Lynne Berry OBE is Chair of the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing.

All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.

Recently, ploughing through some health planning documents, I read the title, “A modern model of integrated care”. Next to it was an image of two stick people, bent double, leaning on walking sticks. Scarcely a modern image of ageing.  Indeed it’s based on a 30 year old road sign that, even when it was drawn was condemned as ageist. Both the British Medical Journal and Age UK have called for the sign’s removal and yet it’s still in use and, according to a Daily Mail poll, most people see no harm in it.

It’s time to move on and to change our attitudes towards ageing. We should be celebrating our increased longevity and embracing the opportunities provided by one of the greatest success stories of western societies. 

I want our default image of older women and men to be one of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s, planning for 20, 30 or even 40 years of good life, with occasional need of support. Our image should be one that acknowledges (as the report 'Gold Age Pensioners'), commissioned when I was chief executive of RVS revealed) that people over 65 contributed £40bn net to the UK economy in 2010, a sum projected to rise to £77bn by 2030.

Nowadays older people are more active and engaged than ever. Older people may have expensive heath and care needs in the last five or so years of life but they are mostly healthy. They are better educated than any previous generation. More women than before will have had careers for most of their adult lives and will have different expectations of their role as an older person.

Of course not all is rosy: many older people are lonely; some are poor; unsuitable housing is a huge issue and fears of expensive health and social care are real. The limitations, and privileges, of class and life chances don't go away in old age.

But to base all our policy around images of older people, bent double with cares and infirmity, will result in a diminished, deficit model of ageing running, like the words in a stick of rock, through all our initiatives, ambitions and visions. 

In a recent blog for the Commission on the Voluntary Sector and Ageing, which I chair, I complained about the sector’s use of negative images of ageing despite older people being the greatest source of volunteering, donations and trustees.

So my ambition is to use the Commission's influence to ban the use of negative images. Charities are in the business of hope – the voluntary sector wants to make the world a better place. Doing so without challenging negative stereotypes mean we reinforce negative attitudes – and up with that we should not put!


What excites you and what concerns you most about growing older and why?

What concerns you most about growing older and why?

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