Former archbishop condemns 'work till you drop' approach to ageing

By staff writers
January 11, 2015

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams has said he is concerned about the disregard for older people and the 'work until you drop' culture.

Interviewed by Peter Stanford, a former Catholic Herald editor, in the Telegraph newspaper on 9 January 2015, Dr Williams also spoke about his own approach to ageing and said that his own mother's dementia had focused his mind on how he would like to live out his final years.

Against a backdrop of austerity, he also warned that funding of decent care for the elderly may be under threat.

“I don’t think this area should be regarded as a soft target”, he said, “but when we routinely talk about older people as a 'drain’ on resources, we make that more likely.”

“Growing older doesn’t have to be the end of the world, if approached intelligently and lovingly. You may lose some measure of control and become more dependent in some areas, but as well as what TS Eliot referred to in Little Gidding as the 'gifts reserved for age’, older people are there to listen, to learn, to support”, said the former archbishop.

“There is a hectic and feverish obsession with youth that can lead us to use language that diminishes older people.

“We could start [to improve things] with a change in the awful language. Older people internalise it when they hear it, and so you hear them worrying repeatedly that they don’t want to be a 'burden’ on others.”

Dr Williams accepts that there is no point in being “romantic and unrealistic” about the challenge of ageing, but older people need to be afforded more options when planning for the future.

“Many people of my age currently face a zero-sum-game choice. They either soldier on at work, feeling increasingly tired and not able to contribute as much as they once had, or else they retire and stop altogether. That’s it, one or the other.

“I’d like to see many more people supported instead to opt for a new rhythm of work when they reach a certain age that is less hectic, less driven, but where they can still be and feel valued. At the moment, there is too much of the attitude that you work until you drop, or retire and die. That’s not a real choice”, he said.

Dr Williams also spoke out for carers, and said that it was vital to support them.

* Interview with Rowan Williams:


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