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By Debbie le Quesne

Archbishop’s parting shot to the Lords: A salute to the elderly

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Old people are not a burden to society and negative views of them lead to a climate where they can be abused, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.

During his final speech to the House of Lords, Dr Rowan Williams said attitudes of “contempt and exasperation” towards the ageing population were contributing to a range of abuse.

These included many things from patronising and impatient behaviour to physical mistreatment.

In his final appearance in the Lords as Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Williams led a debate about the place and contribution of older people in society. 

He argued that there is currently a misconception about older people and that, rather than being seen a ‘burden’, they should instead be recognised for the enormous amount of voluntary work that they do in their communities.

As a man of the cloth, I would expect nothing less than he champion the dignity and respect of the elderly.

“As things stand, more than half the over-60 population are involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work; over half of the population believes that this is part of what they should aspire to in later life, and a third are willing to take part in informal volunteering,” he said.

He went on to urge support for those whose independence had been compromised through age. And he added that the church and other faith communities should play a central role in facilitating difference generations engaging with one another.

But there was one thing in particular about his opening speech that caught my attention: He pointed to a society where culture is “frenetically oriented towards youth – notably in entertainment and marketing.”

“But its effect,” he added, “can be both to ignore the present reality of responsible, active people in older life, who are still participants in society, not passengers – and to encourage younger people to forget that they are ageing themselves, and that they will be in need of positive and hopeful models for their own later years.”

This is wise counsel.

In May last year Dr Williams said people had unrealistic expectations about health and happiness, rather than settling for simply being in “reasonable working order.

As a result, he warned, “deep anxieties about ageing” in society have helped “marginalise and demean” older people.

Let’s hope his prayers for better integration of ages will be answered.

And while we’re seeking divine intervention, Dr Williams, would you please say one for those who will map the future of financial provision for long-term care? I think they’ll need the wisdom of Solomon, the zeal of St Paul and the patience of Job.

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