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In what ways and to what extent have government policies had to adapt to the changing demographics of Britain with particular reference to the impact of older people. Student ID 329897 School of Social Policy University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2TT, UK Introduction and Background The influence of older people within 21st century society has increased dramatically due to circumstances which occurred post-World War Two. The two baby booms between 1948-1950 and between 1955-1962 meant that at the dawn of the 21st century the demographics for Britain hosted a 'top heavy' population with older people accounting for higher numbers than ever before (Scharf, 2002). Initial post war political trends meant that many older people were excluded, with Europe being characterised by high levels of acquiescence (Cumming and Henry 1961). For older people in particular, a method of disengagement meant that levels of participation were often kept to a minimum after the age of retirement. Thus retirement acted as a process by which older people were detached from society, losing sources of political consciousness and channels of representation (Walker 1999). Their passiveness was often highlighted as a popular trend and meant that their roles within society were very limited. The immediate aftermath of World War Two was a political benchmark for years to come with the implementation of the welfare state under the guidance of Beveridge in 1942 as well as state pensions in 1946. This highlighted a shift in favour of state planning which, in the long run aimed to benefit older people (Harris 1981). However, at the time of the implementation of the welfare state and state pensions in 1942 and 1946 respectively, casualties of war meant that demographics for Britain had become unequal with vast numbers of men in particular and women dying in the war. The baby booms which accompanied the war seemed to be the best short term solutions to secure demographic stability, and with them creating an economic boom, it seemed Britain was starting to recover from the social and economic deprivation which the Second World War had caused. ...read more.
The biggest problem for Tony Blair's government at the start of his reign in 1997 was the fact that electoral preferences made by the older generations favoured the Conservatives (Abrams and O Brien 1991). The relationship is said to be unexplainable with many gerontologists saying that the process of ageing itself causes the decision to be made. Older people's votes often known as the 'grey vote' are said to play a minor role within society compared to their younger counterparts. "It is unlikely that grey power has any chance of succeeding in the foreseeable future." (Midwinter 1992) This view, although dated, does still hold truth for 2005 and the upcoming election in May. With greater numbers of voters over the age of 50, one would expect large numbers to vote. However, this is not the case. Many do play a political role by writing to their MP for example but general elections still sees very low numbers of 'grey votes' (Street 1997). Walker's (1999) more positive argument states that: "Crisis construction of ageing' will intensify the involvement of older people in all spheres of political involvement." However, further statistical evidence has suggested that entering the 21st century this is not the case. Writing in 1999, two years after the arrival of Labour into government, Walker seems to hold a high level of optimism for the actions of Tony Blair. However with Tony Blair's regime often called 'Blajorism' and 'neo liberalism' there is a sense that Tony Blair is acting in the shadow of John Major and Margaret Thatcher. Their policies managed to alienate sections of society including older people and as Vincent (2001) states this still seems to remain the case (Walker 1998): "It is difficult to find at the close of the 20th century any evidence of a growth in the political strength of older age groups. Evidence for an apparent lack of influence of older people.... ...read more.
Major who followed Thatcher in 1992 sustained her policies and forced older people out of the political agenda, making the arrival into government for Tony Blair and Labour a much more arduous task. The decline of the Conservative stronghold meant that their policies did little for older people and, with the Liberal Democrats always being held as the third most powerful political party, their policies would never really be tested on society. However, the arrival of Labour into the 21st century particularly saw the older people's representation go from strength to strength. Population projections for the future show that the so called "grey vote" in years to come may hold the majority and Blair seems to be implementing policies which recognise this. His more recent policies evident in the budget of March 2005 show his appreciation for income problems in old age hence his approval of a £200 rebate for all pensioners. As well as this his manifesto for 2005 seems to pave the way for a new future. Policies intent on encouraging saving rather than government spending to deal with problems have allowed Labour to direct funds elsewhere allowing for change on a far wider scale. Policies looking into funding for county councils, financial support for carers as well as numerous reviews of local authorities and their care systems for the elderly are just the start of the new regime for older people under the guidance of Tony Blair. The demographics are showing very slight signs of being 'top heavy'. However over the next few years the proportion of older people is set to increase greatly with projected numbers showing that the "grey vote" has the potential to influence elections on a far greater scale than ever before. Governments need to view the next few years as a realisation period. They need to start targeting more policies at older people, not just for votes, but for the eradication of poverty, illness and squalor, which with increased numbers in the future holds the potential to ruin all areas of society. ...read more.
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