With increased numbers of older people, one would assume that this would provide greater representation and participation in the politics of the 21st century. However, quite the opposite has occurred and in Thatcher’s vain attempts to control the amassing numbers of older people she implemented policies which in the long run ran the risk of leading to poverty and higher levels of sickness. Thatcher has made governing Britain very hard for the current government under Tony Blair as very little can be done to adapt and change Thatcher’s policies.The biggest problem for Tony Blair’s government at the start of his reign in 1997 was the fact that electoral preferences made by the older generations favoured the Conservatives (Abrams and O Brien 1991). The relationship is said to be unexplainable with many gerontologists saying that the process of ageing itself causes the decision to be made.
Older people’s votes often known as the ‘grey vote’ are said to play a minor role within society compared to their younger counterparts. “It is unlikely that grey power has any chance of succeeding in the foreseeable future.” (Midwinter 1992) This view, although dated, does still hold truth for 2005 and the upcoming election in May. With greater numbers of voters over the age of 50, one would expect large numbers to vote.
However, this is not the case. Many do play a political role by writing to their MP for example but general elections still sees very low numbers of ‘grey votes’ (Street 1997). Walker’s (1999) more positive argument states that: “Crisis construction of ageing’ will intensify the involvement of older people in all spheres of political involvement. “However, further statistical evidence has suggested that entering the 21st century this is not the case. Writing in 1999, two years after the arrival of Labour into government, Walker seems to hold a high level of optimism for the actions of Tony Blair. However with Tony Blair’s regime often called ‘Blajorism’ and ‘neo liberalism’ there is a sense that Tony Blair is acting in the shadow of John Major and Margaret Thatcher. Their policies managed to alienate sections of society including older people and as Vincent (2001) states this still seems to remain the case (Walker 1998):”It is difficult to find at the close of the 20th century any evidence of a growth in the political strength of older age groups. Evidence for an apparent lack of influence of older people.
… is twofold, first, in the character and activities of older people’s organisations and, secondly in the low priority given by party political elites to older voters. ” For many researchers, it still remains the case that they believe that the babies born within the baby boom period will contribute to a new politics era (Estes and Associates 2001).Many argue that the formation of charities such as ‘Help the Aged’ and ‘Age Concern’, the ARP (Association of Retired People over 50) as well as many other organisations pushing forward issues for older people have made some considerable breakthroughs since the 1980’s and 1990’s (Age Concern 1996). Their influence is said to have obtained a higher national and international profile which has helped the older generations to get recognition politically (Torres Gill 1993).The inequalities within neo-liberalism are said to have allowed the older people to gain increased representation on a far more diverse scale, and as well as this, older people seem to be bridging the gap between themselves and the younger generations (Vincent et al.
2001). Theorists are arguing that the interests of older people will encourage younger people to act on a greater scale to erode the poorer aspects of old age. With projections showing that nearly half the population will be over 50 by 2031, the old and the young forming new, more positive alliances will mean government policies will have to look at old age in greater depth.Figure 1. 2 Pie chart taken from results of questionnaire with 100 people over the retirement age asked if more could be done in the above areas. The above pie chart taken from a questionnaire shows the views of 100 randomly sampled older people from North London. They were asked in which area they felt more action could be taken by the government, and as can be seen pensions with 41 per cent was a key area where change was needed.Government action when dealing with pensions has often been negative with Labour accusing the Conservatives of causing “real poverty, growing inequality and widespread insecurity” (politics .
org 2004). The Conservatives proposals each year have stated how they aim to increase the basic pension and reduce tax, but this has been the case for many years now, and Labour’s attempts to deal with pensions after the 2001 election left over 600,000 people without a pension as they were miss-sold. So far only 7,000 have been compensated and this shows a negative attitude towards older people (bbc.co. uk/politics). Their 2005 campaign does little to encourage spending and is promoting saving for later life. In the long run this will benefit people when they reach old age.
Nevertheless, with such large numbers of older people combined with increasing levels of unemployment, which have already been highlighted as a problem by the House of Lords Select Committee, the government may face increased levels of poverty and squalor in the near future (House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs 2003).An article produced by Community Care 2005 highlighted the fact that up until the present day, no government policy document has been produced to account for and deal with the demographic, social and economic changes which are being experienced by 21st century society (Crosby 2005). However, even with Labour’s government policies restricting the amount they spend, increased developments for older people are said to be visible thanks to the agendas set out by the older people themselves.The continued effectiveness of older people’s pressure groups has encouraged the government to tackle key issues including age discrimination, poverty, income levels, priority on housing and health matters. The Labour government in particular has addressed these key issues thanks to the help of other political parties.
Their help has enabled the government to become more in tune with the matters that affect the older people on the greatest scale. In particular the budget introduced for 2005 by Gordon Brown announced that pensioners would have a rebate of i??200 off their pensions in September which is a positive step forward. (National Audit Office 2003). The Liberal Democrats in particular are very keen to help the aged and their manifesto for 2005 has highlighted many areas such as long term care, increasing budgets for local authorities, and access to independent advocates for ill patients.
The Liberal Democrat’s “Third Age” team came into prominence in 2005 and has classed the “demographic time-bomb” as a great opportunity for change not a burden for society (Crosby 2005).The challenge faced by the government in the era of such great demographic change is an enormous task but with universality in policy areas dealing with old age, success is likely to be the probable outcome. Advice from other political organisations as well as persistence from older people’s pressure groups has meant that the government can no longer ignore its so-called “grey vote”. Conclusion The information above has portrayed many different angles taken by governments to deal with the issue of old people in society.The period directly post-war saw the emergence of the welfare state which was a huge gain for all members of society.
Older people managed to gain greatly from free healthcare as well as the state pension scheme which was set up four years later in 1946. This gave a massive boost to older people who were financially insecure after the age of retirement, in particular those in manual labour jobs who often had to retire at an earlier age due to illness. The baby booms of 1948-50 and 1955-1962 ensured that prosperity was experienced by most members of society.The extra money being spent in the economy allowed for an economic boom and handed the government a larger budget to spend on sections of society which needed help. Fewer policies were needed back in the 1950’s and 1960’s dealing with primarily older people themselves as prosperous times had allowed for a much better lifestyle. As well as this a post war political consensus dealing with Keynesian economic policies, trade unionism, and full employment, combined with attempts to remove idleness, disease, want, ignorance and squalor as proposed by Beveridge meant that Britain was being run very effectively.The emergence of the Conservatives in the 1980’s brought an end to the political consensus.
The boom period had stopped and a recession loomed in the wake of the demographic changes. The Babies born in the boom were growing up and policies needed to be put into place to protect the economic security for the future. The radical nature of Margaret Thatcher brought about many changes notably the removal of full employment, abandonment of trade unionism, privatisation and changes to the NHS and pensions scheme.
Theorists claiming that older people lost their voice during this period of change seem to be justified as Thatcher seemed to take a more negative approach to the older people in society. Major who followed Thatcher in 1992 sustained her policies and forced older people out of the political agenda, making the arrival into government for Tony Blair and Labour a much more arduous task. The decline of the Conservative stronghold meant that their policies did little for older people and, with the Liberal Democrats always being held as the third most powerful political party, their policies would never really be tested on society.However, the arrival of Labour into the 21st century particularly saw the older people’s representation go from strength to strength. Population projections for the future show that the so called “grey vote” in years to come may hold the majority and Blair seems to be implementing policies which recognise this.
His more recent policies evident in the budget of March 2005 show his appreciation for income problems in old age hence his approval of a i?? 200 rebate for all pensioners. As well as this his manifesto for 2005 seems to pave the way for a new future.Policies intent on encouraging saving rather than government spending to deal with problems have allowed Labour to direct funds elsewhere allowing for change on a far wider scale.
Policies looking into funding for county councils, financial support for carers as well as numerous reviews of local authorities and their care systems for the elderly are just the start of the new regime for older people under the guidance of Tony Blair. The demographics are showing very slight signs of being ‘top heavy’.However over the next few years the proportion of older people is set to increase greatly with projected numbers showing that the “grey vote” has the potential to influence elections on a far greater scale than ever before. Governments need to view the next few years as a realisation period.
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