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We need to talk about ageism

John Church, CEO of Age Action
Written by: John Church


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. 

False image

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. 

Enormous change

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?



It used to be called the Old Age Pension that you paid into during your working life and had a right to. Now it is called a Social Security payment that is seen by many as a handout.

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World Refugee Day

 Today, June 20th is World Refugee Day. The number of people fleeing war, persecution and conflict exceeded 70 million in 2018. This is the highest level that UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has seen in its almost 70 years. Data from UNHCR’s annual Global Trends report, released this week shows that almost 70.8 million people are now forcibly displaced. To put this in perspective, this is double the level of 20 years ago, 2.3 million more than a year ago, and corresponds to a population between that of Thailand and Turkey.   Today, older refugees make up some 8.5 per cent of the overall population of concern to UNHCR, and by 2050 more of the world will be over 60 than under 12. Older refugees experience an additional burden due to their age and associated conditions. In a report published by the Centre for Policy on Ageing and Age UK, they identified that “the main issues facing older refugees and asylum seekers are low income, the language barrier, the risk of loneliness and a lack of social networks, and possibly a loss of social status”.  Reduced mobility and a high number of chronic medical conditions also greatly impact the life of an older refugee, as adequate and culturally appropriate healthcare is often difficult to access. As well, throughout their time in refugee shelters, older refugees are also more likely to experience social disintegration, the impact of negative social selection and chronic dependency on the resources of refugee shelters. According to the International Federation on Ageing “The contributions of older refugees can have far-reaching impacts on the preservation of the cultures and traditions of disposed and displaced people. The wisdom and experiences of older refugees must be harnessed through formal and informal leadership roles, to improve the welfare of all refugees”. Marion MacGregor, writing for InfoMigrants says “Older refugees can be seen as an asset, rather than simply requiring special care. In many families, it falls to them to look after children so that their parents can work….. Older people are transmitters of culture, skills and crafts that are important in preserving traditions of displaced people. The resilience of older people can help to strengthen communities and they can contribute to positive and peace-building interactions with the local host communities.”