When it comes to the elderly, West beats East

Simon Hughes got it wrong, it's the rest of the world that should learn from us when it comes to caring for older people

 

Share

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat justice minister, wants Britain to learn about caring for the elderly from our immigrant cultures, praising Asian and African communities for their exemplary attitude towards seniors. As an Indian, I agree that there is much that can be learnt, but Mr Hughes’s assertion was far too simplistic, and even wrong on several counts.

Thanks in part to a generous welfare state, Britain actually stands heads and shoulders above many nations in terms of the quality of life older people enjoy. In less developed countries, a lack of nationwide pensions and dependable free healthcare mean that elderly people without a family to look after them are left to fend for themselves. In India and China, caring for your parents is as much about societal censure and the avoidance of scandal as it is about genuine love. From birth, the eldest son is aware of his obligations: care for your parents physically and financially, and keep them with you. But this tradition leads to serious problems in society. Across Asia, daughters are seen as a liability, since they leave their family when they get married. Sons are vastly preferred. Female infanticide in the East stems as much from a parent’s fear about their old age as it does from the prestige that comes from having a son.

While politicians in the West are a young lot, in the East and Africa the elderly often assume a central role in governance. It is not uncommon to see octogenarian politicians, or the wizened villager acting as local dispute mediators in African villages. As farfetched as it might sound, rheumy eyes, a doddering gait and gnarled limbs lend authority. But there is a serious caveat: these roles are reserved for the upper classes; the aged and fragile people of a poorer class lead a rather grim life.

A lack of old age homes and state sponsored community care means that many older people end up  as virtual prisoners, housebound in multiple storey buildings in city centres, where the raison d'être of their life is babysitting their grandchildren. Many feel as if they are a burden on their families, and that their presence limits the freedom of their children.

We all have an idealised version of what our parents will be like when they are in the dusk of their lives. The thought of a Westerner playing bingo and gossiping in their care home sounds lovely. So too does the Chinese equivalent of gathering in squares en masse to practice Tai Chi, and the Indian version of privileged elders of the village. But the truth is that for many, in Britain or elsewhere, the arrival of old age brings only misery, as the individual feels their physical and mental selves putrefy, their independence limit and their lifestyles change irrevocably.

The fact is the average pensioner enjoys a better standard of life in Britain in almost every way. If anything, the East can learn from the West on how to make life better for its aged and infirm. There are stories of whole villages deserted by their working age populations in China, and of the wandering widows of Mathura in India scraping by on a diet of stale chapatis at temples.

If Simon Hughes is suggesting that we learn societal censure from our immigrant population, and castigate those that leave their parents to fend for themselves, then perhaps he has a point. But he is a member of the Coalition, and I take his words with a pinch of salt. I think he is more concerned with saving on social care costs while the Government continue their cuts. Is the Coalition suggesting that the family, not the state, must now bear the greater responsibility for the elderly?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor

£12000 - £14400 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: Experienced Cover Supervisor...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Account Manager

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are proud to be on...

Ashdown Group: Application Support Engineer with SQL skills

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Ashdown Group: Trainee / Graduate Helpdesk Analyst

£20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable business is looking to rec...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Conservative MP Louise Mensch has made enemies in high places through her fearless pursuit of the hacking scandal  

Thank heavens for Louise Mensch and her foul-mouthed tweets to world leaders

Grace Dent
Focus E15 Mothers led a protest to highlight the lack of affordable housing in London  

When rents are so high that you have to share a bed with a stranger, surely the revolution can’t be far off

Grace Dent
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project