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Your Title: TAKING AN ANTHROPIST APPROACH TO AGE IRRELEVANCE

Updated: Jul 25, 2023

Professor David Grayson CBE



David Grayson is an early Anthropist. He is Professor Emeritus of Corporate Responsibility at Cranfield School of Management and chair of the Institute of Business Ethics. He is co-host of the All In Sustainable Business Podcast. He is an Ambassador for Age Irrelevance. He writes here in a personal capacity.

Twitter: @DavidGrayson_




Plan 75


A new Japanese movie was released in the UK on May 12th. It is called Plan 75. In the film, the Japanese Government offers voluntary euthanasia for the over-75s. As a thoughtful article in The Guardian explains, "Instead of being burden, a bother, a resource-draining nuisance, anyone aged 75 can simply place themselves in the calm, efficient hands of the state and painlessly slip away. Those with money and family can do so at the end of a two-day premium package, after spa treatments and special meals. Those without are given enough cash to pay for basic funeral costs before lying down on a camp bed in a dark, silent room divided by curtains where they quietly acquiesce to being gassed to death."

The same Guardian review explains why "Plan 75" is causing such a stir in Japan:


"Japan is ageing faster than any other country in the world, boasting one of the highest life expectancies. .... Almost 40% of its population is over 60, a figure expected to continue expanding as the population shrinks. Couples in Japan now have an average of just 1.3 children – far below the 2.1 children societies need to remain stable."

The country’s prime minister, recently said the ageing population poses an “urgent risk to society” and that “Japan is standing on the verge of whether we can continue to function as a society.” He has established an agency to address the crisis. The director of the Plan 75 film says she has made her movie in order that her fictionalised euthanasia agency does not become a reality. Scarily, since the movie was released in Japan, some on-line commentators have apparently said something like Plan 75 is needed.


It will be interesting to see if the film gets attention and provokes debate about the ageing society here in the UK. In particular, will it accentuate ideas that older people are “a burden,” “bed-blockers,” and “a drain on state coffers?”


My purpose in this article, however, is not to promote this film, nor to wade into the debates about euthanasia. Rather it is to challenge the caricatures of older people which seem to be gaining traction and to encourage a more nuanced debate about "good, later life" and urge new language and mindsets.


PARTIAL PICTURES OF AGEING


So, what are some of the caricatures?


There's the "We'll never have it so good as the Baby-boomers." As someone born bang in the middle of the Baby Boomers Generation (those born 1945-65), I am especially alert to this one. Like all caricatures, it has many grains of truth. Ours is a privileged group in many cases: if we got to University, there were no tuition fees and many of us even got a student grant towards our living costs. Many of us were able to get our feet on the housing ladder early on, then benefited from inflation to reduce the true cost of our mortgage and many of us have built up decent pension pots. Commentators like former Cabinet Minister David Willetts (now President of the Resolution Foundation) have highlighted this inter-generational unfairness - for example in his 2009 book "The Pinch." Subtitled: “How the Baby Boomers Stole Their Children's Future.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2010/feb/07/the-pinch-david-willetts

"Many of us," however, is not the same as "all of us." There's another compelling segment: what might be called the "Age UK campaign stories" about pensioners living in fuel poverty, suffering from the Cost of Living Crisis and enduring a profound sense of loneliness. These are the millions of older people who involuntarily spend Christmas Day alone. I am sure these individual cases are effective campaigning tools – and the scourge of pensioner poverty and loneliness in the sixth richest economy in the world, is a national disgrace. Yet today’s pensioners as a group are better off than before: “Retirees will have more disposable income than working households by 2024 as increases to the state pension outstrip wage rises,” reported The Daily Telegraph in December 2022.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/pensions-retirement/news/pensioners-will-better-workers-2024/


Then, there’s the “70 is the new 50” and the “sprightly octogenerian runs a marathon” picture, emphasising increased life expectancy – and in the title of a best-selling book by London Business School professors Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott – younger generations should be preparing for “The 100 Year Life.”


(The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in an Age of Longevity: https://www.100yearlife.com/).

Yet, as Prof Sir Michael Marmot has powerfully reminded us, the UK faces huge health inequalities and with it, great variations in life expectancies. The titles of some of his books sum up his perspective:


“The Health Gap: the challenge of an unequal world” (Bloomsbury: 2015), and “Status Syndrome: how your place on the social gradient directly affects your health” (Bloomsbury: 2004).


You’ve also got the binary juxtaposition of “roll on retirement” with mass protests in France against rather modest proposals to raise the statutory retirement age, versus the “I’ve banned the ‘R’ word – retirement” brigade, aided by books such as Anita Hoffmann’s “Purpose and Impact: How Executives are Creating Meaningful Second Careers’,” and Jan Hall and Jon Stokes’s “Changing Gear: Creating the Life You Want After a Full On Career” https://www.changing-gear.com/

Avivah Wittenberg-Cox postulates instead of “Study – work – retire” a four stage life-course:

“Grow – Achieve – Become – Harvest.” https://www.avivahwittenbergcox.com/


A MORE NUANCED AND JOINED-UP VIEW OF LATER LIFE


Education, income, good genes, good luck, good diet and exercise, mindset, of course, all help determine whether individuals enjoy a good later life; and can make full use of the “Extra Time” described by the journalist and policy-maker Camilla Cavendish in her book: “Extra Time: Ten Lessons for an Ageing World.”


There are also some important attitudinal shifts and policy developments required for more Britons to have opportunities to enjoy a good, later life. These range from more robust challenge to ageism in all its manifestations; more focus on preventative medicine and facilitating more personal responsibility for your own health with better access to information and vital signs data; and finding sustainable solutions to the seemingly intractable problems of Adult Social Care and especially eldercare.


I am personally, particularly interested in the idea of “Dynamic Duos” or “Two-way mentoring.” This is where older people are mentored by young people on topics like sustainability and new technologies and, in turn, mentor the younger person on things like building and maintaining effective networks for action and impact, or how to overcome objections and naysayers.


One potentially fruitful contribution that Anthropy 2023 might make, based on the 2022 experience plus some of the already declared goals for this coming November, could well be an exploration of what older, middle-aged and younger Britons understand by “intergenerational equity” and how it might be advanced.




The Universe Talking?


I was prompted to write this article after reading about the disturbing Japanese film “Plan 75.” Within hours of finalising my article and submitting it – through serendipity – I heard about Age Irrelevance – the legacy project and vision of the late Sally Greengross, which is being taken forward by the new Greengross Foundation, https://www.ageirrelevance.com/


Sally was an indomitable campaigner. Her vision was for


“An inclusive world where everyone values age irrelevance and expects equality in all phases of life. It's not about taking age out of the equation, it is about putting consideration of all ages into everything.”


This chimes perfectly with the Anthropy goal of a “better, more harmonious and human centric future.” Debating what age irrelevance and inter-generational fairness means in practice, feels like exactly the kind of big, essential question that Anthropy is here to tackle


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