Sunday, 18 May 2014

You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old

The centenarian American comedian, George Burns, once said “You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old” – something he proved by performing well into his 90s while chomping on his trademark cigar. 

The first task that I had on being elected to a second term as mayor was to choose my charity for the year. The over-60s is the fastest-growing group in society – there are more of us living longer than ever. Ageing is not an illness, but it can be challenging. And so I have chosen as my charities Age UK and Dementia UK. Age UK state “We believe in a world where everyone can love later life. Age UK is here to inspire, enable and support older people to help people make the most of later life.”

The older generation are the last that would want or expect a “hand-out”: their lives have epitomised self-reliance and taking responsibility. Many pride themselves on their independence and fear becoming a “burden”. Those of us who have yet to reach this stage of our lives must respect this – but at the same time we must not use the dignity of old age as an excuse for our inaction. We should stand up and speak out especially for those for whom old age is marked by exclusion and poverty, and also protect the long-term interests of future generations. We must always remember that we work best as a community, and that every one of us will spend most of our lives dependent on others.

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon."
Said the old man, "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
I do that too," laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded, "So do I."
But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems
Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
I know what you mean," said the little old man.”

Our mutual dependency is not a burden but a strength. 

What in practical terms can we do for one another? Well, in the short term there are some easy steps. We must look out for one another. We should take a moment from our busy schedules to consider those around us. A simple phone call, a quick chat over the garden fence, can represent a lifeline to a world that for some is fast retreating. We already have a network in place – Neighbourhood Watch – that does a superb job at safeguarding our property. What a difference it would make if we could protect in the same way those in our community who may be at risk.

As many as one in four pensioners live in poverty. I would like to see the introduction of a Citizens' Pension to replace the current basic state pension and any additional top-up benefits, such as the demeaning pension credits and winter fuel allowances. Unlike the current system this would be unconditional, given as a right of citizenship and not subject to means testing. They will not be restricted to those people who have paid National Insurance contributions, which, for example currently leaves many women without a proper state pension due to having an incomplete payment record. This will not restrict an individual's right to continue working – there are many who wish to work well beyond the official retirement age and should be able to do so – and any additional earnings will be taxed just as they would for those below the pension age.

I would like too to see a supplement paid to pensioners living alone as well as for those with disabilities and special needs. This will include payments to cover the costs of residential care, should this become necessary. Elderly residents should no longer be forced to sell their homes in order to pay for such care, as these supplements will not be subject to means-testing.

There is much to be done. Let’s tackle together the challenges of old age so that we an all love later life.

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