Funny how the Government continually talks of safeguarding families and looking after workers, but the group it seems reluctant to protect is pensioners. Who was hit the hardest last week by the historic, or desperate, cut in interest rates? That increasingly rare species, savers. And who worked hard to stockpile their wages over the years and now depend on their savings to supplement their meagre standard of living? Pensioners.
There are estimated to be three million pensioners in poverty – nearly one in four, a shocking statistic. Although the Government is always bashing on, rightly, about ending child poverty, it seems impervious to the fact that half a million more pensioners are below the poverty line of £151 a week than about a year ago. Pension plans have dropped in value and interest on savings has plummeted from 5 per cent to 0.5 per cent.
The plight of pensioners is shameful, but even worse is the Brown government's two-faced attitude to retirement. In 2006, age-discrimination legislation was passed that excluded pensioners – an unnecessary piece of vindictiveness, enacted by a government in which many senior citizens occupy highly paid ministerial jobs. There's clearly one rule for ordinary people and another for Margaret Beckett, Kenneth Clarke and the other 89 pensioner MPs. Age Concern is fighting our compulsory retirement age of 65, which means that while a worker can ask to stay on, it's the boss's decision.
Unlike in my parents' generation, there are now thousands of 60-plus workers who want to do something productive, who like to keep their brains active, who need the cash, and who relish working, even if it is part-time. It keeps them stimulated, positive and within the community. About 25,000 pensioners are chucked out of work annually because of our repugnant laws – and they can be laid off without redundancy pay. Last week, the European Court upheld our compulsory retirement age, but now the Government will have to defend it in the High Court, and provide a "high standard of proof" that employers can get rid of workers on the grounds of age alone. They can justify retiring people by claiming they need to train younger workers, a loophole that will be, no doubt, readily exploited.
There are hundreds of legal actions pending, brought by pensioners who don't want to retire and feel the mandatory age is unfair. And they vote, unlike the under-21s. We've got thousands of kids leaving school who can't read and write, have no social skills, and use "txtspk" to communicate, when they're not grunting. The Government plans apprenticeships in practical skills, but what these young people need (and many stand no chance of getting from their loosely knit families) are essential social and life skills. Pensioners have all that in spades, which is why savvy supermarkets and DIY chains have been seeking out older people and giving them prominent jobs dealing with the public.
We can't allow the workplace to be run according to the mantra that youth is the key to the future. Youth is like a rudderless ship. What the workforce needs – when employers start hiring again – is a balance that reflects all generations, so new members of staff can learn from those who've been around a bit longer. When you're planning a garden you don't chuck out the mature trees and shrubs and fill it with cheap bedding plants that won't last the winter – and the workplace is no different.
Sweet treats: I love young men, but you don't get much sleep...
To find out why Madonna is enjoying hot nights with a cute boy of 22, look at those gorgeous pictures of Mick Jagger at roughly the same age, making some dodgy red swimming trunks look totally adorable. That skinny-boy body is sex on a stick. I'm not surprised that Madge, in her 50th year, has decided to have a bit of fun – I've done the same thing myself. Jerry Hall, meanwhile, tries to sound like the voice of reason, claiming she finds the notion of having sex with anyone in their twenties "incredibly boring". Surely you just want to have sex with someone who wants to have sex, no matter what's on their birth certificate. If it's legal, go for it has always been my motto. The upside of toy boys – apart from the physical – is that you become an expert on the latest music. The downside is that you hear it at 4am. Another plus: no need to iron or wash their clothes – they don't trust anyone to handle their threads, hogging the bathroom and spending hours posing in front of a mirror. They also operate on another time zone, eating breakfast at 2pm, lunch in the early evening, and dinner, if any, in the small hours of the morning. It's all very demanding but, like great chocolate, nice to dip into every now and then.
Meltdown on Kilimanjaro
What crocks those celebs turned out to be on Kilimanjaro. Chris Moyles got vertigo. Alesha Dixon fell down a steep ledge having a pee in the night. Fearne Cotton suffered nosebleeds. Gary Barlow was allowed a short cut because of his sore back, and Cole's altitude sickness was so bad that she had a special injection.
Well done for raising more than £1m for good causes – but what a bunch of whingers they were in their blogs. When I climbed the mountain in 2001, three of us raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Aids projects, and I was glad our trip was a small one, so that as the altitude sickness and stomach upsets kicked in there weren't too many observers. I've climbed more than 16,000ft three times in my life, and on each occasion – no matter how fit and well prepared I was – I suffered from horrible altitude sickness and stomach cramps.
Once you reach the summit, you smile like a demented gnome in the photos recording your achievement, while your insides are in meltdown.
Just the ticket – yet more gloom
With more gloomy news of job cuts, you'd think that our cultural commissars would offer escapism to lift our spirits. Instead, we get misery to compound our woes. Last week was particularly downbeat. A leaden production of Burnt by the Sun opened at the National Theatre, set in the countryside outside Moscow in 1936 as Stalin's excesses grow. The critics raved about the ensemble acting, but I found Peter Flannery's dramatisation of the 1994 Academy Award-winning film upmarket soap and nothing more.
Next, on Channel 4, Red Riding, the trilogy based on David Peace's novels set in South Yorkshire in 1974, couldn't have been more grisly. There was nothing remotely comfortable about this horrible drama. Finally, Matt Crawford's been arrested on fraud charges in The Archers, and the Radio 4 sci-fi serial was The Death of Grass by John Christopher, in which a virus destroys crops worldwide. We followed John and his mates as they murdered their way across a post-apocalyptic Britain. Terrific fun!