System is making the elderly vulnerable

21:32, Mar 19 2014

Some vulnerable people are elderly. Not all elderly people are vulnerable.

I'm hearing plenty about vulnerable elderly people and not enough about using their experience. Lots of older people have skills and knowledge that we should be using in the rebuild. Instead, they're being strung along and run around like the rest of us, and are becoming vulnerable as time creeps up on them.

My mate John Patterson is 78. He was born in Newcastle in the UK, which means he likes to drink warm, flat beer that tastes like dishwater. It also means he learned his building skills in post World War II England during a rebuild that was much larger than the one facing us.

John's face shows his years. But if you look at his eyes when he smiles you can see the younger man, a man who spent a lifetime building houses in both England and New Zealand.

He's been trying to have his house and street rebuilt for three years now. The difference between John and the rest of us is that you can't bulls... him about building a house.

I tell him building a house is complicated. He laughs.


"It's not. It's simple. You lay a foundation, put up walls and put a roof on. We've been building houses for hundreds of years. It's easy, it's only complicated if you don't know what you're doing."

He's spent the last three years trying to get some sense out of various organisations managing the rebuild of his street. He's a community-minded sort of a chap and has been finding inefficiencies in his whole neighbourhood. He can see how wasteful it is. He walks the neighbourhood every day. He writes to the people involved. It falls on deaf ears.

So a man who has scrapped and fought for years is getting worn down. The system is making sure he is vulnerable.

He told me about a conversation with an aunt dying of cancer some years ago.

"She said when you reach your three score years and 10, every day after that is a bonus."

It wasn't until he hit his 70s that he started to understand. This is where he is now.

"She had terminal cancer. I have terminal old age. The end result is the same."

John tells me that if he and his wife had an accident on the street, people would come and help them - pick them up and get them to a doctor.

"Yet the earth moves and we fall over. People come. Many people come. They look and they talk.

"People we've paid for 40 years to see to us when we fall . . . they argue about who will pick us up.

"They go away. They come back with a report. They leave.

"We have been lying here for three years now. It's a while since we've seen anyone.

"We want to know when they're going to pick us up. We can't do it ourselves because the system we live in won't let us. We have to rely on them.

"We've been lying here for three years and we hurt. We need to know what they're going to do to heal that hurt.

"They can't tell us. They don't know.

"We've been lying here for 1104 of our bonus days and now we wonder: When they do come, will it be too late?"

We should be doing more than telling John what is happening. We should be asking him for help.

The Press