As I write this, issues around equality have been brought into sharp focus by the row about the BBC. The inequity in salary levels between male and female presenters is not only unacceptable in an era of the Equality and Human Rights Act it is also a serious impediment to the development of talent. If we constantly discriminate ultimately the whole of society is the loser.
What was interesting to me about the BBC debate was the amount of publicity generated by the issue. However unacceptable this disparity in pay between a group of highly paid elites might be, there is a far more serious and wide ranging type of inequality, which is affecting millions, and which gets almost no coverage.
Within the Equality and Human Rights Act, age is a protected characteristic, and yet ageism is the only form of discrimination that does not seem to be challenged by anyone. The ageism inherent in our society is so ingrained, that you hear comments made about older people that would cause huge indignation if they were being applied to other protected characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, or disability.
One of the biggest areas of age discrimination is in social care. Older people are getting a very poor deal from the system, and they are receiving a level of support that would not be tolerated by other groups.
It is interesting to note that many older people have to pay for their care, yet the reason they need social care is because of a health condition that impacts on their ability to look after themselves. Yet, just because you are old, the system redefines the health needs as being social care needs, and requires you to pay for them.
This is not done when children who are disabled require specialist services. Sometimes they have rich parents, but this is not taken into account when services are being allocated. It is also interesting to note that for other client groups, the notion of personalised commissioning is the norm, yet for older people services, they are usually commissioned on block contracts, not individually tailored care packages.
The Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS) recently reported that in some areas the spend on learning disability services will outstrip the spend on older people’s services. When you consider the difference in the numbers of people, it shows that there is a very different approach between services for younger people and those for older people. It is my belief that everyone should be treated as an individual and respected and supported according to their needs. We currently have significant inequalities in the social care system and they need to be challenged.
It is also very disappointing that organisations that are set up to defend equalities, such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission, have done little or nothing to challenge the inequalities in social care. It is now several years since the act was applied to government services, and yet the silence from this organisation has been deafening.
If we are going to aspire to a system that is focused on the needs of the individual, we must start challenging ageism, and ensuring that older people receive services that are appropriate to their needs and equal to the support given to other groups.
Ageism is one of the last taboo subjects and it is time that it was challenged. Social care would be a good place to start.