Stopping older people leaving their homes when the rest of the country surfaces from lockdown would amount to age discrimination and risk ‘unrest’, a former minister warned yesterday.
Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said many healthy over-70s would risk going to prison rather than continue isolating if younger generations did not have to.
The campaigner said using age-based criteria to lift restrictions would send a message that older people’s lives ‘don’t count in the same way as others’.
Baroness Ros Altmann, 64, said many healthy over-70s would risk going to prison rather than continue isolating if younger generations did not have to
The warning came amid confusion over what the current official guidance actually is, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock denying that over-70s were being asked to stay in their houses ‘unless absolutely necessary’ – then directing people to a Government website appearing to suggest just that.
Professor Stephen Powis, national medical director for NHS England, said on Friday that officials are considering whether stricter measures will still apply to the elderly when the lockdown is eased.
With Boris Johnson expected to set out his ‘road map’ for lifting restrictions this week, Baroness Altmann warned of the consequences of singling out the over70s.
Current guidance states that all over70s ‘should take particular care to minimise contact with others outside your household’.
It classes the age group as ‘clinically vulnerable’ regardless of individuals’ general health, and advises them to ‘only leave your home if it’s essential, for example to get food or medicine’.
A further category of those with underlying health conditions – the ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’ – are advised to stay at home at all times until the end of June in a practice described as ‘shielding’.
The wording of the advice was changed on Friday. It had previously stated that over-70s should be ‘particularly stringent’ in following social distancing rules.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, she said: ‘I think using an age-based criteria is fundamentally wrong and would potentially cost the lives of many people, and risk social unrest.’
The Tory peer said many over-70s have accepted restrictions only because everyone else has got to say they would ‘risk going to prison’ rather than continue to isolate.
She said ‘nobody would dream’ of applying restrictions on the basis of skin colour, despite a higher death rate among black, Asian and minority ethnic people, adding: ‘It’s not okay to discriminate on grounds of gender, or obesity, or colour of skin, but everybody is saying, let’s think about somehow discriminating on the basis of age.’
TV presenter Sir Michael Palin, 76, also warned against restrictions on the basis of age, telling the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘To treat them all as people who have to be sort of kept out of sight is going to be very difficult and very wrong and very unfair.’
The warning came amid confusion over what the current official guidance actually is (stock)
Mr Hancock sowed confusion over the guidance yesterday when he tweeted that the over-70s were not classed as the ‘clinically vulnerable’ who should strictly follow social distancing measures.
He then posted a link to official Government guidance which described the over-70s as ‘clinically vulnerable’.
It followed a Sunday newspaper report that around 1.8million ‘clinically vulnerable’ over-70s were being advised to stay at home for 12 weeks.
Mr Hancock wrote in response: ‘We have strongly advised all over70s to follow social distancing measures. However, there is no “blanket ban”. The clinically vulnerable, who are advised to stay in lockdown for 12 weeks, emphatically DO NOT include all over-70s.’
The British Medical Association called for the lockdown to be eased for the healthy over-70s because it is affecting their mental health, saying a ban would be ‘discriminatory and unacceptable’.