Caroline Waters, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, called for a radical rethink about the way we view later life.
A radical approach is needed to overcome the ageist assumptions that are holding us back from a happier, healthier later life, according to a leading HR expert.
Caroline Waters, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says the coronavirus pandemic has seen a return to damaging blanket assumptions and policies related to older people, with an association between age and vulnerability emphasised. “It has led to decisions that effectively removed choice and the voice of older people at a critical time,” she told a recent International Longevity Centre webinar which launched its Work for Tomorrow programme.
At best, she added, this served to freeze older people out of the workforce and at worst it denied them basic rights, such as access to health services. That will have an ongoing impact on their health and on perceptions of older people generally.
However, she said what happens next is more important than what happened immediately after lockdown. She would like to see a move towards an age agnostic delivery of medical services, towards a recognition that biological age is not an indicator of ability or future contribution and towards a world where older people feel included in decision-making and where the dividends of policies that contribute to longer, healthier lives are appreciated. The latter requires a fundamental rethinking of policy assumptions around public services such as health and education and joined up thinking, said Waters.
On education, for instance, more emphasis needs to be put on teaching people how to adapt to change, acquire and apply skills, to know what is relevant and of value and to understand what we need at different stages of our lives to be emotionally, economically and academically healthy in later life, said Waters. She added that we need to plan for a healthy, productive older age when we are young and to cease to see life as a linear progression of blocks from childhood to retirement. Instead it was more of a zig zag between stages which were all interconnected and which individuals weave through.
That rethinking needed to be funded in innovative ways, she said, adding that her view was an optimistic one, based on the idea of most people being “pretty decent”. There was too much cynicism about welfare, she said. “We need to use our collective positivity and intelligence to create a tangible framework that allows people to flourish in later life,” said Waters.