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COVID-19 highlights the world’s inequalities: does the older person face discrimination?

by Lucia Dore

The emergence of COVID-19, or the coronavirus, has highlighted the inequalities in much of the world - not just between groups within a society (the haves and the have nots) but between countries too - between African countries and the USA, for example.

In this column, I will focus on developed countries - countries that have often marginalised “older people”. In the UK, for example, people over 70 have been told to stay indoors to protect themselves against being infected with the coronavirus. This is what governments and states (the US) are ordering in much of the world too.

Young children, in particular, are known to be the carriers, easily spreading the coronavirus to older people, often because they are asymptomatic- that is, they may be carriers of the virus but do not display any symptoms, hence they do not know they have it. This group of younger people is neither asked, nor expected, to stay at home. One of the few pieces of advise they have been given is that they should wear a mask in public. Indeed, for the government to order children to stay at home would be akin to “child abuse”. This would not be totally unacceptable.

Keeping people post-70 locked up until a vaccine is found seems to be acceptable to most societies. Surely, doing so is “elder abuse”?

Keeping “older people” locked up, whether or not they are fit and healthy, is one way of helping to get the economy going again, along with cash injections. Since there is so much money being pumped into the world economy, inevitably some sectors will receive less payment, eventually, as governments seek to balance the books.

One group that is likely to be a target is “pensioners”. Indeed, I have read some reports in the UK papers that suggest that the pension will be cut. And this is just in the UK. What about in other countries? “Pensioners” are an easy target; after all, they are locked up and can’t demonstrate against such a policy.

In New Zealand, an economist, Tony Alexander, suggested that people over 65 should take voluntary redundancy so that younger people can do the job. “With an uncertain labour market hitting young people and those on lower incomes particularly hard, some of the increasing number of over-65-year-olds still in paid work might choose to resign to make way for others”, Alexander said. “They are, after all, being paid national superannuation” (ie the pension), he added.

He suggested that such a move is likely to be more effective in countries where older people are more reluctant to go back to work for fear of catching the novel coronavirus.

Others were not so sure this would happen, as an increasing number of older people still have to pay off debt. However, it has been shown that during recessions there are less older people employed.

Having a good contact tracing system is one way of ensuring that everyone is willing to go back to work safely. However, this is easier to do if there are lower numbers, both of deaths and cases of coronavirus.

What will happen to the older person? Will there continue to be discrimination? Will he/she be discouraged from working?

Photo: Carole Railton (copyright) The coronavirus highlights inequalities in society.

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