I am a budgetary implication

“Older people need to get with it and have better attitudes towards learning!”

When I pointed out on Facebook that the increased cost of posting a letter and having it delivered at a predictable time would affect the old, I was pertly told: “Older people need to get with it and have better attitudes towards learning!” The implication was that we can’t use email. My response could only be: “And who do you think taught you, pet? I was on the internet when Leisure Suit Larry was a boy.” But it is well underway, isn’t it? Blaming the old. Then came the fourth Intergenerational Report and it was really on. For all its sins of omission and robotic attitude, the report itself was not so bad as the presentation and discussion of it. As usual the metaphors were about cataclysmic disasters. They made me feel bad. I am a small storm heralding the tsunami of old people to come. A little rockfall indicating the avalanche about to descend. I am a Budgetary Implication. Whichever it is, I am trouble. This is made plain in the media by commentators, by politicians, and by anyone who can pull a long face. Old people are going to swamp the economy and make everyone miserable and poor. Within the space of a few years – the life of this column actually – old people have gone from being regarded as irrelevant to being targeted as economy wreckers. As yet, I am still just a budgetary implication in a troubled government’s eye. But I am of the ilk – that is, persons living on past retirement – that the nation is being taught to dread. Old age is the new bogeyman. We are being stitched up. What complete junk it is. Most obviously, the old are people, and everyone, who doesn’t die young, becomes old. The way we are being talked about these days makes the old seem like an alien race. It is one thing – and deplorable – to demonise a minority, but it is ludicrous to try to demonise everyone, and nearly everyone in the future, it seems, will have a better chance of becoming old. Just when we have something to celebrate – longevity – the government makes it a disaster. We ought to be exploring new ways to ensure that old people continue to enhance society. Raising the pension eligibility age to 70 (one of the few certainties in the Intergenerational Report) is a pathetically predictable response. We will lose the core of voluntary work in our community, including care within the family. It is going to create more problems than it solves, just like the madness of delaying benefits to people who’ve just lost their jobs. These are the things that happen when politicians let economists and statisticians have too much influence over policy; when new, creative ideas represent too much trouble and effort and a threat to conservatism. Richard Denniss is good on this in his Manning Clark oration which you can hear on ABC Radio National’s website. I think MPs and Senators should be made to repeat their First Speech “vows” in Parliament every few years, to bring them back to the hopes and ideas they had then. Not many First Speeches are about budgetary implications and fiscal maneuverings. Dread and fear don’t come into them much, either. Aspiration to problem solving is often the theme. If a nation as well off in almost every way as ours cannot deal with an ageing population without being brought to its knees, what nation can? Of course, it’s sane to prepare for change – though harder than economists will admit to predict what it will be. The alarmist approach is stupid, but somehow horribly in tune with the way policy is formed these days. It goes like this: scare the pants off ordinary people, then believe your own publicity, freeze and do nothing. The idea that grandmothers can reveal to their grandchildren a glimpse of “the world beyond the obvious” appealed to me, as it will to others. What can we offer children who seem to have so much available to them, who impress us with their knowledge of all sorts of things it took us most of our youth to understand? There are some pointers in this serious novel, The Illuminations (Faber), I think. The world beyond the obvious is what Anne, loosening contact with the world around her as she is about to be moved to higher care from her sheltered accommodation, still offers her grandson, Luke, a veteran of Afghanistan. Scottish author Andrew O’Hagan has written about old age and youth supporting each other, about memory and concealment in families and art. Luke wonders if any of his comrades “had a grandmother like his, a woman with knowledge and secrets and a gentle habit of helping you up your game”. The story is not simple, and the war scenes horrendous, but there is good reason for the title. @mollyfisher4

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