Has coronavirus created an intergenerational conflict?


I have been spending the lockdown period in my family home in a suburban town just outside of London.

There are many elderly people on my road who are self-isolating and require younger people to help them get through this weird time by picking up their prescriptions and essentials in the supermarket.

I have seen my community draw together and have felt a real gratitude and respect between generations.

However, I question whether this is the case across the country with many people flaunting lockdown rules and a number of my friends saying that they think young people should be allowed to carry on with their lives as the virus doesn’t have as great an effect on them.

There has been a dehumanisation of the elderly, with the attitude that their lives are already over

This really shocked me as, besides being scientifically inaccurate, it shows a lack of respect for the older generation and a dehumanisation of the elderly with the attitude that their lives are already over anyway.

I felt that this attitude was reflected in the government’s initial response to COVID-19 with the decision to not treat people in care homes or to report their deaths in the official coronavirus statistics.

I wonder if maybe I feel overly close to the older generation given my penchant for ‘The Archers’ and Radio 4, but I am certain that I am not the only one who feels this way. All over the country people are reaching out to support the elderly in their communities.

Many people will be communicating with and aiding elderly relatives at this time, either through the phone or by visiting them at a social distance.

I have seen my community draw together and have felt a real gratitude and respect between generations.

In return, older people are reaching out to us; today I received a stash of home sewn face masks in the post from my Granny in an array of bright colours and sizes. I have had elderly neighbours empathising with me saying that they had their university studies similarly affected by World War 2!

 Significantly, parents have been forced to take up a key role in their children’s education, with the rise of home-learning since schools were mandated to close. In this crisis there has been a greater reliance on communities by all people within them.

Respecting the lockdown has become essential in order to protect people of all generations – not just the elderly.

When life returns to normal after the lockdown, I hope that this sense of togetherness remains and that the connections made between generations continue to thrive in the post-coronavirus society.

Photograph: Michael Coghlan via flickr

7 thoughts on “Has coronavirus created an intergenerational conflict?

  • This is lovely but I think you’re really over-simplifying the potential conflict here, based on your own anecdotal experience. I’m not convinced that has been any more or less generational conflict than usual and I think you’re conflating intergenerational conflict with views on palliative care.

    Firstly, the average Radio 4 listener is middle-aged, not elderly. The key demographic indicator for listening to the Archers is being posh, not being old. I’m an R4 listener (not the Archers) and the older people I know would baulk at their trendy comedies and current affairs output. Also, forgive my prejudice, but it sounds like you do live in quite an affluent area (neighbours who went to university in the ’40s? Christ on a bike, our local workhouse only closed in 1930!). Bear in mind that it is particularly younger people who are losing their livelihoods in the economic fallout of the lockdown, have fallen through the government safety nets and are rapidly running out of funds and relying on food banks. Young people are more likely to be living in cramped accommodation that they may be sharing with strangers, they can see local jobs being wiped out, public spending cuts looming and career prospects being damaged. You can see why some people might be tempted to take their chances with the virus, no? And yet most aren’t. They’re doing their best.

    If young people were to think they should be allowed to get on with their lives whilst the elderly remain indoors, I still don’t think that would be unreasonable. You have to admit that it would be very easy for the majority of elderly people to completely shield indefinitely, as they don’t need to go out to work. This would actually be a sensible stage in a gradual lifting of lockdown – allowing the young to return to work to fund triple locked pensions and encouraging the elderly to continue to isolate.

    As far as conflict is concerned, for the most deprived of the working-age population to see older generations with a guaranteed fixed pension income (state pension alone is nearly twice as much as UC and the elderly are more likely to own their homes outright) who largely voted Conservative and brought in this total shitshow of a government breaking lockdown rules with abandon is frustrating to say the least. In March, I saw the instruction to the over-65s to isolate met with anger and obstinate trips to the pub. Data on lockdown compliance in different demographics largely relies on self-reporting and many elderly people I know have ‘popped out’ for a chat or to the shops between pharmacy and grocery deliveries and wouldn’t count that as breaking lockdown, thus putting lives at risk and extending and deepening our economic pain.
    However, this isn’t, in my opinion, leading young people to ‘dehumanise’ the elderly.

    I presume that the issue you are really talking about is the sometimes unsavoury discussion over palliative care for the elderly. As someone with experience of this sector, I would point out that the average lifespan of a care home resident is less than 2 years and that invasive treatment for respiratory disease is unpleasant and unlikely to be successful for the frail elderly (ie. the care home population). Many would choose to decline this treatment and it’s not as simple as saying that the elderly are being refused treatment. There is very little that can be done for very elderly Covid-19 patients and it is fairly normal for care home residents to die at home. I will also bravely assert that, although death is always sad, the death of a 90-something is not a *tragedy* in the same way that the death of a 40 year old or a child is. Horrible as this all is, it is very good news that the disease affects the elderly more than the young.
    The government decision not to include deaths in the community in the original official statistics was not, in my opinion, an attack on a particular age group but merely the easiest way to keep the figures down. Deaths of young people who had not been tested or who died at home have also been left out of the count. Care home deaths are now being included and have been backdated, suggesting it may have been the result more of incompetence than of deliberate deceit.

    Incidentally, I am seeing an awful lot *less* of my elderly friends, relatives and neighbours during lockdown. Only being able drop off supplies rather than go to the pub or in for a cuppa together, I miss them. My friends with children no longer need their parents to provide childcare, having been furloughed or lost their jobs or businesses, and we are all feeling slightly less connected with older generations, despite still doing their shopping. From my perspective, it is more interesting to learn that in your community, the generations were not mixing before the pandemic and I suspect this is a class difference or perhaps a Southern thing. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it’s interesting to note. If your friends genuinely do not care about the deaths of elderly people (as opposed to seeking an economy-sustaining compromise), then that is somewhat alarming. It is not, however, a view that I personally have heard from any *young* people. Only from my grandfather, so far.

    • Wow! I was almost blinded by your statistics! But there is one comment in your response to this article which made my blood run cold:

      ‘If young people were to think they should be allowed to get on with their lives whilst the elderly remain indoors, I still don’t think that would be unreasonable. You have to admit that it would be very easy for the majority of elderly people to completely shield indefinitely, as they don’t need to go out to work.’

      This sounds dangerously like you are asking us to consider the value of an individual in our society to be based on their economic usefulness. Are you suggesting that society has no responsibility to protect the vulnerable? How convenient it would be if the elderly could just give up all their human rights and lock themselves away indefinitely!

      The impact of Covid-19 is unequal – the poor, the elderly, people with health problems (both physical and mental), people living in abusive relationships, and people with disabilities are all statistically and experientially more seriously impacted.

      If you like me stand on our doorstep or balconies every Thursday and connect with our neighbours of all ages to clap for the NHS – you will be celebrating an organisation that holds as one of its core values:

      Everyone counts: We use our resources for the benefit of the whole community, and make sure nobody is excluded or left behind.

      It is a society which holds these values at its heart that I want to live in.

      • You have completely missed the point if this makes your ‘blood run cold’. 1. The longer working age people are prevented from working, the less able we are to fund essential public services that protect the vulnerable and save lives. The Social Market Foundation has already called for the scrapping of the triple lock on pensions to save costs. Sadly, we currently have a Conservative government who are already talking about reducing furlough support. Despite the evidence in front of them of the harm austerity does, I won’t be surprised if the Conservatives return to the austerity policies of the previous decade in the coming years. This will cost lives, both young and old. If, like me, you live in area with a failing NHS trust and have lost loved ones to NHS incompetence and systemic failings and have loved ones working in the care sector, you will know this.
        2. The elderly are having to isolate anyway and it is perfectly sensible to say that the young, who are less vulnerable, should be released from lockdown before older and non-working people. As we are all at some risk, this will be a sacrifice made by the young for the good of society as a whole. I am not advocating and have not advocated having no lockdown at all for the young but, if peopled feel that they would rather risk contracting the virus than carrying on in lockdown, we should acknowledge these concerns and have sympathy, not just dismiss them as the government has done I providing so little information about the plan for lifting the lockdown.
        Arguing that the old should remain indoors does not devalue their lives, but in fact values them above those we expect to go out of the home to work to support them physically and financially.

        I have made further comment on this is response to another poster.

        • Just by the by, although everyone might ‘count’, the NHS does not, by any stretch of the imagination, value every life equally. The NHS postcode lottery and the NICE guidelines on not treating expensive illnesses will attest to this. My family has been on the wrong end of this inequality more than once and whilst it’s a nice idea, pretending it’s true doesn’t help anyone.

  • The earlier comment, although making valid points has misconstrued this article, equating the issues of wealth distribution within this country as those of age. Although it is clear that this article is influenced by the background of its author and their experience of lockdown in the place that they live, this shows more of a class conflict than an intergenerational one.
    It is evident that there will be economic hardship for many following this period and this is not due to a conspiracy to particularly protect the old but an aim to avoid infection as many people as possible. Those hardest hit will be those most vulnerable to economic difficulty, those on insecure contracts, with low wages or jobless but it is important to note that it is not only the young that this impacts but all people of working age, including the older demographic who may be forced into an early retirement with insufficient funds with few prospects for getting rehired.
    The equation of the elderly with palliative care is a stretch and it should also be noted that many people enter care homes for issues with mobility not necessarily for respiratory issues or chronic illness.
    It is clear that the issue that corona virus is causing is not an intergenerational one but instead emphasises the problems of wealth distribution and the class system in Britain.

    • In response to the response to my comment, thank you but no, nothing misconstrued. The issues of wealth distribution and generational inequality are closely linked but I’m not ‘equating’ them. The reason I have commented on the class issue here is because the author suggests there has been a recent increase in unwarranted intergenerational conflict but doesn’t concede the potential reasons for it. Perhaps because the title of the article implied that its content would be a little weightier than it turned out to be, I found it rather patronising.
      I don’t think you can have a discussion about intergenerational inequality and conflict without talking about inequality and differences in class cultures in general but generational inequality in deprived and affluent areas alike is significant.

      I have at no point suggested any kind of conspiracy and I think you know that. As I mentioned in my comment, the majority of all age groups are complying with the lockdown, with the overwhelming majority agreeing that it is necessary. However, it is not so ridiculous to suggest that, at a certain point, younger people should be able to go back to work whilst the elderly and vulnerable continue to shield. It should also not be ignored that those suffering desperate financial hardship may despair of the distancing measures and wish to rebel. That is not to say that they would be right to do so, only that we should be sympathetic to their frustrations.
      I understood elderly to mean those of retirement age and retired people will generally not see a financial impact from the lockdown. Naturally, anyone of working age is liable to be affected by the economic costs of lockdown but, when talking about ‘intergenerational conflict’, as the original author is, we are necessarily speaking in general terms and, in general, the young are more likely to have been adversely affected. Remember, someone over 65 who is not working can immediately claim more in state pension than someone under 65 who is not working can claim in Universal Credit. They are also entitled to heating benefits, attendance allowances, public transport concessions (not currently relevant, I know), TV licence concessions for over-74s and pension credits in addition to the standard council tax relief, DLA and social housing eligibility offered to all ages. They may also have some form of private pension. Getting forced into early retirement is a problem, but I don’t personally think it’s as big a problem as becoming unemployed at a much younger age with little experience and meagre future prospects in a ravaged economy, often with a family to support and, more to the point, it is statistically less common than youth unemployment and poverty.
      Please don’t misunderstand me on the issue of palliative care. To clarify, when an individual catches Covid-19 alongside comorbidities and suffers a severe form of the disease, there is little that can be done to prolong their lives and at this point the care available becomes palliative, especially if invasive treatment is not in the patient’s best interest. Hospital is not necessarily the best place to offer palliative care and patients may prefer to remain at home. Mobility issues are not, in themselves, comorbidities for Covid-19 and such people *would* be given hospital treatment if their GP/community nurse/other healthcare practitioner felt they could benefit from it and the patient did not already have a DNACPR or care plan in place. In actual fact, moving into a care home is not related to illness and disease but to frailty and the ability to live independently. People who live in care homes usually score highly on the clinical frailty scale are exactly that: frail. They are highly likely to have multiple comorbidities and are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia. For many care home residents, invasive treatment would be futile and cruel.
      Because there have been marked government failings in controlling the outbreak and protecting the vulnerable, it is easy to ignore the nuances of these decisions but I have not seen evidence yet of an elderly person being denied life-saving treatment against the advice of their doctor. What I have seen is failure to prevent the spread of disease in care home settings. This is a separate issue but is more to do with the failure of the government and PHE to stockpile, procure and distribute resources or to properly regulate the care sector. With the majority of care homes being privately owned business, they are not usually part of the NHS supply chain, so have been particularly hard-hit by shortages. They also have more agency staff moving between facilities, less training on the proper use of the PPE they do have and insufficient staffing levels to care for isolated residents separately, resulting in symptomatic residents not being isolated at all. Care workers often also can’t afford to take sick leave to isolate. These are failings we should be angry about, not the decision to respect a DNACPR, or to be realistic about what health outcomes are achievable for an individual.
      Your final point agrees with what I said at the beginning of my original comment: I am not convinced that there is any more or less intergenerational conflict since the arrival of Covid-19. I think it is unhelpful to frame triage procedures and care decisions in these terms. The intergenerational conflict that does exist is the pre-existing one of wealth inequality, which is profound.

      PS. Just to clarify why it sounds like I’m hanging around care homes and rummaging through medical records, I am currently working shifts in the out of hours hub of my local NHS trust where community health workers and GPs refer patients for hospital admittance or advise of at home care plans etc. and I have previously temped here in holidays. Before this pandemic started, the job came with a lot of data entry work adding ‘patient has DNACPR/care plan, please refer to MIG [Medical Interoperability Gateway]’ to patient notes. It’s grim, but it’s not new. I also have family with years of experience in the care sector and am party to a fair amount of ranting about it.

      PPS I don’t mean to come across as aggressive in the comments, it is a lovely article it’s just the title really makes it look like it’s going to examine some of the issues the virus and its related lockdown measures have thrown up and I was frustrated that it was just general musings on being nice.


    us SENORS deserve RESPECT that yuo do NOT GIVE US it is a HORROR that you REFUSE TO RECONISE the SACKRIFIKE we made so YOU DOONT SPEAK GERMAN and you compare the WAR to BLEEDING FLU it is disgusting.

    you SHOULD BE ASHEMED DURHAm used to be a university of PRIDE but now that ((MONENTUM)) has take over you all care about your FEELINGS well guess what the FACT IS that the VIRUS ISNT BAD and the only thing it will hurt is you FEELINGS..


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