Our CEO Dr Donald Macaskill was pleased to take part in Scotland’s first Festival of Age which was held in Glasgow on Thursday 23rd May.

Before the event he wrote the following blog to challenge some of the stereotypes and negative attitudes which still exist around age.

Madonna – The champion of age. 

Over the years the controversial singer Madonna has spoken about the flak that she had to take because of “using sexuality as part of my creativity” and with being labelled a “sexual provocateur” amongst the politest of critiques.

She is now facing a new battle and in an interview in British Voguepublished on 10th May has argued that she is now fighting ageism in the music industry and that she is “being punished” for hitting 60.

She told Voguemagazine: “People have always been trying to silence me for one reason or another, whether it’s that I’m not pretty enough, I don’t sing well enough, I’m not talented enough, I’m not married enough, and now it’s that I’m not young enough.

All too many people will share Madonna’s angst about ageism and I for one look forward to her battling against it.

Ageism is so endemic that it has become part and parcel of the wallpaper of our realities – so subtle, so pervasive that it is not even noticed; it is just accepted as a given, as a state of unalterable being. It’s almost the same position that racism was in the 1950s and early 1960s – so unconsciously accepted as a social norm in the UK that it went unnoticed – except by its victims. It is in the language we use, the stereotypes we accept, the rhetoric we hear.

What do a ticking time bomb, a silver tsunami and a population apocalypse all have in common? No, they aren’t the latest plotline from an episode of Line of Dutybut rather they are phrases used to describe the fact that we are living longer. They are highly negative descriptions of a reality that most of us would or should want to celebrate – we are dying older and healthier than at any time in Scottish history. So why the negativity? Why is it that so much of our cultural and political discourse about old age paints such a dark and depressing picture of decline?

Old age is something which should be valued, but alarmist attitudes fail to recognise the benefits and potential of older age and feed into the myth that getting old is about losing something rather than gaining something new and potentially positive. Old age is seen as a challenge rather than an opportunity.

Everywhere you look there are negative stereotypes which perpetuate the myth that older people are incapable and dependent, have nothing to contribute but rather are a burden and a drain on society. We see this in many of the current debates about social care and health which count up the costs an ageing population results in but fail to recognise that over 90% of care delivered in this country comes from the hands of people who are themselves old thus saving the taxpayer countless millions.

In Scotland I am sure we would like to believe that we treat all peoples as equal, regardless of colour, creed, disability, sexual orientation and we have indeed made great strides in addressing discrimination and hate. But have we made the same progress against negative stereotyping and discrimination which is based on age? I think not – why is it that a child in receipt of residential care will have nearly double the amount of public resource allocated to their care than an older person of 90 in a care home? Why is it that countless individuals talk about not even getting the chance of an interview if they are over 60 and are seeking employment? Why is it that at the age of 65 people who are accessing social care support move from being an adult onto being an ‘older person’ and in some areas such as mental health services they tell us they suddenly find the level of their support diminishes? Do we feel it is adequate that for thousands of older people seeking social care support that you can only now be eligible if your need is ‘critical’, that our social care services are critically under-funded?

We need to take off the heather-tinted glasses and face up to the reality that Scotland is as ageist a nation as many others in the world but rather than just recognise this we need to act . Yes, the Scottish Government has just published a great summative strategy, but …

Scotland has a real opportunity to do things much better. Embedding human rights at the heart of economic, social and political systems is a start. However, regardless of good policy intention and political priorities unless we address the pervasive cult of youth in our society, we will continue to acquiesce with ageist discrimination.

So, with Madonna I will continue to fight against the ageist discrimination that fails to value contribution, for me that means fighting for Scotland to have an Older People’s Commissioner and for a Convention of the Rights of Age. What does it mean for you? How can we together create a country which is the best place in which to grow old and in which value and contribution is recognised regardless of chronology?

 

In the words of Madonna:

“I have a dream
But dreams are not for free
We all need to change
Or just repeat history.”

Dr Donald Macaskill

CEO, Scottish Care