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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

15 FEB 2010

We'll all get 'gerontophobia' soon...

Article by Penny Booth
All the reports in the media recently on the 'elderly' (that's you and me, too, and those younger ones who think they'll never get old - and who do, eventually - consider the alternatives to doing so...) seem to focus on just how we as a society are going to fund care for the elderly in the future. Politicians are vying first to say how they will solve the problem without defining much on what that problem is, and then they are running as fast as they can away from the issues once the going gets tough. Get this - it is tough, and it was Bette Davies who is quoted as telling us that "old age ain't no place for sissies". To coin a phrase, you can run, but... you won't get far with a zimmer frame.

The past (always a different country) had a higher death rate, with more people dying within a few years of retirement. This was very convenient for the financial considerations and for governments in the past. The pension contributions of the soon-dead retirees and those notional payments into state coffers through taxes and national insurance payments they had made could then be used for others who managed to live well into their seventies and eighties. Now more of us are living longer (though not always healthier) and sometimes with a pension worth living for, sometimes not (and the stories behind that are for another time). When the pensions are not enough the state will have to 'pick up the tab' and that may mean higher taxes - but after all, didn't the welfare state promise as much sixty years ago? I feel like the baby who missed the baby-boom (it wasn't for the likes of us).

Nobody wants to live in a lonely place - and naturally - literally - old age can be just such a place; add to that loneliness failing health and disability, with insufficient money to live on, and you have the archetypal old age in Britain today. If this isn't you or your parents, thank your lucky stars. You could, of course, decide this is the lot of the poor, and that it is their own fault for not saving enough. It might be. You could, of course, decide that it happens to others and is not the concern of family lawyers. This is, however, the flip-side to considering the selection of when to have babies, what sex they might be, selecting in - and out - in the search after the perfect family. What happens to families when they no longer have minority children around still is family law and it is time the concerns reached into considerations of family planning throughout life for what we do in that place called 'old age' affects what we do at the start of family life and what our families might be doing now. Too much traditional family planning may mean there are too few people to finance what is left of the family at the opposite end of life. Too much thinking of our desires now means we think of the future too late to make the changes needed.

The Times Culture (page 7-8 Culture section, Sunday 14 February) has a report on the 'wrinklies' version of 'Romeo and Juliet' being performed at the Bristol Old Vic. A breath of fresh air in the media's focus on what it is to be young and vibrant - looking forward to being old and vibrant. What a balance to last week's reports on the furore about the cost of personal care plans. Many of us will not be healthy enough to stave off retirement until 68, the new 60/65 without dealing with becoming older. We should stop talking about 'the old' and start talking about how we will plan 'to be older'.

Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

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