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Making age personal….

1 October 2018

The 2018 theme of United Nations International Day of Older Persons is “Celebrating Older Human Rights Champions“. What better way to celebrate this Day than by celebrating the older people around the world who dedicate their lives to championing human rights? They are as diverse as the society in which they live: from older people advocating for human rights at the grass root and community level to high profile figures on the international stage.

Each and every one demands equal respect and acknowledgement for their dedication and commitment to contributing to a world free from fear and free from want. The key aims of the day can be found here.

There are also some excellent resources launched as part of this day including a focus in the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists animation to encourage the building of muscle mass in older age, Help Age International Wall of Photos celebrating Older Age HR champions and the launch of localised age friendly challenges, such as this one in Greater Manchester.

In thinking about this important celebration, I have been asking myself how do we ‘own’ older age in a way that makes the very key issues associated with this important day relevant to each and everyone of us? I have grown up being very influenced by the power of the politics of identity – the influential movements in my life to date have reflected on securing changes to society that will improve the position of groups within society that I was either part of, or could understand through powerful personal testimony.

This meant I could relate to the cause and through this understanding, I could ‘walk in the shoes’ of people who identified with that group. I am left wondering then, that why is it that I do not find the same level of ‘politics’ surrounding this key part of our population. The challenge for those promulgating theories of change around older age, is that whilst many will advocate from the sides, the same ‘ownership’ of the agenda appears not to exist.

Ageing, in the context of ‘older’, sits in position of ‘other’ in many peoples minds, whilst at the same time being part of everyone’s future. I have been very struck by this disconnect in recent months, whilst I have been supporting my mum to move into retirement housing; I am convinced, she remains of the view that her greatest concern is how will she relate to ‘all the old people there’. She is 85 and distinctly frail – but clearly young (or distinctly not ‘old’) in heart and mind.

The solution for many successful movements, be it feminism, disability rights, LGBT rights – has often been about reclamation. About taking back the label and reclaiming it as a positive badge of honour, rather than an external label of rebuke or reduction. Lots of descriptions of older people apply honour – ‘a canopy of wisdom’, a ‘wealth of lived experience’, but they are not regularly ‘owned’ in same way as can be found in other movements with anthems such as Helen Reddy’s ‘I am woman’ or Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman’, or indeed mobilising mantras such as ‘Out and Proud’.

I was very interested at our international conference earlier this year that a number of international delegates talked about how change was initiated for older people in their countries – and that was through older people mobilising and descending on town halls and decision makers.

I tried to envisage the impact of that on the way that politics happens in the UK and wondered how it might work with ageing. I was reading the recent Age UK report on Ageing and Loneliness, and struck by the fact that the report is talking about anyone of 50 or over. In addition, when we talk about older people’s specialist housing, the entry point for this in planning terms is 55. In the UK if we use the Age UK research stratification that we should be thinking about how services should be shaped and framed to meet the needs of those of 50 and over, we are talking about over 33% of the UK population according to ONS figures.

If all those of 50 and over stood loud and proud and said I am now part of the ageing population and I need services to better reflect my needs, then it would be clear that we would need a very different focus in policy making. All the time we think about ageing as something that has not yet arrived, we let key decision makers off the hook.

As International Day for Older Persons comes and goes, it is right that we should celebrate the ‘Older Peoples Human Rights champions’ and building from that, we should think about how each and every one of us can ourselves be Older Peoples Human Rights champions. As I tip ever closer to 50 myself, I am ready to adopt a new form of personal politics that puts my age as a strength and asset – not because someone else says it is – but because I own it as a powerful part of me. Anyone want to join me?

Final Note

As party conference season draws to a close, we are reminded of a very full political agenda over the coming months. We should be seeing the NHS 10 Year Plan, the Social Care Green Paper alongside the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Amidst all that, the Chancellor announced last week that the budget date had been brought forward. So – budget watchers – when you reset your clocks at the end of the month – it will be a reminder for you that the very next day is Budget Day – the 29th October 2018.

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