People don’t have a “sell by” date


Two articles have been troubling my conscience, the first is by Debora Price  and is featured on this blog. Debora champions the vitality of older people. The second article is by Ros Altmann and is on a similar theme. It is not on this blog but I have quoted from it, you can read it here.

Ros’ central argument is that older people should not be punished by and for the pandemic.

  • Old people must not be confined just because some are vulnerable.  
  • Surely collective punishment of all those over a specific age is unacceptable in our democracy.
  • It is not acceptable just to blame the virus for ‘targeting’ some age groups.
  • I urge Government to consider the social and political consequences of such authoritarian policies.

There is a lot of overlap between the articles as you would expect. They both spring from the news, confirming what scientists had known for some time, that excess deaths in care homes and amongst isolating older people is much higher than previously reported. There is still a gap between UK deaths brought on by the pandemics – around 47,000 and those reported as from the pandemic (26,500) is because of the lag in feeding through bad news and because many people’s cause of death- reported on the death certificate is nor reported as COVID-19. This is particularly the case in nursing homes.

This slide shows that it is the old who have most “hazard” from the virus, something that has been known from the early data coming out of China but is now reinforced in the UK

Screenshot 2020-05-01 at 05.53.19

But as Stuart McDonald has written most poignantly, there’s life in the old dog yet. Stuart’s was the most read article published on my blog last month. I am clearly not alone in feeling guilt about the fate of so many of our older citizens. We have it in our moral DNA to honour our fathers and mothers and Colonel Tom has focussed our respect for the old on his vitality.

The trope peddled by apologists for the neglect of the elderly in homes (and their carers) is that Covid 19 is some kind of geriatric cleansing that redistributes deaths from the back to front of 2020

Screenshot 2020-05-01 at 06.09.22

Nick Tiggle – twitter (reportedly from BBC)

This is not the first time I have read this argument and sadly I’ve heard it from some of my friends and why it is being repeated is because it is so convenient – especially to those who refer to living people as liabilities (eg almost everyone in the pension industry).

And many people, simply don’t get “longevity”

The truth, as explained in the Economist this week is “yes ten years!”

It is not until the extremes of life expectancy that the impact of a death from COVID-19 can be measured in days and if you are in your final days, every day counts.

We do not become liabilities nor pass our sell by date

We brutalise our emotional response to older people when we talk of them as liabilities. We do not decently talk of older people as “coffin dodgers” or “past their sell by date” – especially in these dark days.

But I fear that there are many of us who cannot share in Ros Altmann’s and Debora Price’s empathy with the vitality of those in care homes. Grandpa in the Simpsons may be another figure of fun, but he is – in the context of the show- a very vivid force with his distinctive voice. He is treated just the same as everybody else.

If we could regard the life of an 80 year old as equal to the lie of a 50 year old, we would be showing a better side to ourselves.  We might also start taking our retirements a little bit more seriously.


About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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4 Responses to People don’t have a “sell by” date

  1. Phil Castle says:

    It;s not the length, it’s what you do with it.

    I know 80 year olds who have a really good quality of life, so getting another 10 years of good quality life is important, but I also know 80 year olds who have NO quality of life.

    Ros Altman raises valid points as lockdwon for an 80+ year old who the only highlight in their lives is going out of their residential home, seeing and hugging their grandchildren/great grandchildren is the only bit of quality of life can mean that their will be in the equivalent of solitary confinement until death if they are not given the right to choose to die by covid rather than decline in solitary until death.

    My mother is gradually dying (I believe she’s probably got a max of 6 months) bedridden in solitary confinement with my father holding her hand and neither I, my children or grandchildren can comfort either with a hug until the final days/hours.

  2. DaveC says:

    The virus doesn’t ‘target’ age groups.

    The virus targets indiscriminately.

    The disease is a result of human immune response.

    I feel the choice is binary. We support the vulnerable, or we don’t.

    Not doing so is wrong.

    So what other support mechanisms are being proposed? The virus doesn’t care, it just invades whatever it can.
    How can we protect the vulnerable, but provide equality of freedom for all?

    It seems the vulnerable will be upset at having to do anything others don’t. We’re doomed if that is truly the case.

  3. John Mather says:

    Living long and dying short is a goal within the gift of most individuals. Hopefully one of the positive outcomes from this pandemic will be an awareness of the destructive habits that many have. I do hope that this will enable resources to be redirected to make “care in the community “ a reality rather than an oxymoron

  4. Pingback: For those who should be alive and loving, alive and loved. | AgeWage: Making your money work as hard as you do

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