Ageing Society and Social Policy

'All age discrimination is unacceptable, even if it benefits an individual'. Evaluate and discuss this assertion with reference to key theories on ageing. Age discrimination is said to be worse now than it was over five years ago, with over three-quarters of people believing it will not get any better. Age discrimination emanates from the term Ageism which is a form of prejudice and has created a 'stereotyped homogenous group' which depicts the elderly to be old, frail, physically and mentally inept.

Age discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct forms of discrimination would be if an individual was treated less favourably because of their age or indirectly where by older people are disadvantaged because they are disproportionately affected. In most cases of age discrimination it is the negative aspect which allows for much media coverage however positive discrimination does also occur which receives much less criticism (http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/uk/3970639. stm).

Gerontologists have been studying age and ageing for many years with particular emphasis placed upon the biological perspective although recent studies in particular the disengagement theory have suggested that ageing is not simply biological but fundamentally psychological and social and that age is a socially constructed ideology. Age discrimination can be found mostly within the areas of employment, health and social care. These experience particularly bad age discrimination and has led to many organisations such as Age Concern demanding a change in current legislation.

"Ageism is the last form of legal discrimination. It is often invisible and endemic in our culture. " (http://news. bbc. co. uk/1/hi/uk/3970639. stm). This was a statement made by an Age Concern representative and emphasises the point that at the present moment, there is no legislation to protect the elderly from age discrimination. Discriminating against any other factor such as race, sexuality and gender has all been outlawed however at the present time age discrimination is seen as acceptable.

This assignment will tackle the issue of age discrimination, showing how old people are not just discriminated against on the grounds of their physical appearance but also psychologically and socially and the way society has been adapted and manipulated to see the elderly as stereotypical 'grumpy old men' and 'pretty old ladies'. However it will also attempt to weigh up the negative and positive aspects of such discrimination. Even though many old people do face negative discrimination throughout their later life they will also encounter positive discrimination as well.

This assignment will determine whether or not age discrimination as a whole is totally unacceptable or if positive discrimination is to remain how much negative discrimination can really be deemed as unacceptable. For men reaching the age of 65 and women reaching the age of 60, retirement beckons. Stereotypically this is a time for men and women to relax, go on holidays and not have to worry about the stress of working a nine to five day. They will be able to rely on their pensions and will live in happiness for the rest of their lives. However for many this is not a reality.

Many older people don't want to be destined for a life of peace and tranquility, many want to remain working and still earn a living and for some it is a necessity to maintain a solid income. However job centres and employers nationwide will reject older workers just on the basis of their age and will receive no legal prosecution against them. To employers, an older workforce is an unproductive workforce. They are seen as physically weak and unable to do a full days work. Most companies will hire a younger workforce which is seen as active and mobile which will do a job in a quicker space of time.

This discrimination is purely on the basis of a biological perspective. Darwin's theory of evolution shows the process of growing up, from a child to an adult and then from an adult to an old age person. They are depicted as weak and frail and this is how the elder generation are viewed within 21st century society. With many new emerging companies reaching the market, their image is crucial, looking good for the media etc. Having an older workforce doesn't look good even if older people hold greater characteristics such as reliability.

When a survey asked 500 random employers about the reliability of an older workforce, 74% agreed that they were more reliable than younger staff, yet this still has no bearing on the number of older people still in full employment over the age of 65 (Walker and Maltby 1997). Many younger people benefit from this attitude as companies will look to a younger workforce before employing someone much older. An unskilled youngster is much more appealing to a company as they can pay them less and can train them to suit their needs.

An older worker will have gained much knowledge and many skills throughout their life and will be harder to adapt and mould into new and improved practices. Discrimination from a biological perspective is not just found in the area of employment, but also in the area of health and social care. As people get older their natural bodily defences slow down, and they become more susceptible to diseases, some more serious than others. Again stereotyping plays a large role in the view of older people receiving health and social care.

Many feel that older people are destined to get weak and frail and that is the way life works and the way we evolve. Prejudice and discrimination is clearly evident within the NHS in particular, with many age limits being put on certain medical procedures. For women up to the age of 64 screening and other such tests are compulsory. However once over the age of 64, the NHS and the government have stopped such treatment and have placed a greater emphasis on the younger generation of women. Men too experience such discrimination but on a smaller scale as throughout their lives they experienced fewer compulsory check ups.

Even though the government knows that extending these treatments to older women of 70+ would save around 1500 lives a year, it still refuses to do so and continues to push money into other schemes which benefit the younger generation. Even GP's often object to health checks for the over 75's because it places too much of a burden upon their schedule and forces them to undertake extra work. (McGarry, J and Arthur, A 1999)This discrimination once again clearly has a profound affect upon the treatment of older people. The younger generation seem to win again with much greater emphasis placed upon them.

Although attention and government funding shouldn't be withdrawn from such programmes it is unacceptable to neglect the elderly in this way. It shows a lack of compassion towards the elderly and not only that but it also places a huge psychological pressure upon them. The more they get rejected from jobs and health care, they more they begin to feel unwanted and stop looking for such help. The psychological impact of discrimination has prompted new ways of looking at prejudice of old people and has come up with different methods of trying to deal with age discrimination whilst trying to combat it, at the same time.