From Ros Altmann:economist and pensions,
    investment and retirement policy expert

  • pensionsandsavings.com

    Collective punishment of older people is unacceptable

    Collective punishment of older people is unacceptable

    • 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.

    11 thoughts on “Collective punishment of older people is unacceptable

    1. Deeply share your concern Ros Altmann as does my wife Alice who has been providing fun dance fitness classes for people 60+ until lockdown. She is getting firsthand accounts of people in her classes already experiencing mental health issues due to isolation. Online alternatives (as her own at video.withalice.co.uk) can help some but many people in their 80’s/90’s are not digitally capable. Surely with appropriate and enforced safeguards, limits on class numbers etc, the risks of people attending physical classes (once other areas of the economy are opened up) can be minimised? And avoid the physical and mental deterioration which beyond the primary human cost will likely incur earlier need for overstretched and expensive care.

    2. I have to admit that for the first time in my life I feel as if I am part of a minority group.
      I don’t like the feeling.
      Born 98/12/1948

    3. Well put Ros of course age is one factor but clearly not the whole story and metabolic health or lack of is a strong factor too and possibly other genetic factors
      Yes of course seek to keep elders shielded short term but not at the loss of Liberty and ultimately their mental a physical health

    4. Difficult times and difficult decisions. If older people are more likely to succumb to C-19 then it could be argued it’s for their best interests and reduces the strain on the NHS resources for dealing with people who get C-19 without the extra strain of groups thought to be susceptible adding to it. On the other hand, there are younger people dying with this and older lives surviving, so it’s not cut and dried. There is some early evidence smokers are less affected and those who are o+ blood group, but it’s too early to know for sure. If we are to learn the lesson of the Spanish flu, lifting lockdowns too early killed more in the second wave than the initial wave. The economy is suffering, but it will recover albeit some businesses may not. If the lockdown is done in phases it has been likened to a wc area of a swimming pool.. what is needed is rational decisions that work for all, if possible, based on a regular review by government of medical lessons and advances. Think we all hope for a successful vaccine as soon as possible, even if this is no earlier than this time next year.

      What could be argued is the case for bringing down the state pension age currently given the lower life expectancy of older ages to enjoy it, especially for men given (a) More men are dying from C-19 than women. (b) In any case, men do not statistically live as long as women, so why an equal pension age now post Brexit as Test Achats was a ridiculous decision, yes Barber is important but should it be the final word for ever in a post EU world? (c) Men have less years in good health than women. Food for thought… if only we had a men’s pension champion.

    5. My wife and I are very fit ‘Well over 70s”, both active golfers and like others of our àge group feel further restrictions would be unacceptable. When ‘ Lockdown’ for other ages is lifted it will be impossible to police everyone.
      Have we got enough Prison Spaces for us all?

    6. My sentiments exactly! I am just over 70, and it’s totally wrong to treat us differently than anyone else. We are the ones that have been sticking to the rules, (social distancing, only shopping when necessary, and going out for minimal exercise) and when lockdown ends, I will be going out but will still be social distancing, and I won’t be gathering with large groups of people. I like many others no doubt will be careful! In others words, I will use my common sense! Please keep campaigning on our behalf!

    7. Very well put! Am glad someone is sticking up for us! I am just over 70, fit an healthy, and it’s totally wrong to treat us differently than anyone else. We have been sticking to the rules, (social distancing, only shopping when necessary, and going out for minimal exercise) but when lockdown ends, I will be going out. I will still be social distancing, and I won’t be gathering with large groups of people. I like many others no doubt will be careful! In others words, I will use my common sense!

    8. I was rather shocked to read this in the news and hear you on TV this morning. In my view it is entirely reasonable to ‘blame’ the virus for the necessary restrictions to those of us in the older age bracket. I’ve lost a 67 year old friend to the virus – no one would describe him as other than fit and healthy. The reality is that although the virus does kill younger people, 90% of the deaths are of over 65s. It is the virus that is discriminating, not the government. I’m missing my grandchildren, my activities, my freedoms – but I’d rather watch my children grow up than hug them today.

    9. Dear Baroness Altmann ,
      I want to thank you for supporting the over 70 ‘s . I just want to say I don’t feel able to support a lock down of more than 3 months for over 70’s . I am 72 and fit and healthy and feel it would cause much hardship and suffering to so many .
      Thank you for your help
      Frances Simms

    10. I agree with you 100 percent I will be 80years old in a few months time and 8 weeks ago I worked full time in a job 5 min away I have worked their for 28 years a mushroom farm Which supplies a large supermarket a lot of my family work there my son being a director he suggested My self and husband have some time off We are sensible people but I know l am as healthy as quite a few of the younger members of staff and would hope to be allowed to go back to work to enjoy my job and family as I don’t feel ready to retire Hoping when our 12 weeks are up some positive news for the weeks ahead Thank you

    11. Boris Johnson’s statement today in the House setting out the new rules policy for the lock down from Wednesday 13th May onward in which he denies the over 70’s the same freedoms to exercise and see families and friends as the younger population is discriminatory. To target people purely on the basis of age regardless of whether they are healthy or not is outright age discrimination. I and my many friends over 70 who are extremely fit and active are to be further deprived of our usual exercise routine. Please oppose this blanket collective punishment and seek to have the criteria changed to reflect actual health as a determination to the right to exercise freely as enjoyed by younger people.

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