opinion older people

Have Opinions About Older People Really come to this?

Yesterday Polly Toynbee released the article “On Saturday the UK turns remain. Parliament must force a second referendum”. I’m sad to say that this piece is wrong on so many levels. Here’s a snippet:

“You could call it swing Saturday or crossover day, for this Saturday, 19 January, marks an important moment. This is the day, in theory, when the country turns remain. Even if not a single person has changed their mind since the referendum, the demographic shift alone will have done the heavy lifting. Enough old leavers will have died and enough young remainers will have come on to the electoral register to turn the dial on what the country thinks about Brexit.”

Basically, the article has taken calculations from YouGov, which looked at the 2016 referendum results by age, calculated the number of older people dying and the number of young people coming onto the register, and then worked out a date by when the majority of voting intentions in the UK switch to Remain. That date is tomorrow, Saturday 19th January 2019.

This blog isn’t about Brexit – given the strong feeling on both sides and the intricacies of the debate, I’m not going to get into that. I’m also not querying the research, although there is an acknowledged assumption that no-one’s voting intentions have changed. No, this blog is about how we value and respect older people and their contribution to society, and how the article treats older people as useful statistics, not human beings.

Firstly, the idea that “old = Leave” and “young = Remain” is a gross oversimplification of the voting in the referendum. Nearly 30% of 18 to 24 year olds voted to Leave and over a third of the 65+ age group voted Remain (Source: YouGov).

So, lumping older and younger people into two “them and us” categories is divisive, insulting to all voters and to their right to vote how they wish.

A person casting their vote. Older people opinions

It gets worse – the article also says:

“The true “will of the people” looks considerably more questionable if it turns out to be the will of dead people – not the will of those who have the most life ahead of them to face the consequences.”

So at what age does someone cease to have a stake in the country and their community? At what age are they written off and not allowed to vote, because they may not live long enough to see the consequences of their democratic vote? This sounds awfully like state sponsored disenfranchisement. Do the terminally ill lose their vote too?

Secondly, the article perpetuates the idea that older people are in some way to blame for problems in society. The article is about Brexit, but it is part of the same myth that older people are a burden, for example that they are “bedblockers” and contributing to pressures on the NHS. Again, using negative stereotyping like this ignores the huge contribution older people make to their communities, for example through volunteering, employment, caring for loved one and helping with grandchildren.

It’s also worth mentioning that age is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act – if a comparable story had been written about BAME or LGBT communities they there would rightly be uproar. But apparently older people are fair game?

But thirdly – has political debate in Britain really come to this? This calculation must have been done a while ago, otherwise there would be a risk of missing the date, so the basis for this article has been sitting on a hard drive somewhere waiting for enough the 19th January 2019, when enough older people have died that it can be used to call for a second referendum.



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Paul Goulden

Paul has been our Chief Executive since November 2016.

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3 thoughts on “Have Opinions About Older People Really come to this?

  1. Anne has the choice not to vote if she feels that her views ought not to be counted, given her age.
    Ms Toynbee appears to be favouring a system where the votes of older people in general are either not sought or not counted if the issue involved will have a longer longevity than the elector’s expected lifespan.
    Here’s another scenario: Let’s suppose that Anne’s granddaughter is happy with her lot in life but is unable/chooses not to have children.. Using this analogy, she would be denied a say on legislation regarding education policy/funding, universities, apprenticeships, NHS funding on midwifery / neonatal units, because it will never be relevant to her.
    Would she be happy about this ? To only be consulted about things that directly affect her?

    We are part of a wider society. I’d hope that it would be a society where the views of young and old, experienced and novice, and of people of colour and of none can continue to be heard and listened to with respect.

  2. I completely agree with Polly Toynby and I’m 78. I will not be affected by Brexit but my children will and my grand daughter who was not old enough to vote would have all her opportunities snatched away by people who will be totally unaffected by Brexit. Thank go, that due to her paternal grand parents, she will have an Irish passport.

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