so much time on our hands – spend hours trying to find the very best deals around. That's on top of hunting down the very best deals for electricity, gas, water, phones etc etc ad nauseum ad infinitum. That's so somebody else can rip us off.

And are you really trying to excuse a situation where there is a rising number of elderly people in care with bedsores?

And purleese: the overwhelming majority of us don't give anything like "almost 50% of everything we earn" in tax – unless we're very, very well off indeed.

What sort of a country do you want to live in?

Andi said...

I worked as a carer/life-sharer for several years and my personal experience was mixed. On the one hand the 'clients' whom i visited in residential care homes were living a pretty secluded existence 'alone, together', people sharing the 'misfortune' of various 'disabilities' lumped together due to the level of care required. Generally the only thing they shared in common, beyond humanity, was having a life-threatening condition. Cerebal palsy, hydrocephaelus, autism, severe epilepsy etc.
The return of these people to the communities they were born or raised in was a little like witnessing a 're-birth'.Great for the returnees, the local community and much cheaper than the cost of isolating them in often un-dignified conditions.
Unfortunately, i then witnessed 'care' being privatised. Social Services forced to farm-out the client to More Expensive! private companies. As a life-sharer, pay was Not my priority(recieved about £200 per week from the 'clients' benefit entitlements-the money saved was 'taken' by the council). The cost of keeping a person in a private 'hospital' had been over £100,000 pa.

Anonymous said...

Income Tax, VAT, Council Tax, Car Tax, Tax on Savings, TV License. Probably pushing 50% of everything I earn in tax there.

Grumpy said...

If a country can not value and treasure its elderly and sick then you have to ask does it deserve to be a country at all. If the nations own government can not value and treasure its elderly and sick then they do NOT HAVE THE MORAL RIGHT TO GOVERN.

shorttemper said...

I read the article earlier and loved it, but only just read the title (courtesy of twitter) and it's reminded me of something

There was a show (documentary I think - probably about the elderly and death) on TV a year or two ago which featured a very old lady in her 90's or older. All her friends and family had passed away and she said she felt very much alone.

When asked how she felt about being old she said she wanted to die and said to the documentary person she thought she was still alive as, unlike her friends and family, god didn't want her. One of the most upsetting things I've seen on TV and it's stuck with me since.

No-one should have to feel like that so, much as I wouldn't want to wish death on someone, I hope she's found a happy place. I also hope every bit as much that whoever did that to a fellow human being gets their comeuppance and the poor lady who was attacked lives as happy a life for as long as she wants.

Good work Foxy. The upsetting memory from the headline is a *bonus*, of sorts

Coombe Mill said...

A heart felt post. The elderly don't have the respect they had when I was a nipper.

hannahclaytor said...

Totally agree with this.

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