Ageism vs realism

There’s been a lot in the media lately about discrimination and the various “isms” – first the BBC presenter Miriam O’Reilly’s case concerning ageism and this week, the Sky football commentators being dismissed for sexism.

Both cases accentuate the extent to which although derogatory comments arguably spoken in jest (“watch those wrinkles”, “women don’t understand the offside rule”) might be innocuous at a certain level, they nevertheless inflict significant and incremental damage in terms of overall societal attitudes.

What we say perpetuates myths and stereotypes that simply aren’t true, but by saying them – and hearing and reading them – it reinforces the message that they must be.

Two news items today have emphasised this. First, a press release from LV (the Liverpool Victoria Friendly Society) summarising the findings of a new report into ageing. Their findings really aren’t anything new; they simply reinforce that 60-somethings are happier than their younger counterparts, feel financially and physically fitter and take more holidays.

Again unsurprisingly, the report shows that the definition of what is ‘old’ is different for every age group. According to the research, no one in the UK thinks they themselves are old; 18-19 year olds say 44 is officially ‘old’ while 40-somethings balk at this and say 67 is when you are actually ‘old’. Those in their 50s think you’re over the hill at 71 while those in their 60s think you’re past it at 73. Presumably they didn’t ask the over 70s if they felt “past it”.

So all this did was reinforce what we all know is reality: these days old age isn’t at all bad and starts much later than some younger people think. Why then in writing an otherwise quite informative article about marketing to older people does a journalist (or his editor) in the Independent think it’s okay to use a subheading “the booming consumer market is not young and funky, it’s old and wrinkly.” 

“Old and wrinkly” is a term that arguably is offensive even for ageing elephants. Used in respect of older people in the twentyfirst century it is inexcusable. The offence is then compounded by use of a number of other terms such as “granny friendly”

In common with many in his profession the journalist fails to specify who exactly he is talking about in referring to older people making the inevitable journalistic error of treating us all as one group, e.g. in talking about mobility aids he says, “Is it possible to make them acceptable to a generation who think they’re Keith Richards and Helen Mirren?” Stairlifts for people in their sixties – what is he on about?

Meanwhile Stannah show a greater grasp of reality by stating “They (stairlifts) are a really positive thing for people, so we talk to the extended family, the sons and daughters”. Yes, it is the sons and the daughters – “older people” themselves – who are involved in the buying decisions, not for themselves but the generation above them.

The article ends on an even worse note in terms of a lack of understanding of older people: “Stand by for an explosion in goods for the Third Age generation. Sit tight for the supercharged golf buggy. Hold on for Jean-Paul Gaultier incontinence pants. Stand by for the Philippe Starck walk-in bathtub…”

A clear reminder, if any was needed, that any “ism” is fuelled by a complete disregard for reality.

Why do adverts irritate me so much?

Ever wondered why so much advertising is aimed at the young? And that what advertising there is which might be construed as directed towards a wider or an older market contains outdated, outmoded and very patronising stereotypes of older consumers and older people in general?

Well, one clue might come from looking at the IPA (Institute of Practitioners in Advertising) 2010 Census of those working in media, advertising and marketing communications agencies. Leaving aside disturbing issues of race and gender, and looking just at age, we see that of the 18843 employees included in the census; just 5.3% were aged over 50 and 13.5% were 41-49, while 35.7% were 31-40 and a whopping 45.5% were aged 30 or below.

Granted, for all kinds of areas of activity, you don’t have to fall into a particular category to have some kind of empathy with the particular condition – but it does make you wonder. In such a self-reinforcing and self-congratulatory environment which areas and approaches do you think are going to be seen as the most attractive and most “sexy”, and also where can we get a few cheap laughs without stretching our brains too much?

The best generals, of course, recognise their own limitations and bring in relevant expertise when necessary. Let’s hope these young lions are doing this when it comes to really understanding a massive, growing and very important part of the economy.

Looking after your health – who can you trust?

We all know that looking after your health and taking preventative measures to ward off degenerative disease and decay is a priority for the over 50s. But sometimes conflicting advice makes it all seem far too difficult. How much alcohol is recommended? Are eggs good or bad for cholesterol? Should you take aspirin or avoid it? The list is endless and in the media, opinions change day to day.

A recent “sit up and take notice” piece concerned the health-giving properties of green tea which has long been promoted as a virtual wonder cure for all known ills. This time, however, reports were suggesting that merely drinking one cup a day would be enough to reduce your risk of dementia or cancer. Sounds fantastic – but is that true or not?

As ever, our advice is to check it out on a great website devoted to all things medical and health related, the “NHS Choices” website which you can access here ).  It gives full, scientific, unbiased advice and commentary on all such research studies and is worth checking out whenever these big claims break in the news.

For the record, the green tea claim apparently isn’t quite that straightforward as it was portrayed, see here.

Where there’s a will (and Gerry Robinson) there’s a way

Anyone over 50 who doesn’t have a will deserves to be locked in a room of squabbling lawyers for as long as it takes them to realise the error of their ways. The puny excuse of death being a distant and unlikely possibility no longer stands; everyone over 50 has to recognise that the grim reaper might now drop by unannounced any day, and it’s part of being a fully-fledged grown up to acknowledge that fact and not leave a great big mess for those left behind. 

That’s a view shared by leading business guru Sir Gerry Robinson, last seen on our TV screens tackling care homes. Now, in a new six part TV series Can’t Take It with You (BBC Two, Fridays) he tackles the subject of the emotional dilemmas people face in writing a will, working alongside a leading lawyer to provide real people with help in wrestling with the often taboo process of dividing up their estate.

Dying without a will can lead to people you love receiving nothing, or paying huge tax bills unnecessarily. Yet, shockingly, around 70% of people in the UK do not have a legally valid will – leaving their families not only very vulnerable but in the position of having to sort out a very complex and emotionally charged situation at a time when they may be feeling least able. 

Last week’s programme (the first in the series) accentuated very clearly how choosing between the people you love is never easy when it comes to writing a will –  what do you do if you have remarried and now have step-children to think of, in addition to your own kids? What if one of your children has gone off the rails? What if you can’t agree with your partner on the best way to divide everything up? Having observed these problems in the show, one had to admire those who had volunteered to appear.

Sir Gerry says: “I was astonished to discover how many people in this country haven’t written a legally-binding will … Would you rather write your will yourself, or have the government write it for you by default?”

The remainder of the series will, no doubt, make interesting viewing. Having tackled wills, it would be great if programme makers could seize the moment and deal with the even thornier issue of pensions next…

 To view the first programme click here:

Full steam ahead for the over 65s

Thank goodness the government hasn’t backed down in the face of industry whining of “too soon/too difficult” and decided to delay abolition of the default retirement age.

This week’s BBC age discrimination tribunal decision has underlined the fact that employers must now start putting some interest and enthusiasm into tackling the issues surrounding older workers if they too are not to find themselves facing claims.

How good it would be if in ten years’ time we have left age stereotyping and discrimination far, far behind us. Unfortunately, looking at how long it has taken women to make insufficient progress in the workplace, such a wish is probably ridiculously unrealistic.

The difference between the two scenarios however, is that unless you die first, everyone gets old. The attitudes younger people adopt today may someday either help or hinder their own aspirations and position.

Age Discrimination – when is a claim really justified?

The problem with employment law – which ought to be in place to support those with a genuine grievance and to discourage employers from riding roughshod over their employees – is that it is often utilized simply to back the claims of dissatisfied employees. Whatever the outcome of such cases, it is well nigh impossible, in general, for outsiders to decide whether it was justified in terms of who did what to whom.

This seems to be the case with the ruling concerning BBC presenter 53-year-old Miriam O’Reilly who has just won a claim against her employers for Age Discrimination. The BBC of course, claimed it was no such thing and it was simply that in respect of the programme’s requirements, Miriam’s face (literally) no longer fitted. 

However, regardless of the facts of this case, the BBC seem to have queered their pitch once too often in terms of their treatment of older female employees. Serena Scott, Arlene Phillips, Moira Stewart…. let’s hope this judgment makes them seriously reconsider not just their policies but the whole culture of the BBC which fosters such attitudes.

As a publicly-funded organization, they have a duty to be beyond all doubt in respect of the way they treat their employees. It is not for them to decide for us, the viewers, who we would prefer to see on our screens.

The new longevity: does that include me?

In what was evidently a none too subtle attempt at attitudinal engineering, the DWP released the news as the old year died that some 17% of us who are now alive will live to be 100. No doubt the subliminal message was intended to be that we all ought to do more of the things that are necessary to sustain such alarming longevity such as looking after our health, saving more and working longer. 

Of course, the latter element isn’t purely down to personal choice and much as one might hope that a wake-up reminder about longevity will have employers marching back to work today determined to consider new strategies and policies to retain and recruit older employees, realistically it’s unlikely.

Having read numerous feature articles over the past few days focusing on the new statistics I was interested to see that none mentioned a key dilemma from the individual’s perspective – that is trying to rationalise how long your own lifespan is likely to be. The sad and untimely deaths of the actor Pete Postlethwaite at age 64 and musician Gerry Rafferty at 63 were stark reminders that, for many, the end can still come far too soon.

Much of what was written concerned the need for individuals to work longer and revise their attitudes towards ageing. All good stuff and eminently sensible if you know you are going to make it into your eighties, nineties, or even older. But many people, based on family history and the experiences of friends, colleagues and acquaintances still have an underlying suspicion – despite all the demographic statistics – that they themselves may not. Hence why stopping work as early as possible, spending on luxuries and living for today are an attractive and, in some ways, logical option.

Apparently scientific developments relating to the ability to make individual predictions of longevity are impressive but so far are neither widely accessible nor infallible. And of course, there are dangers if they fall into the wrong hands. Nevertheless, perhaps the time has come when we need to stop being so coy about the issue of when we each might shuffle off and start demanding individual assessments based on such measures as are available.

Of course no prediction could be guaranteed but, compared to the current situation where ageing means entering the land of the complete unknown, access to what meaningful information there is at say age 50, including one’s risk of particular diseases, could be a useful starting point for planning one’s future life.