JENNI MURRAY: Foolish for burying head in sand over burdens of old age

JENNI MURRAY: So foolish for burying my head in sand over burdens of old age

British columnist Jenni Murray (pictured)

Could it have been that oh-so-familiar declaration — oft-repeated by the excited parents who were the first to benefit from the NHS — that convinced my generation the State would care for us ‘from the cradle to the grave’?

What a fiction that has turned out to be. I worry it has lulled too many of us into a false sense of security.

The ‘care package’ on which we placed so much hope when it was announced by the Prime Minister last week failed to deliver what’s needed to fund elderly care now. Working people will be charged more National Insurance to raise extra money, but the majority is destined for the health service itself, not for social care, at least for a number of years. The £86,000 lifetime cap only includes the bills for care, not food, accommodation or heating. Late-life care is costly and few of us are prepared for it.

Nor will many of us have the means to pay for it. As the Money Mail investigation into pensions has shown, women will be hit hardest by the Government’s broken promise of a triple lock. One in four women has no other income than the state pension and more than two million state pensioners receive less than £100 a week. Note to all young people: don’t put off saving for a pension if you hope to avoid a poverty-stricken old age.

I say all this but I am no role model. I can barely explain to myself why, at the age of 71, along with many contemporaries, I have not begun to accept that one day, in the not too distant future, I may need help. I wrote my will only last year, even though I’ve long known that dying intestate causes untold problems for loved ones.

I have a ‘living will’ sitting in a pile of papers. It’s not yet signed by my doctor. How, if I have a stroke or develop dementia, will my children know how I might want to be treated?

If you asked me how much I’ve saved for my future care, I’d have to say I haven’t. I have savings but couldn’t tell you how much, and I have yet to broach the subject of power of attorney with my sons. I, like most people my age, have swept these serious questions under the carpet.

My friends don’t talk to each other about the future except to discuss all the exciting things we’re planning. We are agreed we don’t want to be a burden on our children but we have stuck our heads in the sand on the subject of how to avoid it.

She said: ‘I can barely explain to myself why, at the age of 71, I have not begun to accept that one day, in the not too distant future, I may need help.’ (stock photo)

And make no mistake, it is a burden. My next-door-but-one neighbour is 86, has been housebound for three years, has little money and doesn’t own the house she has no intention of leaving.

Carers come three times a day for her personal care, but the visits are short. It’s her daughter and nephew who bear the bulk of the responsibility.

I first faced the fact that ‘cradle to grave’ was a myth when I tried to help my mother when her Parkinson’s disease took away her independence and made life too difficult for my father to cope. They had a small, inexpensive bungalow and limited savings, but no help from the State was forthcoming.

I spent hours in front of teams of doctors, social workers, nurses and ‘people from the council’ trying to work out a care package for a very sick woman. They often spoke in hushed tones, despite my begging them to speak up for my deaf father’s benefit. The local authority found every loophole not to help with funding. A thousand pounds a week for eight months to pay for poor accommodation and care delivered by grossly underpaid, dedicated, overworked carers broke my father’s heart.

You’d have thought my friends and I would have learned from what we suffered as the ‘younger generation’, battling on behalf of our parents, to ensure it wouldn’t be like that for us.

We haven’t. Is it because we’re the baby boomers — the first generation to glory in youthful rebellion, the first determined not to get old, to refuse to retire and to contemplate that we will ever be frail and needy? We’ve been in control of our lives and have no desire to lose that control. But I’m not sure it’s arrogance that has made us refuse even to discuss what might be coming for us.

I think it’s fear. We’ve seen the horror of strong, capable parents losing everything they valued and we’ve put it out of sight and out of mind because it’s just too scary.

It’s time to get serious about it all. Joan Bakewell, at the age of 88, has sold her large home and bought a small flat. She has disposed of things she had loved but didn’t need. She has prepared herself to pay for care should she need it. I have to sort out the living will and talk power of attorney. The end of my life will not be eased by the State. It’s my responsibility — as it seems it will be for all of us.

Why are stars scraping the bottom of the fashion barrel? 

You expect it from Madonna, never afraid to flash rather more of her flesh than seems necessary as she displayed a rather alarming amount of breast and ample buttocks at MTV’s 40th anniversary party.

But how has appearing virtually naked become the height of fashion at supposedly elegant events such as the Met Ball in New York or the Venice Film Festival? Yes, Zoe Kravitz, Kendall Jenner and Jodie Comer, your bums do look big in this. And it’s not a good look.

Zoe Kravitz (pictured left) and Kendall Jenner in New York (pictured centre), and Jodie Comer in Venice (pictured right)

At A-level I studied English, French and history. I have great regret for my woeful ignorance of science and maths.

Royal Society research has shown what children miss because they specialise too early. At one of my friend’s schools, the pupils did three A-levels, either in science or the arts, but could also study subjects that would not be examined. A broad education has value for life.

Bittersweet goodbye to Butch 

Jenni Murray’s dog Butch, pictured

A very sad gathering in my garden on Saturday afternoon with family and friends who had loved my dog Butch almost as much as I did. A white rose was planted and his collar hung over it, together with his favourite, very battered teddy. We each in turn took the tiny plastic bag that contained his pure white ashes and sprinkled them around the rose.

The crematorium had sent a sympathy card certifying that Butch had been individually cremated. We read a poem, watched videos of his energetic puppydom and shed tears for him.

Into my mind again came the memory of the grateful look in his eyes as he died in my arms. There was dignity in his assisted dying. I was able to relieve his pain and distress in a way which would not, still, be available for me. The law needs to change and soon.

 Two tree surgeons came yesterday to trim branches. They kept calling me ‘dear’ or ‘love’ and seemed miffed when I told them off. Hooray for the Manchester tribunal which agreed that a man’s comments to an employee — ‘love’, ‘honey’ and so on — were demeaning ways of referring to women and couldn’t be compared to calling a man ‘mate’. Frankly, I’d be happy with mate. Doesn’t demean me at all.

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