The Decline System – challenging the narrative on ageing by Dr Mervyn Eastman

This is a guest blog from Mervyn Eastman Change AGEnts Network UK, CoDirector and Society Secretary. He wrote it originally for Age Action Alliance but they declined to publish it so I have posted it here with Mervyn’s Consent. Follow him on twitter at @MervChangeAGEnt

The Decline System

When the Government responded to Lord Filkin’s House of Lords Committee’s Report ‘ Ready For Ageing’ he slammed it as “ weak and failing to give leadership on the biggest social change facing our society “. The Government’s reaction showed yet again their incredible lack of informed debate and perpetrating the aging demographic as a crisis rather than being beneficial. No wonder the good Lord Filkin was so hacked off!
On the 8th of July I become officially an “ old age pensioner “ and given I am an early Boomer ( b 1945-1954 ), I will be one of millions who will, in ten to fifteen years time drain the poor public purse because our health and social care needs. Having denied our children their rightful legacy by spending all their inheritance, we will be storming Adult Social Care offices across this green and pleasant land clutching our Personalization budgets storming Adult Social Care offices across this green and pleasant land demanding replacement plasma screens.

This narrative has to be challenged and confronted, as in the words of Margaret Gullette * it is an “erosion of seniority and respect for ageing; that stops and reverses the manipulation of the cult of youth and the present narrative of fatalism about old age and obscures those forces that undermine our understanding of age and the fullest possible experience of life itself”. Gullette talks about ‘ the Decline System’- one of doom and one of gloom and which demonizes ageing and increasingly threatens the very fabric of our social and economic cohesion – my paraphrasing for dramatic effect. What’s the use of Blogging without any drama?

What are those threats from the entire decline system which she articulates as “the innocent absorption of cultural signals, youthful age anxiety, middle-ageism –which infiltrates our society from top to bottom”?
 Psychological well being
 Healthy brain functioning
 Public health
 Midlife job growth
 Full employment and the economic contribution of Older people
 Intergenerational Harmony
 The pursuit of happiness and the fullest possible experience of life itself

So as I hit this life course milestone of perceived “dotage”, what do I personally think is required from me? Firstly, confronting in every which way the pervasive Decline System on which much public policy and practice is based; adding my time and energy alongside the host of individuals and small locally run organisations out there striving to write a new narrative which challenges the current ageing construct. I come across them all the time, but often our influence is limited for lack of celebrity or political patronage, thus muting our collective voices, (an indictment on both civic and civil society).

Secondly, contributing to an enlightened and evidence based approach that confronts and transforms the ‘social epidemic’ of the decline system which has been my mission and passion personally and professionally for over forty years.

Again quoting my newly discovered cultural critic, “inviting us to step closer to our ageing bodies and souls and then remind us that we cannot step into another’s life course; can never wrap ourselves in their experience of ageing “

If we are to redefine ageing we surely must also face our own attitudes to that ageing. I hope to enjoy whatever later years are left me to experience new adventures and realize new ambitions but I realise I may have to face a period of poor acute or chronic ill health, but I do not want to be defined at 65 years as a potential burden when I’m in my late 70’s 80’s 90’s. I am me, not you, and I cannot define your own aging experience. I do not, as I draw my State Pension in a few months time want to be turned into a demographic ‘time bomb’ about to explode all over my local Co-op store !
Forgive the rant but unless we collectively re-write the mind-set of decline, thus promoting new paradigms of ageing and growing older we will simply remain invisible at best and derided at worse . Let Gullette have the last word “ Attitudes get enacted in laws and acted out through relationships. Context is everything.”

*Quotes taken from Gullette M, “Agewise”, The University of Chicago Press ( 2013)

Mervyn Eastman, Change AGEnts Network UK, CoDirector and Society Secretary


Losing hope over social care

This is the most pessimistic blog I’ve ever written; it contains no ideas, no solutions, not even really that much anger just a ton of weary despair.

Today the ADaSS has released findings of a survey which show that the total budget put aside for means-tested social care by councils in 2014-15 stands at £13.68bn which represents a drop in cash terms of £266m from last year and a real terms cut of 12% since 2010 once inflation is taken into account.

At the same time demand for support has risen by 14% since 2010, meaning councils have had to make savings of 26%. LGA estimate the funding gap for social care will be 1.9 billion by March 16

The Governments response is depressingly predictable “‘Councils are ultimately responsible for deciding how to spend their budgets but we agree that we all need to work differently’ said a person from DH, she added the Better Care Fund would help

In other words, 1. blame local authorities and fail to mention that most have had their budgets reduce by 30-40% and 2. point at the Better Care Fund as the panacea to solve all social care ills.

Equally predictable and depressing is the complete lack of public outcry about the frankly shameful level and standard of social care in this country . I know The Guardian shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a barometer of the public view but just look at the number of comments any article about the NHS gets (easily hundreds) and then the number ones on social care get (tens if you’re lucky). It’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the general public don’t understand or care about social care. It’s all about the NHS.

As far as I can see, the Government sees no votes in social care because the public displays little or no interest in it. Unless it starts to affect voting patterns, I can’t see any Government prepared to have the conversation with the public that needs to be had about social care funding or to put the money into it that’s required. It’s a vicious circle.

As for me, after 20 odd years of trying to work with a social care system that seems to be crumbling to dust leaving the most vulnerable and the poorest with next to no care or support, I don’t know what to do. It seems impossible to change a social care system when society just frankly just doesn’t seem to give a ^$$(£$^ about it. I have huge admiration for people like @whoseshoes @legalaware @ermintrude @markneary1 and @georgejulian who battle on and on, yelling about the injustice, poor practice and appalling standards of care experienced by people on a daily basis, and who have come up with solutions to make things better. I wish I could be more like them, maybe one day I will, but at the moment  improving social care seems a hopeless task.