“An extended lockdown of over 70s will hurt the whole country – not just older people”

EngAgeNet, the national organisation representing grass roots forums of older people across England, has warned that extending the “lockdown” for a lengthy period based purely on age runs the risk of harming the economy, family life and the physical and mental wellbeing of seniors themselves.

Reports in a number of weekend newspapers suggest that over 70s face up to a further 18 months of tough restrictions under plans being drawn up by UK Government advisors, and leaders of regional older people’s forums across the country are joining together to voice their concerns about the unforeseen ramifications this could have.

“If this represents a policy that the Government is actually considering, then it is highly worrying – and we want to have our voices heard before any decisions are made,” says Peter Dale, Chair, Board of Trustees, South East England Forum on Ageing.

“While older people will obviously be keen to play their part in curbing the worst consequences of the pandemic, and we also recognise that statistically Covid-19 has a greater impact on older people than younger ones, it’s critical that some other major factors are taking into consideration.

“To start with, the ‘70’ benchmark is not a precise arbiter of who will be most prone to the more extreme impacts of the condition – and in itself is ageist: weight, gender and even ethnicity are also emerging as factors, but I don’t see anyone suggesting that overweight people, men and members of BAME should be subject to the same draconian rules.

“Older people play key roles in our society and a lengthy lockdown for them will damage the social fabric of our communities. Millions of people in their 70s and beyond are central to our institutions – to local government, school governance, the voluntary sector – as well as running essential local groups, caring for family members and friends and looking after grandchildren so that parents can go to work.

“To suppress that activism would have calamitous consequences for the contribution that older people make to society. And that’s before we get to how the ‘Silver Pound’ – older people shopping, using public transport, taking breaks and using leisure facilities – which makes a crucial contribution to the economy.

Adds John Welham, Vice Chair of the Yorkshire and Humberside Forum on Ageing: “There is a worrying assumption that prevails that all older people are frail and vulnerable, which clearly isn’t the case. Not only are people living longer but a great number of them are also leading active lives.

“Many are still working full or part time, or running businesses. Let’s not forget that Alan Sugar is 73, James Dyson is 72 and Richard Branson turns 70 in July – and that’s before we get to the famous musicians and actors well past threescore and ten.  Who’s going to tell them they should be in lockdown for the next 18 months?

“And presumably the 28 MPs currently over the age of 70 would have to be working as best they can from their own homes, as would a large percentage of the House of Lords.”

Liz Mandeville, Chair of East Midlands Later Life Forum, points to the long-term effects on the wellbeing of those in lockdown for an extended period: “We already have an epidemic of loneliness impacting negatively upon people’s health and – eventually – the NHS. Denying them the same level of active engagement as younger people once the pillars for safe relaxation of the ‘lockdown’ are in place runs the risk of increased physical and mental health demands in the future.”

So how does EngAgeNet believe any lockdown should apply to older people? “Of course, our first and most important duty is to ensure that we don’t become a burden on the NHS, but treating us as individuals rather than a simplistic ‘bloc’ of the population is critical,” says Tony Watts OBE, who chairs the South West Alliance on Ageing. “That means that once we get through the current ‘eye of the storm’, making sure that adequate testing and protective equipment is in place to allow us to continue contributing to society – the cost of which will be more than covered by the positive impact we can make on the economy.

“On top of that, those whose health conditions or advanced age means that they really do need an additional level of protection must have full support to weather out the lockdown in their own homes or care settings and still emerge in good physical and mental health at the end – especially those living alone.

“That means,” he says, “supplying digital equipment and support for some to help keep them connected to the outside world, and ensuring that they are well looked after for food and provisions – which is not happening universally at the moment.”

“We want to play our part in returning the country to normality,” concludes Chris Walsh, Chair of Positive Ageing in London, “and the positive reality is that most older people play key roles in society as workers, carers and volunteers. And we refuse to be discriminated against on the basis of age. We should all be able to leave our homes regardless of age – but only when there is really adequate PPE for the general public, full mass testing and tracking – not just promises.”

Ends

Press contact: Tony Watts OBE, 07738 167788 / tony@hartleywatts.co.uk

Posted by Tony Watts