No country for older people…?

Am I imagining it, asks Tony Watts OBE, or are older people routinely and systematically being excluded and discriminated against?

An excellent article in The Guardian on 6 July (“No country for old people”) interviews a number of older people about the impact on their lives of the planned wholesale closure of ticket offices in railway stations. For the majority of rail users the inconvenience, if any, will be minor. But not for this cohort, as these very telling responses reveal.

“Increasingly, with age and arthritis, ticket machines and my smartphone are too difficult to use.”

“I do have a computer but my fingers don’t work very well any more on the keyboard.”

“So many of my friends can’t handle the internet so will stop travelling.

“Some of my friends don’t have a mobile phone or a computer.”

“I am hearing impaired. If display boards are not working I have to ask staff for service information, I can’t hear loudspeaker announcements.”

To precis, without the facility to physically ask a member of staff for the ticket they want, many will be unable to make a train journey independently once these changes come in.

And what about older drivers? Well they are having problems too, with many struggling with the parking apps that are now – in some places – the only way to pay. The consequence of that is that many older people will not be able to drive anywhere that requires them to use a car park at the other end.

Public services

A recent report from Age UK (the full story is here) set out the difficulties older people face when trying to apply for a Blue Badge and other local public services if they are not “computer savvy”.  Most local authorities now strongly encourage people to access services digitally. In some cases, they do not offer offline alternatives at all, or not in a way that makes them easy to find and access.

If there is actually a planned and concerted effort going on to exclude many older people from the normal activities the rest of us take for granted, then it’s working pretty well.

“Digital by default” is an attractive option for any organisation looking to streamline their operation and cut costs. You can understand the appeal. They can still reach the large majority of the people they want as customers or to help. Arguably those with the bigger pockets and purses. But, along the way, a large swathe of people (including, lest we forget) younger people with a range of disabilities – and being systematically excluded.

The D&I angle

What I find oddly ironic is that all of the organisations who are excluding older and disabled people will be fully signed up to diversity and inclusion policies as part of their ESG (environmental, social and governance) commitments. Many will be proudly brandishing them on their websites. But there is talking the talk and walking the walk…

While there will always be nuanced differences between what people understand as “diversity”, here is a handy definition I’ve just lifted from an organisation that does this sort of thing for a living: Global Diversity Practice. “In a nutshell, it’s about empowering people by respecting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, sexual orientation, education, and national origin.”

So, let’s imagine, for a moment, that the policies (inter alia) of the rail companies, car park owners and local authorities routinely made it impossible for groups of people who could be defined by their gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation or national origin to use their products or services. Just how much of a brouhaha might there be? Might MPs and TV commentators be putting in their two penn’orths? Might there be protests outside of corporate headquarters?

I posit this argument because there seems to be little or no public and media blowback when people are (effectively) discriminated against because of their age and even (while we’re about it) their disability.

In short: what will it take for the last taboo of ageism to be treated seriously?

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