Good news, fellas: life expectancy for men has improved by almost three years in the last decade, so we can now look forward to living until we’re 78. Granted, given the assault on pensions we might not be able to afford to eat anything for the last 12 years or so, but assuming we can all find work, we will live almost as long as women.
And, on the face of it, the quality of those lives looks pretty promising. Fifty, after all, is the new 40. Forty is the new black and 68 is definitely the new 57. We are climbing mountains, running marathons and having children well into our 50s. We appear to make youth last longer but it may cost us something.
The over-60s are the fastest growing users of the NHS partly due to the rise in hip and knee replacements and partly due to the fact that they need a break from childcare and mountain climbing. It seems we are staying young longer but we need the NHS more. Might that not be telling us something about ourselves? Either way we know that eventually, of course, that will make the NHS unsustainable.
Which is perhaps why David Cameron is so wedded to his “big society” idea. He wants a world where people do things for each other. Preferably for free.
‘The over-60s are the fastest growing users of the NHS, partly due to the rise in hip and knee replacements and partly due to the fact they need a break from childcare’
One of the ideas under consideration encourages volunteers to help older people in the community and, in return, they can earn credits to be redeemed for their own care later in life. In essence, Cameron wants to impose a sense of community on a population that has had its sense of community dismantled over the last 30 years - and the only way he knows how to do that is by offering a bribe. There is no faith that people may do good for good’s sake because he and his government cannot imagine ever doing good for good’s sake. We are all only motivated by reward now.
It is quite worrying that this government doesn’t understand that in a civilised society care for older people is a right not a reward. Indeed care for anyone who is ill, vulnerable or at risk is a responsibility, not an act of charity - and while those fundamental rights may be being eroded by the language of economics, customer relations and “fairness”, it is made proudly manifest by the profession of nursing.
The horrible thing about the “big society” idea is that it seeks to impose from above a set of social relations that have been mocked, eroded and belittled by successive governments - social relations comprising compassion, concern, maybe even kindness. You can’t drop those qualities from a height on to people who have been taught to mock them as weak.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again: the most important role nursing plays in the modern world is to model care for strangers. It is the only institution that does that unquestioningly. It is belittled for it but it does it nonetheless. You want a model for a “big society”? Look to nursing. You want to make the values of a caring community viable? Look to nursing. You want to help people understand that there is more to social exchange than money? Show them you value nursing.