Ageing in Ireland, too risky?

Over the last few days, Joe Biden has been described as ‘geriatric’, ‘elderly’ and a ‘doddery grandfather’. Multiple papers have ruthlessly taken aim at the American President simply because of his age which the ISCP wholly condemn. Some papers are poking fun at his need for prompt notes at speaking engagements. Which leaves us wondering why it’s not an issue for other state leaders (of varying ages) whom always appear to use prompts. The questions people should be asking are “is he an effective leader?”, “has he brought about significant or positive change?” or “has he kept his campaign promises?”.  It is these criteria by which Presidents should be judged and not in any way related to age.

One radio show produced a segment on Ageism & Working in Your 80’s, which made specific reference to the idea that Biden should be “put in an old folks’ home”. As we are used to working closely with older people, we were not at all surprised to hear from people in their 80s phoning in to defend themselves and each other. The callers each described their active lifestyles, how involved they are in their communities and their full time/part- time employment without feeling any ‘barrier’ that may be associated with their age. In fact, the barriers only became evident when trying to access things such as loans, insurance, housing etc.

Society’s attitude to aging has been contaminated by both public and private institutions who inject an age cap within policies, procedures and eligibility criteria. Many of the inequalities faced by our members were expertly expressed by these callers whom largely made reference to their inability to acquire a loan as they were not deemed “an acceptable risk”. One man in particular wanted to downsize his home as was recommended by the Government in order to free up space for larger families. However, he couldn’t obtain the loan he needed to follow the Government’s advice despite offering security for the loan!

This week in particular, we are hearing of countless stories of older people either being refused travel or car insurance or being offered extortionate quotes due to “risk factors” associated with their age. Our staff member Niamh Kavanagh highlighted this issue, alongside committee member Pat Fitzgerald, during a discussion panel in DCU as part of Global Intergenerational Week. She argued that “Insurance and lending are based on risks factors and likelihood, but the likelihood is; anything could happen to anyone at any given time and at any age. So, we need to look at situations based on broader criteria other than simply being over 70 or 80 years of age.”

With regard to Insurance, we must remember that in 2012, the European Court of Justice ruled that it was discriminatory and illegal to price car insurance based on gender, yet there are no such restrictions in place when it comes to age. With our older population increasing, Ireland already lacks any clear cross-departmental strategies for providing a fair and sustainable life for older people. We need to determine just how institutionalised ageism is, and begin to seriously address this issue.

Source: © Central Statistics Office, Ireland 2023