Friday, 23 December 2016

the elderly, the economy and the missing research


In a new book, "The war against the old", John Sutherland cites criticism of the
elderly*s perks- free TV and bus travel, the winter fuel allowance- and poor
conditions in care homes as evidence of a war against the elderly by the rest
of the population.  The problems caused by the rise in the proportion of old
people in the population have been predictable for a long time.  I dealt with
them in two books published in the late 1970s-  "Governments and
growth" and "Labour supply in economic development".  The solutions have
also been clear. The same medical and social advances which have led
to more elderly people also enable them to go on working longer. The US had
already raised the official retirement age to 69 in the late 1960s.  This does
not mean continuing in the same job at the same pay.  In many cases a
career shift, possibly after a elderly "gap year", is needed. Also, it should be
taken for granted that after leaving a permanent job, the elderly should
try self-employment. The expertise and contacts built up during 40 years of
salaried work, as well as the great advantage that free travel provides in searching
for and holding employment, should give them a considerable competitive
advantage in the labour market.
However a large-scale reorientation of medical and social research is needed.
The aim should be to find out what are the main medical problems which prevent
older people from working- the same ones which prevent them leading an active life.
Probably the most important are walking difficulties, and the main causes of these
are probably arthritis and, for men, catherisation to deal with an enlarged prostate
(which affects 70 per cent of men over 70).  Research and treatment for these
conditions is probably grossly deficient compared with, say, AIDS or breast cancer,
which have well-organised and vocal pressure groups.  Disability charities, notably
Scope, concentrate on trying to get more government money and support, and do not
ask what are the reasons people come to need their services  (Indeed like many
charities they probably regard an expansion of their clientele as desirable.). Why do not
these or some of the big medical charities- the Wellcome Trust and the Francis
Crick Foundation-  initiate some large-scale research, combing medical and social
expertise, on what dissuades the elderly from taking up productive work?  (I am of
course aware that many do voluntary work).
Personally I would be very happy to see the free TV licence go, which would add the
elderly*s voice in pressure to abolish the licence, provided the free travel and the
winter fuel allowance remain (but perhaps the latter could be reduced, at least in
southern England, if we continue getting mild winters?)