Opinion: Valuing Carers and Respecting Older People

 

I think valuing carers and respecting older people go hand-in-hand.  Do you know that there is a ‘Respect for the Aged Day’ in Japan each year in September?  It is a national holiday (Keirō no hi) – can you imagine devoting one of our Bank Holidays to celebrating older people?  I think it would be a good idea, and raise awareness of the value and contribution older people have made and continue to make in society.

Many older people have active and engaged lives well into old age – something I am hoping to achieve!  But others suffer ill-health and need care.  How we provide this care, and the attitude behind how we provide care, is important.  If we, as a society, truly value older people, we will resource care that honours and respects the older person.  Of course much care is provided freely by family members, and indeed many of those family members are older themselves.

However I think the low wages employed carers receive reflects an underlying attitude that we do not value care work.  And I think the short times allowed for care visits reflect a lack of respect for older people.  The two are related.  If we truly valued older people, we would allow ample time for their care.  And if we truly valued carers, we would pay them a decent wage.

I have a friend who has worked for years as a paid carer and she’s good at her job.  But she now needs an operation and will be off work for three months.  She is worried about how she will pay her rent and bills while she is off work because she has no savings to fall back on.  She barely scrapes by as it is.

And one last point…let’s try to encourage inter-generational relationships.  Adopt-a-Grandma programmes or Adopt-a-Grandchild would integrate our fragmented communities where so many live and work away from their family networks.  Positioning nurseries next to old people’s homes and allowing the aged to engage and play with the young would benefit all.  Encouraging schools to interact with retirement homes, young people to regularly volunteer in reading to older people or doing puzzles and craft together, would integrate our communities.  It is only as we spend time together that we will grow together and value one another. We will also combat the loneliness and isolation felt by many older people – see the work of Silverline.

So let’s have a Bank Holiday for the Aged…bringing the elderly cards, flowers, laying on civic ceremonies and pageants.  Let’s make a big deal about old age – listening to older people, learning from older people, enjoying getting to know older people.  And let’s value carers.  In doing so we will create a Stronger Society and Fairer Economy for all.  [Yes, I know that’s the wrong way around.]

* Kirsten Johnson was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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6 Comments

  • Perhaps not cutting funding would have been better?

  • Kirsten johnson 2nd Feb '15 - 7:46pm

    Thank you, Anne, for reading my blog. I’m glad you agree that carers should be paid more. This has been a problem for many years, just as many jobs are underpaid. I am keen that carers are paid a Living Wage, at the very least, and I will support any initiatives to this end. It’s one reason I’m now getting involved with politics, having sat on the sidelines and complained for many years! The disparity between the low-paid and wealthy is grossly unfair and needs to be remedied.

  • David Warren 3rd Feb '15 - 9:47am

    Its great that you are highlighting the issue of carers Kirsten.

    I have had a caring role for a number of years now and have previously written for LDV about my experiences.

    The current situation is not sustainable.

    Hopefully the real debate on what sort of reforms are needed will start soon.

  • Kirsten johnson 4th Feb '15 - 9:29pm

    David, thank you. I’d like to hear some of your ideas. Can you email me on [email protected]?

  • Catherine Royce 5th Feb '15 - 9:12pm

    Have a look at our new policy Age Ready Britain; Realising the Potential of an Ageing Society which was endorsed by conference in Glasgow in 2014. The role of the carer and taking more care of them was something we tried to address in the working group, we’ve only taken afew tentative steps, manily due to the prevailing economic climate in which the document was written, and much more needs to be done. Perhaps we should be campaigning for a minimum one hour visit time for any elderly person who is living on their own? Certainly we need to value carers more, pay them more and improve their work conditions.
    We are also not making the most of pensioners themselves, who are healther, wealthier and paying taxes for longer than ever before, their net contribution was in the region of £40billion in 2010 and will rise to a net contribution of £77 billion in 2030 . Pensioner poverty has halved in the last 20 years from 30% to 15% and active retirees are doing a huge amount of unpaid voluntary work within their families and local communities. Eight out of ten 85year olds are still living independantly in their own homes, albeit with help in many cases.
    The under 65s are a much greater burden on the NHS than pensioners and likely to be so for some time to come! We need to change the narrative and maybe a Respect for the Aged day would help.

  • Kirsten johnson 14th Feb '15 - 8:56am

    Thank you for your very worthy comments, Catherine. Yes, our Ageing Society paper is going in the right direction. Your statistics on the independence of older people are great! I agree that we need to change the narrative. Your point about the under 65s being a much greater burden on the NHS is not often heard – older people get a lot of blame for the stress put on the NHS.

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