Seventy per cent of people aged over 65 in the UK have never used the internet. In a time when personal communication, social networking and the supply of services is being revolutionized by technology, older people are being largely excluded. The Government is concerned enough about this to have introduced a panoply of initiatives to overcome digital exclusion, many of which are aimed directly at older people. But the dominant reason older people say they don’t take up or haven’t sought access to the internet is that they don’t feel they need it.
Joan is a Canadian woman with a history of mental health problems. When she developed necrotising fasciitis and had to go into hospital, the people who cared about her joined an online social network so they could keep in touch with one another. That network was Tyze, which differs from more familiar sites like Facebook in that it has a specific purpose, with each network being based around a particular individual.
If you are at all interested in ageing, your inbox quickly fills up with an awful lot of blandishments, offers and promises. There are creams, supplements, diets, hormones; you can inject yourself with Botox, or ingest cow’s colostrum, put avocado on your eyes and chocolate in your mouth. The web is bristling with rumours that an anti-ageing gene is about to be, or has recently been, discovered. There are preparations to activate your pituitary gland and pills to boost your antioxidant free radical scavenging capacity, whatever that is.
David Willetts’ book is subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – and why they should give it back.’ This seems to imply a malign intention on the part of the post-war generation and, sure enough, at points in the book, Willetts talks of the ‘ultra-individualism unleashed’ by this generation, whose failure to exercise self-control he deplores. If you are part of a large cohort, he argues, ‘you will be able to spend your life in a generational bubble, always outvoting and outspending the generations before and after you.’ We are the selfish generation.
But can we help ourselves? It isn’t clear. A book subtitled, ‘How the baby boomers took their children’s future – but that’s what large cohorts do,’ wouldn’t have had quite the same edge. You get the sense that Willetts would quite like to be cross with the boomers (of whom he is one, having been born in 1956) because they have behaved very badly, but he knows it would be intellectually dishonest, because they didn’t have the faintest idea what they were doing.
The policy agreement from the new British coalition government is a seven-page summary, put together under 11 headings, in private and under pressure. Inevitably, it’s a bit thin in places – often more a statement of shared principles than specific intentions. So what does it mean for older people? And what can we infer from what has been lifted – and left out – from the Conservatives’ and Liberal Democrats’ respective election manifestos about how the new government has resolved to address pensions, tax, retirement and care?
So Britain finally has a new government, after five days in which the news has mainly been that some men were going in or out of a building. The policy positions of the first coalition since the second world war, hammered out in those meetings, will emerge over the coming days and weeks, but it seems likely that the Conservatives’ central proposal for domestic policy, the big society, will remain a significant part of the rhetoric.
Before the election, David Cameron described the big society as his party’s guiding philosophy. The Liberal Democrats share with their new Conservative colleagues a suspicion of the big state – which the big society is meant to render unnecessary – making this a relatively easy matter on which to collaborate. It is not yet clear, perhaps even to the Conservatives, quite what their big society amounts to. But one thing is plain: people over 50 will be crucial to its success. This could be, for older people, a big moment.
Two-thirds of Chinese can currently look forward to a destitute old age. China faces the prospect of tens of millions of low-wage workers maturing into indigent urban elders between 2020 and 2030, with untold social and political consequences.
A new report from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, The Graying Of The Middle Kingdom Revisited, analyses China’s current state of preparedness for its rapidly ageing population and makes persuasive recommendations for a pensions policy which could avert disaster.