Malcolm Barker: Yes. I am old, but spare me the professional busybodies who try to defend my dignity

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ANOTHER week, and another report on the care of the elderly. The latest suggested that addressing old folk with terms like “dear” and “chuck” should be treated as severely as racist abuse.

Where all the reports eventually end up is a mystery, but surely this one merits the refuse bin. Far from being insulted by being called “dear” or “chuck”, or “love” or “ma’duck” for that matter, most sensible people regard them as an expression of regard and think nothing more about them.

In fairness, there was a lot more to the report, as might be expected. It was put out by the Commission on Dignity in Care, composed of NHS managers, charities and council chiefs, who found that “age discrimination is the most common form of discrimination” in this country.

They suggest that the Government should do something about it, which is truly extraordinary considering that the commissioners themselves are the very people with the authority to tackle the problems they identify.

An avalanche of such reports descended before Christmas, and there have been more in 2012. One earlier in February produced the headlines “Stop treating the elderly like objects” and “Care for the elderly is blighted by ageism”, and called for care workers and nurses to sign a new code of conduct, the National Pensioners’ Convention Dignity Code.

Common sense suggests that this is an absurd idea. Signing a declaration will in no way guarantee that doctors, carers and nurses treat their patients decently. They either understand how to do so or they don’t. Compassion is not a quality to be measured, either.

A great number of people are engaged in reporting on the condition of the elderly. A letter published in support of the Dignity Code bore five signatures “and 15 others”. This is a comparatively modest affair. The signatories on a similar letter last year ran to a third of a broadsheet column of newsprint, with the addition “and 40 others”.

Even this is a small proportion of the total number engaged in pontificating about welfare. An online guide to interested organisations offers 834 listings on 42 pages, including big players like AgeUK, a combination of Age Concern and Help the Aged, and less well-known groups like the Older People’s Advocacy Alliance and DYNAH (“Do You Need a Helping Hand?”). Then there are such bodies as the ludicrously inept Care Quality Commission.

Many will have full-time employees, like chief executives, researchers, publicity officers and fundraisers. Perhaps if all those putting together repetitious reports offered practical help instead, by wiping withered bottoms and spooning food between toothless gums, the problems might well be alleviated. It would also be a nice change from publishing alarmist conclusions and offering crackpot suggestions.

An old news editor advised his staff that in handling any report it was advisable to look for a motive for its preparation and publication. “You would not expect an inquiry into in-growing toe nails by the In-growing Toe Nails Society to conclude that there is no problem with the nation’s feet,” he pointed out.

Applying the toe nails test to recommended action in an Equal Opportunities and Human Rights Commission report is illuminating. It wants more human rights, pity help us.

There was also a worrying suggestion that the monitoring of care should be undertaken by volunteers who would “have access at any time of the day or night and make unannounced visits”.

Apparently, prisons and similar institutions have monitoring boards carrying out such checks. The extension of this busybodying is a nightmarish vision. Imagine the reaction to a stranger coming to your door at midnight and demanding to carry out a check for bed-sores.

There is also a move by a group called Grey Pride to persuade David Cameron to appoint a minister to represent the needs of older people in his Cabinet.

The Prime Minister would do well to resist this idea. We want less government, not more, and some kind of curb on “human rights” absurdities. Mr Cameron’s prime task is to balance the nation’s books. He could save money by getting rid of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to general applause, for a quango thus dismantled would add greatly to the jollity of the nation.

Those of us already old, and getting older, need some good cheer to offset any gloom engendered by hearing prognostications for our future. Plenty of us lead contented and productive lives. For example, more than one million people in their 80s still hold driving licences – welcome evidence that a great many are still getting around happily without worrying too much about their tomorrows.

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