By POLLY DUNBAR
The Government spin machine has been accused of peddling a false view of old age after it was revealed it had paid a PR company to portray all pensioners as happy and carefree.
Organisations involved in the first UK Older People’s Day tomorrow have been instructed only to use promotional images in which elderly people look affluent and active.
Out go pictures reflecting the reality of life for the majority of older people, including an older man and woman slumped in armchairs, presumably in a care home, and an elderly woman appearing distressed.
In come photos such as a youthful-looking couple laughing as they run across a beach, a woman about to work out in a gym, another woman happily gardening, a couple cuddling on holiday and a man enjoying a game of tennis.
Approved: A happy couple on a beach is one of the images given a tick in the guideline pack
The approved images are marked with a large tick, while those to be avoided are marked with a cross.
The instructions form part of a guideline pack sent to organisations involved in the Department of Work and Pensions’ Generation Xperience UK Older People’s Day, which include the charities for the elderly Help The Aged, Age Concern and The Beth Johnson Foundation, as well as retail giants John Lewis and B&Q.
PR blessing: A pensioner at the gym
The Government booklet, produced by PR company The Red Consultancy, urges: “Any imagery used should be consistent with the upbeat, celebratory nature of the campaign.
“Avoid using images that reinforce incorrect stereotypes about older people’s lifestyles.”
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Tick of approval: A woman gardening
It continues: “Contrary to common misconceptions, the UK’s over-50s now have greater opportunities to lead healthy, active and fulfilling lives than ever before, largely thanks to improvements in services and pension reforms.”
But critics said the chosen images were a far cry from reality for most older people at a time when more than a fifth live in poverty.
Banned: The reality for many… crossed out in the Government booklet
Nigel Waterson, Tory spokesman for pensions and older people, said: “This just shows spin is alive and well under Gordon Brown.
“Lots of older people have no reason to look or be happy – two million are living in poverty, 125,000 have lost their pensions due to the Government and many are facing penury in old age.”
Some of the organisations backing the day have also criticised the images.
Alan Hatton-Yeo, director of the Beth Johnson Foundation, said: “I would not have chosen these pictures because they are clumsy and we are not using them.
“The Red Consultancy clearly didn’t think carefully enough about the implication of the pictures. All the ones they have chosen seem to show middle-class people enjoying activities a lot of elderly people cannot participate in.”
Paul Bates from Help The Aged added: “There’s nothing wrong with showing positive images of old people but at the same time, it must be recognised that many old people are not fortunate enough to have the finances or physical abilities to do active, fun things and take holidays.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “GenerationXperience UK Older People’s Day is about celebrating the huge contribution that older people make to society.
“Part of that is about tackling negative and outdated stereotypes of older people, the majority of whom see age as an opportunity – not a barrier.”