With a little help from new friends…the Southwark Circle story

Linda Merron

Linda Merron

‘I haven’t had such a good time in my life…ever, I think.’

Linda Merron, who was 60 in March, suffers from ME, heart disease and Crohn’s fibromyalgia. When her 24 year-old daughter Rosie moved away last year, taking her social life (which was also Linda’s social life) with her, she started to worry about loneliness and the implications of ageing. ‘I thought that once I hit 60, people would start treating me like a simpleton. Pensioners are portrayed in the media as foolish and vulnerable; I didn’t think there would be much to look forward to.’

I met Linda at her house near Elephant and Castle in South London, where she was having lunch with her friend, Carmen Hortal, 81. The two women met through Southwark Circle, the first example of what its founders hope will become a national, even international, association of networks of older people. In the year since Southwark Circle started, two other Circles have got going, in Hammersmith and Fulham and Suffolk, and nine more are at the business planning stage. The aim of each of them is to build relationships locally, enabling members to participate in their communities and assert control over their lives. Continue reading

UK state pension age rises – but what is retirement for?

sky divingThe British government has confirmed that, as expected, it will bring forward the increase in state pension age. The previous planned rise from 65 to 66 for men will now almost certainly come eight years earlier, in 2016, and for women by 2020. Meanwhile, there will be a review of how much further and faster things should move, with suggestions that there will be legislation to allow for automatic age rises every five years. If the state pension isn’t directly linked to life expectancy, it will be something very like it. Britain will almost certainly be looking at holding off pension entitlement to the age of 70 by 2050.

In France, there were strikes and street demonstrations yesterday over plans to raise the state pension age to a mere 62. There, a pension is regarded as a central part of a treasured social contract between state and citizens, in which benefits are an essential part of a civilized society. Here, the resistance to the change has not been general, driven by public sector outrage, but on behalf of the poor. Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, pointed out that at the age of 65, men in Kensington and Chelsea can look forward to 23 years more of life, while their counterparts in Glasgow can expect only 14.

In that case, we ought to be thinking more about working lives and health inequalities than about retirement. This gross imbalance is conditioned by things that happen earlier in life – by the kind of work people are able to do and the opportunities they have to live healthily. Trying to do something about it (what, though?) at the age of retirement is a matter of stable doors and bolted horses. Continue reading

Old and gay part two. Why we need role models – a 23 year-old writes

Freddie Norton

Guest blog author Freddie Norton

As a gay man of 23 I have lived my formative years in a completely different world to anyone over the age of 60, but particularly anyone who’s gay. When I was 10 years old Tony Blair came to power along with changing public attitudes to gay people and gay rights. When I started to tell people I didn’t fancy girls at the age of 14 I did it in the subconscious knowledge that that was ok, and the majority of people weren’t going to think that that was sick or wrong. Since then, the internet has opened up online dating and networking for gay men living in small communities, or for people who didn’t know where to start, and there are mobile phones with apps which show you the nearest gay person registered to the same mobile application. A gay man is no longer assumed to be a mincing queen and is allowed to be as complex as anyone else. As a confused 14 year old, you can now turn on the TV and see gay men in rugby, national politics and Olympic swimming, as well as in fashion, music and theatre. You can buy gay-themed feature films, or stumble across a gay storyline in a soap. Of course there is still some way to go, especially when you look at bullying in schools and the relaxed derogatory use of ‘gay’; but without a doubt being gay is easier now than it ever has been. Continue reading

What happens when you’re old and gay?

Opening Doors

Some of the members of Opening Doors, from left: Donald Black, Tom Devine, Alexander Duncan, Willie Millar, Lyndon Scarffe

Angelo Marcellini is 75 and lives in sheltered housing in London. When he’s in the lift, his fellow residents won’t join him. If he comes in, they leave. Only two of the households on his floor speak to him. Angelo is gay. The managers of his sheltered housing are evangelical Christians and they won’t help because they don’t like him either.

Many older people are having to find new ways to live, but perhaps none as obviously as gays and lesbians. Previous generations of older gay people weren’t out; they were invisible throughout their lives and expected to stay that way when they became old or vulnerable. But for the current generation, that’s simply not good enough. Civil partnerships and equality legislation have changed Britain. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people know they are entitled to to be acknowledged for themselves. They no longer have to pretend to be something else.

The progress that has been made is the direct result of the campaigning and suffering of the older generation; by rights gay elders should now be celebrated by a society that has finally found itself at ease with their sexuality. But when I went to see a group of older gay men who meet to discuss issues affecting older gay people and asked what these were, they said: ‘persecution, depression, suicide, homophobia.’ Continue reading

Pension? what pension?

Steve Webb

Steve Webb, the new pensions minister

Yesterday I went to see Steve Webb, the new pensions minister, speak at a debate sponsored by the International Longevity Centre (ILC). With some trepidation, because I find pensions terrifying. I know I don’t have enough of one, and I don’t understand them.

The debate was quite consoling, because it was clear, firstly, that pensions are really difficult to understand (it’s not just me) and secondly, that Steve Webb, despite only having been in the job a month, is one of a small minority of people who does understand them. He previously worked at the Institute for Fiscal Studies, specialising in pensions.

Before we sat down, I spoke to a pensions adviser who told me that the state pension was ‘in the international third division’ and private pensions no longer provided enough to live on. Essentially, we are all doomed. Continue reading

Immigration – the politicians’ dirty little secret

waiting-for-europe-tunnelWading through the new Office for Budget Responsibility’s analysis of the state of the British economy, it’s obvious that the ageing population will be a significant factor when it comes to restoring growth (or not). The pre-budget forecast highlights real dangers of a slowdown caused by fewer people working and higher demands on pensions and health and social care. But ageing remains a variable factor in the recovery – because much will depend on how long older people continue to work and consume, on whether extended life is healthy or beset by chronic illness, and on the role that will be played by immigrants. Continue reading

Grandmentors: the new idea from the Department for the Big Society

troubled teensOlder people are to be recruited to mentor troubled teenagers and help them get back into education, training or work under a new initiative launched today at the House of Lords. The idea is credited to Lord Freud, the former Financial Times journalist, banker and New Labour advisor, now Conservative peer and Minister for Welfare Reform, whose family charity will part fund it. Under a pilot scheme, grandmentors will be recruited by Community Service Volunteers to advise and support to up to 60 14-19 year-olds in Islington and Hackney over the next three years. Continue reading