Letters: Ashamed of growing old

These letters appear in the Monday 07 September edition of the Independent

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Katherine Butler is spot on to identify ageism as mirroring the sexism and racism of previous eras (3 October ). It is so pervasive that older people themselves have become negative about growing old.

Working in mental health services, one finds that older people referred for help often say things such as “Of course I’m depressed, I’m old”; “I’m too old to change”; “Someone younger deserves help more than I do”; or ”Getting older is a terrible thing”. It is leading to unnecessary ill health, poor wellbeing, compounding existing health problems, leading to hospital and care home admissions, poor quality of life and early death.

These beliefs are being developed due to a society that is inherently ageist, and social change would have a much bigger impact than individual therapeutic change. We do need to think about our language and how older people are represented, and emphasise the positives that are possible when growing older, rather than focusing always on the negatives.

We need to be proud to be grey and the opportunities it can bring rather than ashamed about what is an inevitable part of our life cycle.

Dr Chris Allen,Consultant Clinical Psychologist,  Maidenhead, Berkshire


One reason why the elderly are so hated by the youth of today is that the young are constantly told that the state pension is a benefit and not something that has been earned. State benefits are not taxed, but HMRC treats the pension as earned income. So who is correct – the Revenue who continue to tax it or the politicians being their usual duplicitous selves?

Time to take the old age pension out of the welfare budget? All it needs is a rebranding exercise. It won’t cost anything extra to call it what it really is.

Roger Chapman, Keighley, West Yorkshire


May blames judges for  doing their job

I was dismayed to read Nigel Morris’s article headed “May condemns judges over human rights law” (1 October). The Home Secretary is once again blaming the judges for doing their job, as she did at the time of the Abu Qatada saga. Has she never heard of the basic principle of the separation of powers as between the legislature, executive and judiciary?

May I quote for her information what in 1985 the United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders adopted as Principle 1 of the Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary (unanimously endorsed by the General Assembly): “The independence of the judiciary shall be guaranteed by the State and enshrined in the Constitution or the law of the country. It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary.”

If Theresa May doesn’t like the law, she can change it. If she doesn’t like the Human Rights Act, abolish it. But don’t blame the judges, or put unlawful pressure on them to misinterpret the law as it is. She apparently told the Conservative conference that she was “sending a very clear message to those judges...”. If that isn’t usurping power, I don’t know what is. She adds: “Conservatives will put the law on the people’s side”. As a member of the legislature she can and should do that, but it sounds to me as if she wants to be the legislature, the executive and judiciary all at once.

Clearly, unless judges, prosecutors and lawyers are able to exercise their professional duties freely, independently and impartially, and unless the executive and the legislature are likewise always prepared to ensure this independence, the rule of law will slowly but steadily be eroded, and with it effective protection of the rights of the individual.

Robin Grey QC, London, EC4


Pointless risks run for charity

Fiona Sturges (Voices, 1 October) could have added a further category to her list of self-indulgent charity acts: the expedition.

These charity jaunts can take several forms. One involves doing something already done many times before, such as climbing a chronically congested mountain, or trekking through snow to an arbitrary point, and then trekking back again. Another is the entirely pointless activity, such as rowing single-handed across an ocean – sails and engines have been attached to boats out of the eminently sensible desire to avoid such dangerous and onerous work.

Expedition participants are vocal in informing us of the dangers and privations they “selflessly” submit themselves to in the name of raising money (or awareness); if it’s so dangerous or awful, how about simply not doing it? You don’t have to, after all.

However, the truth is that they are doing things that they want to do anyway. Charity is simply a cover for running unnecessary and pointless risks, which they would otherwise be castigated for. It also provides a source of funding to pay for the self-indulgence. Not to be forgotten as well is the ego-boost supplied by ostentatiously suffering for charity, thus broadcasting what a thoroughly good person you are.

Giving your time or money to charity is a noble act. If you feel so inclined, then just do it. Don’t use it as an excuse to pay for your adventures. And, most of all, don’t tell us about it.

Barry Richards, Cardiff


McCarthyism at the ‘Mail’

The Daily Mail article accusing Ralph Miliband of hating Britain has sparked a debate about patriotism.

I have friends who grew up in South Africa in the 1950s and 1960s. They hated the apartheid regime but loved their country. They had no wish to leave.

To be patriotic does not mean you have to support the prevailing consensus, if there is one, let alone subscribe to Daily Mail or Tory values. You do not have to support the institution of monarchy to love this country. You do not have to support more privatisation to love this country. This article smacked of McCarthyism which, thank goodness, we in Britain have never subscribed to.

John Boaler, Calne, Wiltshire


Many of those, such as on BBC Question Time, who excuse the late Ralph Miliband’s insulting comments, aged 17, about the English, because “we all say and do stupid things at 17”, also propose giving the vote to 16-year-olds. And of course, Michael Foot’s description of Norman Tebbit as a “semi house-trained polecat” is deemed acceptable!

John Birkett, St Andrews, Fife


Who pays for workfare?

The as yet sketchy plan to introduce a wider US-Style “workfare” programme, partially unveiled by David Cameron in his  Conservative conference keynote speech (“Earn or learn: Cameron gets tough  on the under-25s over welfare,” 3 October), could run into difficulties due to the way several political responsibilities are devolved to the Scottish Government, Welsh Assembly government and Northern Ireland Assembly administration.

If the Westminster-based Coalition Government wants to force young people off welfare benefits, a UK-wide responsibility of the Department for Work and Pensions in London, and into a training or further education, this will transfer financial responsibility to Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast to administer for the devolved nations of the UK.

But with such new responsibility, will the Treasury  provide the appropriate resources to support this? Have the devolved administrations been consulted over this initiative? And if so, what is their response?

Dr David Lowry, Stoneleigh, Surrey


NHS pay freeze the final straw

Can someone explain in this time of us “all having to share the pain” why pay freezes for public service workers are acceptable, but temporary profit freezes for multinational energy companies are a threat to life as we know it?

Tom Simpson, Bristol


The announcement by Jeremy Hunt that most NHS staff will not receive a pay rise next year is the final straw. NHS unions must respond with ballots for industrial action involving co-ordinated strikes.

Andrew Travers, Gillingham,  Kent


The Seventies,  age of equality

I was born in the 40s, and like Andy McSmith (Voices, 5 October) I remember the 1970s with more fondness than I do the 1980s. A statistic that he did not mention is the ratio of the relative incomes of the most and least well off. Back in the 70s it was about 50 to 1. Now it’s about 400 to 1.

In 1960 I was taught that the previous 100 years had been a period of gradual but constant narrowing of the gap between the rich and the poor. Thatcher certainly changed all that. Why do we put up with it?

Mike Coggles, Retford,  Nottinghamshire


Send MPs to  the front line

We will not solve the problem of irrational defence cuts (“How defence cuts helped Taliban devastate Camp Bastion”, 5 October) until every MP, as part of their contract, has to do an annual two-week attachment to any theatre of war, where they can ride in soft-skinned vehicles, equipped with a gun that jams and sharing the flak jacket.

David Newman, Harrogate,  North Yorkshire


True comedy

Those somewhat older than David Cameron would not have been able to listen to his trite reference at the Conservative conference to Magna Carta without thinking fondly of the great Tony Hancock and his Twelve Angry Men speech: “Does Magna Carta mean nothing to you? Did she die in vain?” It would be better to leave such speeches to those who actually intend to make us laugh.

Stan Hughes, East Hagbourne, Oxfordshire


Big lies

In order to help Mike Wright escape the horns of a dilemma (letter, 4 October), whether “All in it together”, or “Greenest government ever” is the biggest lie,  might I suggest “The NHS is safe...” or, cutting to the chase, “Compassionate Conservatism”?

Paul Abbott, Nottingham


Loose talk

I feel sorry for the man convicted for self-scanning all his shopping as loose onions. What happened to “The customer is always right?” What if he really didn’t know his onions?

Ian McKenzie, Lincoln