Old & Neglected

People are disposable in capitalist societies, the elderly especially so – a point which the covid-19 pandemic has highlighted.

The so-called “rich” world has ample means that everyone may live productive lives and retire comfortably. Instead, the wealthy horde resources while the mass majority struggle to an exhausted old age, where they drop like flies if they cannot afford to pay for their declining years in style.

The UN notes: “accurate information about old-age poverty is limited” – a sure indication that governments just don’t care. Figure that the figures cited below are understatements.

Despite working for decades, nearly 10% of elderly Swedes and Germans are poor.

In the mid-1980’s, 1% of Brits aged 65 and over were destitute. Today that figure is nearly 6%. At least 13% barely get by, impoverished.

Nearly one-quarter of elderly Americans and Swiss are poor; and over 1/3rd of old Australians.

Across the rich world, half of all deaths from covid-19 have been in retirement facilities, even though less than 1% of people live in them. In Canada the elderly death toll from covid-19 is over 80%.

The US government hides its covid-19 death rate in nursing homes to protect corporate operators – but evidence indicates it’s high. “This was a crisis on top of a long-standing crisis,” says American health care policy analyst David Grabowski.

Worldwide, rather than providing testing and care for those who need it, the elderly were neglected as covid-19 ripped its way across the planet.

The care home sector is understaffed, and turnover in staff is high because careworkers are underpaid. Stories of neglect and abuse regularly surface from nursing homes in the US, UK, and other countries where the press operates with enough freedom to publish such news.

Governments spend very little on long-term care. In many countries elderly care is detached from the health system.

It’s a mean old world – especially for the old – because the world runs on greed, with plutocratic governments that don’t care any more than the corporate masters who pay for elected officials. When they have nothing to spend, the elderly are just spent.

The old-age poverty parade will only grow in time. The UN found that “young employees face considerable challenges in saving for retirement. Many young workers may find themselves worse off than their parents’ generation when they enter retirement.”


Ishi Nobu, “Welfare,” in The Pathos of Politics (2019).

The pandemic shows the urgency of reforming care for the elderly,” The Economist (25 July 2020).

Katherine Newman, “Retirement should not mean hardship – but many older Americans live in poverty,” The Guardian (24 May 2019).

Jamie Doward, “UK elderly suffer worst poverty rate in western Europe,” The Guardian (18 August 2019).

Teresa Ghilarducci, “America’s unusual high rates of old-age poverty and old-age work,” Forbes (2 March 2018).

Income poverty in old age,” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2016).