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Baroness Neuberger interview

On the Politics Show, Sunday 18 May 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed Baroness Julia Neuberger

Interview transcript

JON SOPEL: Baroness Neuberger, Julia Neuberger is with me now. Thank you, and welcome to the Politics Show. No one doubts that old age is extremely difficult, but does it actually amount to systematic discrimination?

JULIA NEUBERGER: I think it depends when you're talking about. We just heard people saying, actually, it's not too bad. But they're active, lively and out there.

I think it's the people who are really frail and who are in the hands of our health services or in our care homes or in our nursing homes and I think many of them do suffer some real discrimination and there's real discrimination in the amount of choice they're given about what happens to them.

JON SOPEL: We asked people for their views and one Politics Show viewer who's seventy year old John Dickinson, and he emailed us to say, "in general, the idea that the elderly are discriminated against is nonsense. Politicians over the years have bent over backwards to keep the grey level on board.

The list of concessions is too long to list, but here are a few: free bus passes, free prescriptions, heating allowances, none of which involve any testing of need". Isn't that an important point though, shouldn't help be given on the basis of need?

JULIA NEUBERGER: I think help should be given much more on the basis of need but the real thing I feel is, that there's lots of kind of things like free bus passes that everybody loves, that probably quite a lot of people don't need, but there's a lot of things going on that shouldn't happen. For instance, why should people have to retire at sixty five?

Why did the government in a sense give in to the CBI and say, yes, it's okay to force people out at sixty five, surely you should be judged on whether you can still do the job. What about television presenters, there's been all this stuff about older presenters being off the screen. You're only allowed to be a voice on radio when you get older. What's that about?

JON SOPEL: Okay, well I won't go in to that ... (interjection)


JON SOPEL: ... special pleading there! We'll leave that to one side for the moment, but you're calling for some kind of grey panther movement ...


JON SOPEL: ... in this book that you've written.

JULIA NEUBERGER: I think, I think they have - I think older people and particularly the really frail older people ...

JON SOPEL: Do Age Concern do that ...

JULIA NEUBERGER: No, they don't. I think Age Concern and Help the Aged and the other charities, do very good work, but I don't think they've been angry enough. I think that they get, you know, they get lots of government grants to run all sorts of services and so on some things, I think they haven't got angry enough.

Retirement age is one, discrimination, questions of dignity is another. I mean I think the lack of dignity on many hospital wards is a crying shame. You talk to lots of older people about having to use a commode with a very thin curtain round your bed, and everybody can hear and smell what you're doing. I mean, can you imagine, that's absolutely disgraceful I think.

JON SOPEL: The government is talking about having a celebrity dignity ambassador that they're going to unveil this week - does that help?

JULIA NEUBERGER: It helps if that dignity ambassador has got any powers. I mean they had dignity nurses and that was quietly dropped because one nurse, who is named a dignity nurse, can't do it all.

If there's a dignity ambassador, who really can get in there, and who can say, up with this, we will not put, this is disgraceful, this ward has to close until it's sorted out, yes, I think that could help.

JON SOPEL: You've based this book on personal experiences and very moving personal experiences of your own relatives. Is that the way, a good way to generate public policy? Doesn't public policy have to be rather more cool, rather more rational in the way that you approach it.

JULIA NEUBERGER: I didn't base this book on my own personal experience or family experiences. They illustrate what is a much wider problem. I've looked at the data, I think that the data is really important. The sorts of data I've looked at are the levels of malnutrition of older people who go in to hospital and how much higher they are when they come out of hospital. That's not my family's personal experience, that's hard fact.

I've looked at issues about, there's no availability of public loos, when you're older, you're worried about being caught short, so you don't go out. That's not family experience. I think I've looked at the data and used personal experience and family experience to illustrate it and I just want to make it more real to people.

JON SOPEL: Okay Julia Neuberger, Baroness Neuberger, thank you very much indeed for being with us here on the Politics Show.

Please note BBC Politics Show must be credited if any part of these transcripts are used.

NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 01 June 2008 at 1200BST on BBC One.
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