Cymru Older People’s Alliance have today published a new Policy Position Paper on Ageism and Age Discrimination in Wales. It can be accessed in our News section. [ ]

Ageism and Age Discrimination can impact on anyone – including young people – but impacts most directly on older people. It is the only “ism” in society that is not taken seriously and somehow seems socially acceptable. We are in a world that values youth and vitality, and older individuals regularly face prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination solely based on their age. That is wrong. This blog therefore explores the pernicious impacts that ageism has in society, what is being done about it and what more action is needed. The conclusion is that we need a continuing campaign in Wales over the coming years to make a real difference.

Research by the Centre for Ageing Better (2023) shows how ageism causes deep and lasting harm to people and society, directly and indirectly, exacerbating social divisions and inequalities and damaging our economy. Ageism and age discrimination comes in many forms including:

  • Ageism in the form of digital exclusion is an increasingly common occurrence – Apps for parking cars, on-line only ticket purchases, closing banks and shops in favour of on-line access, an increasingly cashless society, online appointment booking etc.
  • Ageism in employment can have significant implications for older individuals. If we experience age discrimination, we may face difficulties in finding new jobs or may be forced into early retirement. This can result in reduced income, depleted savings, and increased financial insecurity in later life and creates future pensioners in poverty.
  • Inequalities in ageing affect us in many ways, including health, income, and social inclusion. This inequality is often referred to as the “deprivation gap” in life expectancy. There is a large income and wealth gap between the richest and poorest older people in Wales, Older people living in poverty are more likely to have a disability, experience mental health problems, or have a chronic health condition.
  • Ageist attitudes can limit older people’s access to opportunities, such as education, volunteering, or community engagement. Assumptions about our abilities or interests may prevent us from participating fully in society and contributing our skills and expertise. Isolation and loneliness can be the outcome.
  • Ageist assumptions in the NHS can result in older patients receiving inadequate care. We may be undertreated, have our symptoms dismissed as a natural part of aging, or experience a lack of access to certain treatments.
  • Older people often face stereotypes that portray us as frail, forgetful, technologically challenged, or resistant to change. These stereotypes overlook the diversity and unique abilities of older people, perpetuating negative biases and undermining older people’s strengths and experiences.
  • Ageism erodes older peoples’ self-esteem and self-worth. When society devalues and marginalizes us based solely on our age, these negative messages lead to a diminished sense of self and a loss of confidence.

The language used is important in this debate. A trap that we all readily fall into is to refer to “older people” without any clarification or explanation. In using this generality or shorthand, with genuine intentions to be helpful, we are also all guilty of treating people between 60 and 100+ as if they are all in the same bracket with the same circumstances, needs and wants. We all know that age is a poor indicator of need and that all people have different histories, circumstances and future needs and plans that are not aged based. It is of course helpful to consider concepts such as third and fourth ages, life course perspective, successful ageing, active ageing, healthy ageing, “young–old” and “old–old” etc to look at what is a complicated arena, but we must strive not to over generalize and must think diversely, critically and positively about ageing and the effects on the individual. The narrative should reflect that. Even Shakespeare was guilty of ageism with many negative quotes about getting old – for example, “Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything,” “My age is as a lusty winter, frosty but kindly.” In these modern times we must always avoid reinforcing the many negative stereotypes about ageing that are used daily as they are on the slippery slope to age discrimination.

It would be difficult to argue that nothing is done to tackle this issue. A range of legislation and policies are in place to address age discrimination. The United Nations Principles for Older People – which is embedded in Welsh law – says that older persons “should be treated fairly regardless of age, gender, racial or ethnic background, disability or other status, and be valued independently of their economic contribution.” The Equalities Act 2010 is in place. Ageism and age discrimination has been a campaign issue in Wales for several years. We are fortunate that our Commissioner for Older People has made it a central plank of her work over the last five years. We also have a Welsh Government Strategy for an Ageing Society that sets out an agenda for change. However, the question must be whether all of this is working effectively enough or having the required impact if ageism is still so deeply rooted in our society.

More needs to be done to tackle ageism systematically, by government at all levels, public bodies, particularly the media, the private and third sectors, to give greater priority to tackling this deficit in society with greater vigour. Older people must also be able to articulate our own experiences of ageism and expect something to be done about it. Making Human Rights for Older People an entitlement would be a good start. Awareness of the Human Rights of older people must be improved across Wales. Living with dignity, having our views respected and making our own choices are all rights that should be tangible for older people.

This debate must be extended and intensified so that age is indeed taken just as seriously as for the other protected groups in the legislation. Cymru Older Peoples Alliance – COPA Policy Position Paper on Ageism and Age Discrimination sets out a range of demands for change and improvement. However, this is a debate that will only make progress if all parts of the age sector in Wales are working together “on the same pitch and kicking towards the same goal.” It is contended that working with our champion – the Commissioner for Older People in Wales – we must all make our own contribution to raise the profile of this critical issue and to influence a different and more positive societal response to ageing.

Steve Milsom

Chair COPA, July 2023

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