Friday, 23 December 2016

the elderly, the economy and the missing research


In a new book, "The war against the old", John Sutherland cites criticism of the
elderly*s perks- free TV and bus travel, the winter fuel allowance- and poor
conditions in care homes as evidence of a war against the elderly by the rest
of the population.  The problems caused by the rise in the proportion of old
people in the population have been predictable for a long time.  I dealt with
them in two books published in the late 1970s-  "Governments and
growth" and "Labour supply in economic development".  The solutions have
also been clear. The same medical and social advances which have led
to more elderly people also enable them to go on working longer. The US had
already raised the official retirement age to 69 in the late 1960s.  This does
not mean continuing in the same job at the same pay.  In many cases a
career shift, possibly after a elderly "gap year", is needed. Also, it should be
taken for granted that after leaving a permanent job, the elderly should
try self-employment. The expertise and contacts built up during 40 years of
salaried work, as well as the great advantage that free travel provides in searching
for and holding employment, should give them a considerable competitive
advantage in the labour market.
However a large-scale reorientation of medical and social research is needed.
The aim should be to find out what are the main medical problems which prevent
older people from working- the same ones which prevent them leading an active life.
Probably the most important are walking difficulties, and the main causes of these
are probably arthritis and, for men, catherisation to deal with an enlarged prostate
(which affects 70 per cent of men over 70).  Research and treatment for these
conditions is probably grossly deficient compared with, say, AIDS or breast cancer,
which have well-organised and vocal pressure groups.  Disability charities, notably
Scope, concentrate on trying to get more government money and support, and do not
ask what are the reasons people come to need their services  (Indeed like many
charities they probably regard an expansion of their clientele as desirable.). Why do not
these or some of the big medical charities- the Wellcome Trust and the Francis
Crick Foundation-  initiate some large-scale research, combing medical and social
expertise, on what dissuades the elderly from taking up productive work?  (I am of
course aware that many do voluntary work).
Personally I would be very happy to see the free TV licence go, which would add the
elderly*s voice in pressure to abolish the licence, provided the free travel and the
winter fuel allowance remain (but perhaps the latter could be reduced, at least in
southern England, if we continue getting mild winters?)

Thursday, 3 March 2016


A glance through the websites of the Economc and Social Research Council and the grant-making
foundations will show a number of projects which would not cause irretrievable loss,
intellectual or material, if they were cancelled. At the same time, there are obvious and
important issues which social scientists have not tackled.  Here are some widely-discussed
issues which it would be feasible for social scientists to make a decisive contribution, but
they have not done so.  In terms of method, one major category is where a number of causal
factors are operative in an important social problem, and where the need is to quantify,
at least roughly, their importance. Quite often it would probably be found that some of the
alleged causes are insignificant and others of decisive importance; the task is to devise
tests and investigations to determine which.
1.  The decline of the high street.- one of the many issues on which the government has
appouinted a "Czar", who has not apparently made any progress in reversing the decline
or disentangling the causal factors.  Three are obvious: the growth of online shopping, the proliferation of charity shops, and the growth of out-of-town shops.  The impact of the
first is obviously in the areas where the internet has made most progress. Probably the
most important are travel agents and books, also clothing, food and a variety of others.
Charity shops have impacted on clothing, hiusehold goods, books and furniture.  (I can
cite charity bookshops and furntiture stores where quality is so good and prices so
low that no commercial venture could compete; obviously the enxt step is to analyse
the causes of charity shops  competitive advantages and see how far they are justifiable).
Out-of-town shopping is closely related to car use and parking charges; there is an urgent need for a comperhensive survey of these charges in out-of-town locations and probably a case for imposing
a parking tax, in view of the land-use requirements.
2.  Regional differences in mortality and morbidity rates.
Poverty is the most usually cited.  Diet, smoking acohol and drug use are also (possibly
more) important and their effects are, at least for the first three, easily quantifiable.
I would add another which I beleive might turn out to be top of the list-  weather. Populations
on the west coast of Britain, including the north-west and western Scotland, get more rain
and less sunshine than other parts of the country, consequently lack vitamin D.  A fairly easy
test of this last factor would be to compare populations in the western half of Brtain with
those in the eastern half, allowing as far as possible for income, diet, etc.
3.  Obesity
The significant thing has obviously been the rise since the 1950s.  Whether this is due
to consumption of particular foods, mainly sugar, or to an increase in total calories
consumption could easily be determined from food consumpio statistics. There is also
the decline in manual work, which has affected men more than women, and in household
work which has had the reverse effect.  The rise in car use at the expense of walking
and cycling msut also be taken into account, and a factor which I would guess is very
important is the rise in awerage household temperatures, from ca. 17 C in the 1950s to an
unhealthy 20 or 21 degrees centigrade.  (It is true that deaths rise in cold weather, but I would
guess that this is due to the effect,e specially on the elderly and infiirm, of being out-of-
doors is cold weather,a nd not as fuel campaigners claim to low indoor temperatures)