BOOKBUSTER BOOK REVIEW

The War on the Old by John Sutherland
Biteback Publishing, hardback, rrp £10.00, Bookbuster price £5.00

REVIEW BY KAT NIP

After the result of the last election and the Brexit vote – both of which were largely carried by the over 50s, there has been a lot of anger directed against the older generation. I’ve been feeling it myself, particularly knowing most older people vote Conservative. The party they vote for, and by turn the policies they vote for, are destroying disabled (and many other) people’s lives, and because of this it is becoming hard for me to think of them kindly. I bought this book in a hope to redress that.

Except it doesn’t. It’s clearly written for fellow boomers and all the sympathy that the author manages to gain with his truly horrific descriptions of what happens to people in care homes he squanders immediately. He smugly acknowledges that his generation have had it better than others before and probably others after and even in light of this advises his generation to ‘be selfish’ and spend their children’s inheritance. But it obviously seems to bother him that his generation is a target of hatred and anger or he wouldn’t have written the book. For those like me who picked it up to try and reconcile their relationships with their elders, it feels like he’s sticking two fingers up. His advice is laughable – he advises older people to keep fit and eat healthily – the religions of those people who have been lucky to live to a ‘good age’ without losing their health.

Those of us that didn’t make it to thirty before our bodies and lives fell apart know that none of this keeps you safe. In my rheumatologist’s surgery there were babies waiting in line for their appointments. Babies with arthritis. Perhaps he could impart to them that it’s their own fault for not going to the gym every day or tell them they should eat less red meat. Health is not something we can control, and that is clearly such a frightening truth that many people choose to pretend that they can and that their good health is entirely of their own doing – and therefore that those who are infirm are clearly at fault in some way and not deserving of sympathy.

Many of the indignities he talks of also happen to the disabled – not all of whom are old – and I have experienced many myself. I also feel that I am ‘useless’ and a ‘drain on society’, for example. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s health rather than age that this ‘war’ is targeted at. All of the examples of the ‘war’ he gives involve people with health problems, not people like himself who are clearly healthy, well off, still working (in some capacity) and enjoying life very much. He certainly sounds like he’s doing better than me and many of my young disabled comrades, despite his ever advancing years. I really don’t understand what he’s got personally to complain about.

I would argue that there is indeed a war right now, except it’s not just against the old, but also the sick and disabled, the unemployed, the under 25s… and I think he has missed an opportunity to unite people behind him rather than push them away. He does not seem to fully understand how much harder life is for young people than it was for his generation, and how that is fuelling anger, resentment and hatred. Perhaps he could do some work with young people to expand his horizons, keep him young, and see things from their point of view. I suspect he won’t.

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