Remainers have normalised anti-Brexiteer ageism

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BY CHARLOTTE GILL

Last week, in The Daily Mail, television presenter Carol Vorderman argued that ageism is rife in our society, and must be treated with the same seriousness as racism and casual sexism.

“In another 20 years… language to denigrate older people will, I’m certain, have been banished from society altogether. But I want us all to speed up that process so ageism gets flushed down the same toilet that’s disposing of sexism”, she wrote.

It might come as a shock to many around the country that Vorderman made this equivalence, but she has a real point.

Ageism is a much bigger problem than is currently acknowledged. A recent report by life insurance provider, Sun Life, found that a third of Brits admit to being ageist at some time. People in their thirties are some of the worst offenders, with 48 percent admitting to this form of discrimination.

In the wake of the EU referendum, ageism seems to be particularly pronounced, with elderly voters repeatedly blamed for the result (even though many voted Remain).

Shockingly, a website called deatherendum.co.uk was used to calculate the numbers of Leavers who had died since the vote, and used as justification for ignoring 2016’s mandate.

With no consideration for the friends and families of the deceased, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee – herself 72 – even boasted there was a weekend in January when “new, young Remain voters would tip the balance of old dead leavers”. Champagne round Polly’s, huh?

Our narrative about older generations has to change for all sorts of reasons. For one, making generalisations about people, based on characteristics like race, age and gender, is never acceptable. And it’s cruel, too, with over two thirds of over 50s saying that ageism has made them feel less valued.

But it’s not only about hurt feelings, it’s also about the future of our society – which is going to change phenomenally as life expectancy goes up. Men nowadays can expect to live until 79.2 years and its 82.9 for women, with one in three children born today expected to make 100.

Can you imagine what this will look like in decades to come? Especially as birth rates are declining in the UK. Our population will be dramatically different, with wrinkles and grey hair becoming the norm. That makes it vital for us to have nationwide dialogues about how we conceptualise age.

A recent book by Camilla Cavendish, Extra Time, explores this topic in fascinating detail, citing Japan, where a record 8.07 million people aged 65 and above are in employment. This has come about as a result of the country’s declining population, and the healthy lifestyles of citizens – leading them to live much longer. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pledged social security reforms to cater for older workers – even claiming that he’ll create the era of a 100-year life.

Hearing a politician say this in the UK would be unthinkable, as too often we think of older generations as inconveniences, rather than an opportunity. Conversations about our ageing population often lead to groans over the social care bill. But never does anyone consider how we can mobilise many individuals – and utilise their experience and skills.

That doesn’t mean forcing people back into work, incidentally – everyone should have the right to relax after a long career. But we should think about creating more options for older generations in addition to retirement. Workplaces should be more inclusive around age, and part-time opportunities.

But it’s not just about the economy: energising people, and making them feel needed in society, is good for their mental and physical health.

This is why the stigma of ageism needs to end, to pave the way for multi-generational workplaces. Ageism is something we are all likely to encounter some day – so, like Carol Vorderman says, why not bring it to a close. Now.

Charlotte Gill is a writer and journalist whose work has appeared in The Mail on Sunday, The Times and The Telegraph. Follow her on twitter: @CharlotteCGill


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