08:32, December 26 202 0 theguardian.com

2018-12-26 08:32:04
UK is 'completely and institutionally ageist'

The UK is “completely and institutionally ageist”, according to the chief executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent social care services in the UK.

Prof Martin Green, also the chair of the International Longevity Centre, said ageism in the UK was “a national scandal” that should be challenged in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should, he added, “hang their heads in shame” over its failure to pursue as many ageism cases through the courts as other protected characteristics, such as racism or homophobia.

The EHRC has disputed Green’s claim but its figures show that eight of the 27 cases ongoing in August 2018 involved age, two out of 21 litigation cases that concluded between April and August 2018 involved age, and nine of the 40 cases that concluded in 2017-18 involved age.

Green said: “The EHRC is ignoring the elephant in the room in such a determined way – despite me personally drawing it to their attention numerous times – that I can only assume they’re part of the problem: that they’re imbued with the same institutionalised ageism as the rest of society.

“Age is a protected characteristic under the Human Rights Act but the health and social care system is constantly discriminating against older people. Older people don’t get the services they have a legal right to. For example, a younger person with brain damage will have a care plan from the NHS that includes maintaining links with their family and accessing education.

“An older person with the same level of functionality but suffering dementia, however, will have a social care plan costing many thousands of pounds less a week, which is based entirely around getting the older person out of bed, washed and breakfasted, all in half an hour.

“God alone knows why it hasn’t been challenged in the courts in the same way that instances of racism or homophobia are. If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is. You hear those in the NHS say: ‘That person is too old for an operation’ but they’d never say they are ‘too black’ or ‘too gay’ for treatment.”

A report by the Royal Society for Public Health found that ageist attitudes existed across generations, affecting health and wellbeing. Christopher Brooks, the senior policy manager at Age UK, said older people frequently experienced discriminatory treatment across public and private services.

In health and social care, treatment rates drop disproportionately for people over 70 in areas such as surgery, chemotherapy and talking therapies. In employment, polling by YouGov commissioned by Age UK in 2017 found that 36% of over-55s felt they had been disadvantaged at work because of their age.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the EHRC’s chief legal officer, said: “No one should be treated differently because of their age and Prof Green is entirely wrong to say that we do not take age discrimination extremely seriously.

“Much of our work speaks to this. Our strength is that we do not look at issues in isolation and we work to improve the lives of everyone by tackling problems that affect multiple groups of people in areas such as healthcare, work and living standards.”

Janet Morrison, the chief executive of Independent Age, said: “There’s casual ageism in terms of popular culture and attitudes, and there’s institutional ageism in across every sector, industry and service that you care to mention.

“We need to start calling out ageism a lot more often. We need to challenge the stigma in the same way that it’s challenged with other protected characteristics. We need to be a great deal angrier about it than we currently are.”

Brooks agreed that ageism was prevalent in British society. “Ageism matters because as we have an ageing population, it becomes increasingly important to the UK as a society and our economy that we treat people equally,” he said.

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