Age Action CEO John Church believes that at the heart of so many of the problems facing older people in Ireland is ageism.
We hear it in the expressions ‘pensions timebomb’ and ‘bed-blockers’. We hear it when commentators suggest getting people out of their homes to make way for young couples to fix the housing crisis.
Think about that. If anyone suggested Catholics should move house to make rooms for Protestants, or vice versa, there would be outrage. Religious discrimination is unacceptable.
In Hollywood, and here in Ireland with the controversy around the Gate Theatre, we see sex discrimination in the workplace being courageously challenged.
So why is age discrimination still so acceptable?
There is a sense out there that once you’re in your 70s, or even your 60s, your race is run. It’s time to stand aside for the next generation.
Sometimes it is a sort of well-intentioned ageism because it’s assumed that every older person is desperately in need. Far from relying on others to help, it is often older people who are the volunteers, who are active in their communities, who ensure not one gets left behind.
If we let others portray older people as dependants and as victims it feeds into a false image of what older people can, and do, achieve.
Ageism – any form of discrimination – is about seeing people as less than us, as inferior.
And if you can be portrayed that way, it’s easier to believe you don’t have the same rights, entitlements and opportunities as the rest of us.
So here’s the reality. People are living longer and healthier lives. That’s a good thing, it’s a success story.
Some older people need help just like all of us do from time to time. But others are carers, volunteers, businesspeople, activists, sportspersons, teachers and community leaders who give an enormous amount to our society.
Ireland has changed enormously in the last 20 years or so. Language that was common one time about people who did not share our religious beliefs, ethnic background or sexual orientation is now – rightly – unacceptable.
In the coming months we are going to start working together to design the next Strategic Plan for Age Action, to set out what we as campaigners and advocates will work on for the next three years.
As part of that I believe we need to ask whether ageism is the last acceptable prejudice? And if it is, how can we as a movement of members, volunteers and activists identify it, confront it and bring it to an end?