Images of inequality



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According to Vincent (2003, p.21) “there is considerable evidence to show that inequalities experienced during the life course are reflected in greater measure in an unequal old age. ” This means a person is more likely to become socially excluded if they are from a particular ethnic group, social class or deprived area. It is these reasons, either alone or added to old age, that cause social exclusion. An elderly person with a poor education is far more likely to become socially excluded because in their younger years they will have had a low paid job and not saved for old age.

They then become reliant on state pensions, which means they are on a low income, but being poor does not mean being socially excluded. Many of the problems the elderly face and which make people believe they are socially excluded can actually be accounted for by a low income and poverty. According to Beckford (2008) 200,000 more elderly people were classed as being poor in 2006-7 than in the year before. The New Policy Institute (2008) states older pensioners over the age of 75 are far more likely to live in a low income household.

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This is because the proportion of single pensioners’ rises with age and the risks of low income for pensioner couples also rise with age. The cost of living in the UK has increased considerably in recent years but pensions compared to average adult earnings have decreased steadily since 1979 (Oppenheim ; Harker, 1996, p. 61). Government initiatives such as the Social Security Act 1986 which weakened the state earnings related pension scheme has weakened the finances of the elderly, usually hitting those hardest who are disadvantaged in other areas.

As to deciding whether the elderly are socially excluded or not, it seems to be an extremely subjective decision. Different statistics use different criteria, and can be manipulated by those with ulterior motives, such as the government to save money or face, or Age Concern or Help the aged to gain funding. From the statistics there is no doubt that some elderly are socially excluded, but the number is relatively small compared to the whole country. They are usually excluded in more than one area such as structurally, by social class or by where they live.

The evidence also shows that exclusion is not caused by old age but is normally a continuation of exclusionary factors which the person has experienced in their earlier life. The various definitions of exclusion, which are complex, make defining it a subjective task, although the evidence points to the fact that they may be suffering from poverty which in itself is not a cause of social exclusion. This however depends on the definition as some agencies do say poverty is a cause of exclusion.

In Britain old age is associated with a loss of function, dependency and eventual death. The negative way in which old age is projected in the media reinforces these views. As Lippman (1922, in Bond et al, 1994, p. 309) states, ‘we do not see first and then define but define first and then see. ‘ Where in British culture wrinkles on the face of a grandmother are seen as signs of bodily decay and an impending lower social status, in China, these wrinkles are welcomed with joy by granddaughters as they represent a higher social status (Bond et al, 1994, p. 306).

Although old age is seen in a stereotypically negative way, older people do not see themselves in the same light. Thompson et al (1990, in Tanner ; Harris, 2008, p. 9-10) carried out research to explore the life stories of a set of grandparents aged between 60 and 80. The study found that “regardless of chronological age, physical signs of ageing or health status, participants did not perceive themselves as ‘old’. Nor did their lives fit stereotypical views of old age. ” It is these negative images and perceptions of age that dictate an elderly person’s social status.

Jerome (1983, p. 109) states “the elderly are a low-status category in Western society for whom a diminished social role is generally permitted. Dependency, which is associated with failing physical and/or mental ability, together with a withdrawal from active participation in the labour force, presents an image of old-age as non-productive and burdensome phase of the life span. ” The common sense socially constructed views of the elderly in the UK are both discriminatory and ageist because they are all assumptions based on age. Butler, (1987, in Tanner & Harris, 2008, p.

10) defines ageism as “a process of systematic stereotyping of, and discrimination against, people because they are old, just as racism and sexism accomplish this for skin colour and gender. ” The very way in which old age is medicalised and portrayed as a loss of faculties explains the low social status and position of the elderly in the UK. The socially constructed notion of retirement is a relatively modern social phenomenon however it chronologically creates a point in the life course which once reached becomes a barrier to employment; images in media then reinforce these discriminatory views.

Although the number of older people in the media is increasing, as long as views of old age are associated with loss, decline and a return to childhood, it is unlikely the social position of older people will change any time soon in the UK. Barnes, M. , Bloom, A. , Cox, K. , Lessof, C. and Walker, A. (2006) The social exclusion of older people: Evidence from the first wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), Final report, London: SEU Beckford, M. (2008) Number of pensioners in poverty rises for the first time in a decade. [online].

London: The Telegraph [cited 10th December 2008]. Available from: < http://www. telegraph. co. uk/news/uknews/2105770/Number-of-pensioners-in-poverty-rises-for-first-time-in-decade. html>. Blaikie, A. (1999) Ageing and popular culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Bond, J. , Coleman, P. & Pearce, S. (1994) Ageing in society: an introduction to social gerontology. London: Sage Publication Ltd. Cavalli, S. et al (2007) Exclusion in very old age. International journal of ageing and later life, 2(1), p. 9. Help the aged (2008) a policy response to the lifelong learning enquiry.

[online]. London: Help the aged [cited 9th December 2008]. Available from: < http://policy. helptheaged. org. uk/NR/rdonlyres/4114A08C-B365-450A-8D79-7096D2F1C0B1/0/lifelonglearning030108. pdf>. Jehoel-Gijsbers, G. & Vrooman, C. (2008) Social exclusion of the elderly: a comparative study of EU members. [online]. Sweden. Centre for security studies [cited 9th December 2008]. Available from: <http://www. isn. ethz. ch/isn/Digital-Library/Publications/Detail/? ots591=CAB359A3-9328-19CC-A1D2-8023E646B22C&lng=en&id=92913>. Jerome, D. (1983) Ageing in modern society: contemporary approaches.

Oxford: Taylor & Francis Group Ltd National Policy Institute (2008) What do the poverty numbers really show? [online]. London: National Policy Institute [cited 12th December 2008]. Available from: < http://www. npi. org. uk/reports/poverty%20analysis. pdf >. Ogg, J. (2004) Social exclusion and insecurity among older Europeans: the influence of welfare regimes. Cambridge Journals, 25(1), p. 69-90. Office for National Statistics (2008) Ageing: more pensioners than under 16’s for the first time. [online]. London: Office for National Statistics [cited 9th December 2008].

Available from: ;http://www. statistics. gov. uk/cci/nugget. asp? id=949;. Oppenheim, C. ; Harker, L. (1996) Poverty the facts. 2nd ed. London: Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) Tanner, D. ; Harris, J. (2008) Working with older people. Oxon: Routledge Timmins, N. (2008) Labour’s drive to reduce poverty has stalled, according to study. [online]. London: Financial Times Online [cited 9th December 2008]. Available from: < http://www. ft. com/cms/s/0/d9e51c40-c4c7-11dd-8124-000077b07658. html? nclick_check=1>. Vincent, J. (2003) Old age: key ideas. London: Routledge

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