Now and again we get a wake-up call over how badly our society treats its most vulnerable citizens.
Shocking revelations of abuse at Winterbourne care home or Mid Staffs lead to inquiries and promises of action.
But the culture in which these terrible abuses take place is seldom questioned. Attacks on the "burden" of pensions for the elderly - in order to whittle away at their value and raise the age at which they can be claimed - easily translate into seeing the elderly themselves as a burden.
This isn't a new issue - Phyllis McCormack's 1966 poem Crabbit Old Woman takes the voice of a woman in a nursing home who feels that when her nurses look at her they don't "see" her as an individual with a past but simply as a "crabby old woman."
The legend around the poem is that it was found in the personal effects of a woman in a Dundee old people's home after her death. It traces her entire life - through being a young girl, mother and grandmother - and presents someone who has lived life to the full, and should be respected and looked after in her old age, not either pitied or treated as a second-class citizen. The poem strikes a chord because it goes right to the heart of the disgraceful way our society treats the elderly.
When a person hits 60 society's attitude changes - they go from being a contributor to a cost. The years of taxes and National Insurance contributions are forgotten. This has become more prominent in recent years, with much of the media presenting the old as an unjustifiable cost borne by younger generations.
This isn't to say that the young are better off. They too are on the sharp end of callous government cuts.
But this coalition, which on public and private-sector pensions or jobs, on the employed and the unemployed or on the British-born or immigrant worker has proved expert at divide-and-rule tactics is playing the same trick with the generations.
So the mantra goes that the baby-boomer and preceding generations had the good times. They bought their houses, wrecked the planet and now enjoy comfortable pensions. Their largesse means the young may never own a home, have mounting debts and face environmental catastrophe.
This argument is slanted to an incredible degree. Pensioners have paid their dues over the years. If Britain "can't afford" to maintain its welfare state that's due to the bankers' crash and the government's refusal to tax the wealthiest - who are making bigger profits today than ever before.
Attacking the elderly also betrays a lack of recognition for the enormous contribution pensioners make to our society. Any valuation on the unpaid childcare provided alone would run into the tens of billions. Without it - since the availability and price of professional childcare in Britain leaves so much to be desired - far fewer parents could work.
Add to that the prominence of pensioners in the voluntary sector, providing the backbone of socially useful labour for many charities, churches and other organisations.
The increasingly contemptuous attitude to the old reflects the "throw-away" instincts of consumerist society. Once an individual is of no further use to the economic wheel they are cast aside. The model of the nuclear family itself is in some ways a product of capitalism.
Once a grandparent has served his or her purpose they can be shipped off to a care home. Dutiful visits follow every so often. The "problem" of mum or dad is nicely dealt with.
And so often it's "out of sight, out of mind."
"They really like the home, you know."
"I can't visit - there's my job, the kids."
Every child owes a debt to their parents. The care and the sacrifices involved in raising a child to adulthood are enormous.
Care homes used to be a rarity - the old extended family model kept child, parent and grandparent living together, often in the same house, if not probably in the same street or area. The support network was there.
It isn't easy for modern families of course. But care in the home could be funded to a much greater degree by the state than it is.
Economic change has contributed to breaking up that old model - now many need to travel far from where they were brought up to get work. Sticking with your roots is not easy - though perversely, as house prices remain out of reach for many people, the extended family may re-emerge out of economic necessity.
The extended family was not a perfect model by any means, but it did promote responsibility to one's nearest and dearest, just as the rarity of long-term jobs has undermined old senses of community.
Modern Britain has lost all that. We need to reassert the importance of the role of the elderly in our society - and address the cruelty of the social system that has shut them out.
What do you see, nurses, what do you see? What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A crabby old woman, not very wise, uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles her food and makes no reply when you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do, and forever is losing a stocking or shoe…
Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will. With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill.
Is that what you're thinking? Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse… you're looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still, as I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten with a father and mother. Brothers and sisters, who love one another.
A young girl of sixteen, with wings on her feet, dreaming that soon now a lover she'll meet.
A bride soon at twenty - my heart gives a leap, remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five now, I have young of my own who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A woman of thirty, my young now grown fast, bound to each other with ties that should last.
At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone, but my man's beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty once more, babies play around my knee, again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me, my husband is dead. I look to the future, I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing young of their own, and I think of the years and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old woman and nature is cruel. 'Tis jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigour depart. There is now a stone where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass a young girl still dwells, a now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain, and I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years all too few, gone too fast, and accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, nurses, open and see, not a crabby old woman… look closer… see me.
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