- Old people must not be confined just because some are vulnerable.
- Surely collective punishment of all those over a specific age is unacceptable in our democracy.
- It is not acceptable just to blame the virus for ‘targeting’ some age groups.
- I urge Government to consider the social and political consequences of such authoritarian policies.
Clinical advice must not be used to promote age discrimination: I have real fears that Ministers are considering blanket bans to prevent older people leaving their homes during the current crisis. Media reports and Ministerial responses suggest Government advisers may be seriously recommending using chronological age as a criterion for deciding whether people will be allowed to leave their homes. This is pure age discrimination, masquerading as ‘scientific advice’ and I believe it is simply wrong.
Such policies are normally the mark of authoritarian regimes, not a mature democracy: I have every sympathy with those trying to chart the best way forward for our country during this pandemic, there are no easy answers and most decisions will be criticised by one group or another. But surely decisions ultimately need to be based on underlying principles of personal freedoms, informed choices and recognition of individual rights. Authoritarian regimes and those who live under such rulers may be used to draconian curbs on their freedoms and family life, but the UK has different values. In a democracy, even in an emergency, people expect to be able to go about their daily lives without unreasonable restraint.
Collective punishment based on age should be no more acceptable than using gender, ethnicity or body-mass index as defining factors: We are told that there is clear evidence that this virus is more dangerous for older age groups. That has been proven, however, age has always been a factor in mortality and there has always been significant dispersion of ages at death. But it is impossible to single out any specific age at which risk jumps from ‘very low’ to ‘very high’ for everyone. Indeed, this virus has been shown to be more fatal for males than females, for BAME groups, for those with underlying lung or heart conditions and for those with high body-mass index. I doubt that people would readily accept discriminating on those grounds, yet somehow when it comes to ‘the elderly’ (whatever that means) there is a serious suggestion that it would be acceptable to confine everyone in that group to confinement or isolation. Once again, this is like collective punishment, without regarding underlying individual differences. This might be justified for very short emergency responses, but for any time period counted in more than days, democratic policies must not be based on such crude factors.
Blaming the virus is not a valid justification – these are conscious policy decisions: I urge the Government not to try to blame any decision to lockdown people over a certain age on the virus ‘targeting’ certain groups. It is up to policymakers to decide how to respond to this pandemic and what mitigation measures to take to deal with the ongoing situation. Having introduced enormous extra capacity, having so little information about the actual risks and with an aging population full of energetic, active and healthy older generations, it would be unreasonable to punish all people of a particular age, just because others may be vulnerable.
Isolating all older people, if others are allowed out, also risks damaging their physical and mental health: The Government has understandably tried to prepare the NHS for the impacts of this virus. Draconian emergency measures to restrict people’s movements have damaged their daily lives and livelihoods, and may be justifiable short-term reactions, but cannot become longer-term realities. The physical – and mental – health damage of isolating older people, especially if others are being treated differently, will be significant.
Societal and political consequences of issuing orders, rather than information and advice: Governments clearly have a duty to inform and advise the population of risks, to ensure the vulnerable are protected and try to control public health. However, issuing authoritarian orders and penalties risks destroying our underlying societal principles and values. Enforcement of isolation by police or neighbours, means politicians deliberately curbing individual freedoms. Focussing on specific age groups also undermines progress that has been made in overcoming ageism. Ageist attitudes still permeate too much stereotypical thinking in business and other spheres. Older people deserve the same rights and protections as others and should be trusted to do their utmost to keep safe where they can. I hope the Government will recognise that older people do not form a cohesive group and they must not be lumped together for collective punishment.