Hurrah! After a lifetime of privilege — as a white, male, middle-class, able-bodied heterosexual — I can finally stake my claim to being the victim of an -ism.
No longer need I suffer guilt and shame over the blessings fate bestowed on me from the moment I came into this world at the end of November 1953.
Nor need I feel left out when others bask in the righteous glow of victimhood, blaming their misfortunes on society’s ill-treatment of minorities.
I trust that, like so many people of my age and older, I’ll learn instead to accept that we can be an irritating and often a burdensome bunch as we fumble with SIM cards and ask people to repeat excruciating cracker jokes [File photo]
For, since I turned 65 last month, and thus became a fully-fledged old age pensioner, I myself have joined the ranks of the persecuted.
Indeed, along with my Freedom Pass I’ve acquired the right to demand legal protection from one of the most widespread and insidious -isms of the lot — the scourge of ageism.
Don’t take my word for it that Britain is a ‘completely and institutionally ageist’ society.
This is the verdict of Professor Martin Green, chief executive of Care England, the country’s leading representative body for independent social care providers.
Speaking this week, he says ageism in the UK is a ‘national scandal’ that should be vigorously challenged in the courts.
For good measure, he adds that the people at the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should ‘hang their heads in shame’ over the Commission’s failure to pursue cases of prejudice against the elderly with the same energy it shows in tackling other -isms such as sexism, racism and homophobia (a charge it hotly denies).
Certainly, he’s right to suggest there’s an awful lot of casual ageism around. What is pretty clear, too, is that it tends to attract far less opprobrium than other forms of discrimination.
Take last week’s outcry against Jeremy Corbyn, after most lip-readers agreed he had muttered ‘stupid woman’ at Theresa May in the Commons. I must say I was slightly baffled by the fuss (though I can see it was deeply wrong and dishonest of him — not to mention insulting to our intelligence — to lie to the House, claiming he’d said ‘stupid people’).
Corbyn apparently muttered ‘stupid woman’ at Prime Minister Theresa May during a heated exchange in the Commons earlier this month, which he denies
After all, politicians since the dawn of time have been calling their opponents stupid, and there’s no denying Mrs May is a woman. But I do understand the point that Mr Corbyn’s remark may have betrayed a deep-seated misogyny, all too typical of the hard-Left.
As the former Tory MP Matthew Parris put it this week: ‘ ‘Stupid woman’ is offensive in the way that ‘thieving gypsy’ would be offensive because it gains its force by trading on an unspoken prejudice that links that noun with that adjective.’
But now ask yourself this: would there have been half as much fuss if Mrs May had called the 69-year-old Mr Corbyn an ‘old fool’? (Perhaps she would have gone on to lie and claim she’d merely referred to him as ‘old school’.) I reckon we can safely say the answer is No.
Indeed, I don’t remember anyone kicking up a hue and cry against the many Tories, and members of Mr Corbyn’s own party, who have used those very words to describe the Labour leader (with some reason, I would argue).
Yet if the phrase ‘stupid woman’ may be taken to betray prejudice against all women, the oft-linked words ‘old fool’ must surely be deemed, by the same token, to be offensive to all elderly people.
In fact, I notice that in the course of the two paragraphs in which Mr Parris attacked those who don’t see what the fuss was about, he twice used the phrase ‘grumpy old men’. By linking those two adjectives, wasn’t he guilty of trading on an unspoken prejudice against the elderly? Or are we to acquit him because he himself happens to be an OAP of 69?
Whatever the truth, it grieves me to report that a certain amount of gerontophobia was on display around the Utleys’ festive table on Christmas Day. It showed itself in much eye-rolling and exasperated sighing by the young when they were asked to repeat Christmas cracker jokes more loudly for the benefit of older and deafer family members.
It could be heard, too, in our sons’ mutterings about senility as they watched their poor father trying and failing to transfer Mrs U’s SIM card from her old mobile phone to her state-of-the-art new one, a Christmas gift from me.
On the first point, I admit some sympathy with the young. Cracker jokes, such as ‘what do you get when you cross a kangaroo with a sheep?’, are unfunny enough when you hear them the first time round (which in my case, apropos the woolly jumper, was in about 1958). After the fifth repetition over the lunch table, at increasing volume every time, they are nothing less than excruciating.
As for my difficulties with the SIM card — or, indeed, with any form of new technology — all I can plead is that I belong to a generation — one of the last — brought up before the age of the internet. In contrast, our young have been online almost from the moment they emerged from the womb. No wonder coping with computers and smartphones comes as second nature to them.
But of course Professor Green is not suggesting that the young should be hauled off to court for failing to show due respect to their elders and betters. No, what he demands is that the EHRC uphold old people’s legal right to the same level of public service as that enjoyed by the young.
As he puts it: ‘A younger person with brain damage will have a care plan from the NHS that includes maintaining links with their family and accessing education. An older person with the same level of functionality but suffering dementia, however, will have a social care plan costing many thousands of pounds less a week, which is based entirely around getting the older person out of bed, washed and breakfasted, all in half an hour.
‘God alone knows why it hasn’t been challenged in the courts in the same way that instances of racism and homophobia are. If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is.
‘You hear those in the NHS say: ‘That person is too old for an operation’, but they’d never say they are ‘too black’ or ‘too gay’ for treatment.’
Now, I hate to sound like a traitor to my age group, but it strikes me that the professor is drawing a false analogy. I grant you; in an ideal world we would have the same right to, say, a hip replacement, whether we happened to be 47 or 97.
We may argue until the cows come home about which is the worst of the -isms. But I leave you with the thought that perhaps ageism is the most foolish — since, barring accidents, even the young will grow old one day [File photo]
But in this imperfect world, where healthcare must inevitably be rationed, it clearly makes more sense to give the new hip to the patient who will benefit from it for decades, rather than just a few months or years. This is simply not the same as discriminating on the grounds of race or sexuality — a monstrous offence, in any fair-minded person’s book.
No; I trust that as I grow older, I won’t wallow in victimhood, ranting against society’s prejudice against the elderly and demanding equal rights with the young.
I trust that, like so many people of my age and older, I’ll learn instead to accept that we can be an irritating and often a burdensome bunch as we fumble with SIM cards and ask people to repeat excruciating cracker jokes.
But at this time of increasing division between the generations, is it too much to hope that the young, in return, will try to show a little more patience and understanding of the frailties of old age?
We may argue until the cows come home about which is the worst of the -isms. But I leave you with the thought that perhaps ageism is the most foolish — since, barring accidents, even the young will grow old one day.
With that, this grumpy old fool wishes readers of every age group a very happy 2019.