What the papers have said in the week ending December 14th 2019
Nearly the third Sunday of Advent
The General Election of December 12th has given us a confirmed Conservative government. Startling maps show a country painted even more definitely blue. (Guardian December 14th p 12 and 13). The analysis suggests that older voters gave more support to the Conservatives with younger age groups giving more to Labour. Class differences are also seen, with senior and middle professionals at the blue end of the spectrum, semi-skilled, unemployed and state pensioners at the red.
For all the discussions, questions and answers in the weeks leading to the election, it is seen to have been a one issue election: whether to leave Europe under any condition, or not. We have the answer: we will be leaving. New patterns of allegiance will have to emerge.
Other topics featured tell the story of the country we have become and are likely to become
Amelia Hill gave us: Children born today face living more of a life in poor health. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/11/children-born-now-face-longer-period-of-ill-health-in-old-age
This reports on data from the Office for National Statistics. These show that progressive increases in life expectation at birth have slowed down as has expectation of healthy life years. Both men and women over 65 years are seeing increases in expected healthy life years. A picture which tells a story of an older generation which continues to benefit from advantages gained throughout life from the 1940s and 1950s, which have not been sustained for subsequent cohorts of births. This is not evidence of inter-generational conflict, but a strong argument for providing good care, education and services throughout life. This does require action to counter the inequalities which these figures evidence.
Philip Inman gave us: Assets gap widens as nation’s wealth rises 13% in two years https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/dec/05/gap-between-rich-and-poor-grows-alongside-rise-in-uks-total-wealth This makes clear that there is finance within this country, which might be used to counter the losses of health expectation being experienced by successive birth cohorts. But the wealth is not currently equally distributed and the trend is for the gap between rich and poor to grow wider. If we want to support health across the generations, we need to take action.
Patrick Butler draws attention to the plight of poorer people living in accommodation which is privately rent: Benefits frozen since 2016 have led to a widening gap between rental demands and the money people have to pay them. This is seen to be a source of hunger and need for foodbanks. In the extreme, people are made homeless. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/dec/02/benefit-rent-gap-for-poorest-tenants-widens-to-113-a-month
The education potential of libraries is being lost as one in five libraries close in a 10 year period. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/dec/06/britain-has-closed-almost-800-libraries-since-2010-figures-show
Looking to effects on and of the environment: the hottest day ever recorded in Britain – July 25th 2019 saw 1,404 deaths – 200 more than would be expected on a normal day in July. The excess of deaths seen here and in Europe related especially to older people.
But there is much encouragement from evidence that reducing air pollution leads to improved health within a very short time: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/dec/06/cutting-air-pollution-can-prevent-deaths-within-weeks When indoor smoking was banned in Ireland death rates from heart attacks fell by 26% and from Strokes by 36%.
These are messages for the health and well-being of individuals of all and any age.
Less reassuring, indeed positively scary is the revelation that life-changing decision making has increasingly been allocated to machine-learning systems. Scarier still is the evidence that the algorithms used are sometimes flawed – A leading expert is now asking for their use to be banned. Henry McDonald. Guardian 13th December: AI pioneer seeks shutdown of biased systems which can ruin or end lives
Dementia: we may be frustrated that no new medicines look likely to be identified as curative of Alzheimer’s disease and at the lack of adequately funded, sensitive, comprehensive support services, but it is wonderful to know that understanding of the condition is progressing through personal accounts and interpretations with the arts. Glenda Jackson’s portrayal of Maud from ‘Elizabeth is missing’ held the nation spellbound. Surely another step toward de-stigmatisation and de-mystification of the most feared associate of old age. www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000c6pv/elizabeth-is-missing. Lucy Mangan: Guardian December 9th A harrowing, compelling, magnificent performance
Lost: David Bellamy died December 11th, aged 86. He inspired many of us with his enthusiasm and breadth of knowledge of all things biological. His Conservation Foundation continues his work and vision About us | The Conservation Foundation . He was famously unconvinced of the hazard of climate change. Pause for thought.
Pause for thought and prayers as we older people review matters at this punctuation point in the history of the UK. What have we seen and contributed? What will we offer from here on?
David Jolley December 17th