THE head of Newcastle University’s prestigious Institute for Ageing and Health today accused the leaders of the three main political parties of indulging in a “negative debate” over the issue of people living longer.
Professor Tom Kirkwood called on the leaders to stop seeing ageing as a “burden” on society and criticised them for failing to address the issue in the three pre-election televised debates.
Prof Kirkwood said political leadership was required to change attitudes towards older people and said “the negative political debate must change to a more positive tone”.
He called on candidates across the country to sign up to a charter drawn up in the North East that will try to change people’s views of the elderly.
Last night the three major political parties denied they were ignoring the issue of ageing.
Prof Kirkwood’s comments come in an open letter sent to David Cameron, Gordon Brown and Nick Clegg. In it, he says he was moved to write after watching the televised leaders debates.
He said he and his colleagues at the institute feel the focus of the politicians’ debate about ageing was seen in terms of cost to the state and problems with healthcare rather than celebrating the fact that people are living longer.
The letter reads: “Within this Institute, in partnership with the NHS, research councils and other funders, our studies are revealing high levels of capability and good quality life among people who are well into their 80s. They are not all in poor health needing high levels of care. Indeed, many view their health as ‘excellent’ and still live highly independent lives.”
It goes on: “As one of the largest academic institutes in the world studying ageing, we deeply believe that the negative political debate must change to a more positive tone.”
The letter concludes by challenging the three parties to help transform attitudes in society.
Last night, a spokeswoman for the Liberal Democrats said the party “believes that older people are an asset to this nation, not a burden”.
“We are acutely aware that older people lead full, active lives, pay billions in taxes each year, undertake paid and unpaid employment and help bind families and communities together in their roles as grandparents, carers for partners and through volunteering,” she said.
She said the party’s proposals to help older people included restoring the earnings link for pensions, stopping “unfair energy bills”, cutting taxes and keeping post offices open.
A Labour spokesman said change was needed to ensure older people had more choices about how they live.
“We want to continue to make it easier for older people to work if they want to,” he said. “We will conduct a review of the retirement age looking at allowing people to retire later if they wish to. We are looking at options which include scrapping the default retirement age, raising it, or giving employees stronger rights. We’ve outlawed age discrimination in the workplace.”
A Conservative spokesman said: “As a country we need to face up to the fact that the UK has an ageing population. That means embracing the opportunities that an older generation brings with it, as well as recognising the contributions older people make to society.
“A Conservative government will look at ways of creating more personalisation in health and social care, and more patient power.”