We are rightly proud of our ageing society and celebrate the opportunities as well as the challenges this brings to how we plan, design and deliver public services, support each other and connect to the communities we live in.
Despite widespread acceptance of this good news story, we know, however, that older people continue to face, often on a daily basis, negative, ageist attitudes, which are also used to justify discrimination and exclusion. Research indicates that ageism is widespread, endemic in most cultures and countries across the globe, with a person’s ability, capacity, ambition and value being linked to their age rather than their personal achievements. The lack of a firm commitment to introduce legislation to protect older people from being discriminated against on the basis of age when accessing goods, facilities and services demonstrates the gap between rhetoric and reality around promoting the rights of older people in Northern Ireland.
Stereotypes not only deny the diversity of views, experiences and backgrounds of older people but also serve to normalise ageism and prejudice. Even though many of us can look forward to living longer, such is the stigma associated with being older that few people want to be considered old. Recent media coverage of Jeremy Paxman’s angry characterisation of older people as being “virtual corpses”, of being “humourless” and riddled with “incontinence and idiocy” was not only inaccurate and ageist, but also provided a platform for discussion about whether older people should be denied what is recognised as a fundamental right – the right to vote.
So the call on 1 October, International Day of Older Persons, to ‘Take a stand against ageism’ is timely and relevant beyond the day itself. Too often, older people are denied autonomy, respect and dignity; largely invisible to decision makers; their individual wishes and preferences on how they wish to live their life, ignored. We know that ageism denies older people access to opportunities and the services they require. But we are also diminished by failing to name and challenge ageism in all its forms. By refusing to endorse or accept ageist attitudes and prejudice we will not only improve the lives of older people now but lay the foundations for a more equal and fair society that will benefit us all.
Age NI Head of Policy and Influencing
04 October 2016