It was reported a couple of months ago that the number of people aged over 100 has increased twofold in England and Wales since 1990 and fourfold since 1983.
The number of those aged over 90 has risen by 300% in the past 30 years.
Given the remorseless negative headlines that we read about health services, environmental risks and the generally poor state of modern society how come people are living for so long?
The proliferation of 24- hour media, exemplified by all-day TV and twitter, and followed by traditional newspapers, has created an environment in which drama takes centre stage. In the endless competition for eyeball share, those who purvey the media focus heavily on news stories that are intended to shock.
This takes us all into a world where it seems we are surrounded by risk. The health services are a “disaster”, a new superbug is threatening the world, your food contains cancer producing toxins, the weather is about to drown everyone. These stories pivot on commercial agendas that prioritise fear over facts.
Alongside this world of crisis, however, ordinary people are living through something different. In the 50 years I’ve been on this planet, democratic society has moved to radically improve safety on the roads. Life expectancy has shot up due to an aggressive attack on smoking (Ireland was a world leader on this issue) and huge improvements in medicine and healthcare methods.
Commercial flying is cheaper, more extensive and safer than ever before. Access to information and education is transformed by the internet which has helped me and my peers be better informed that my parents ever could be.
We seem, however, to discount these achievements quickly. At present the cluster of topics that exercises the headline writers appear to be finances, health and the climate. If you dwelt too much on what the media asks us to believe is reality, the Prozac prescription demands would explode.
Each of these issues certainly pose important challenges for all of us. The financial condition of the world continues to be weak. The ECB’s recent decision to cut interest rates to 0.5% — joining the UK, US and Japan and setting the cost of money at near all time lows — is a measure of how stressed the system is. Climate change is a constant in our lives and always has been. Health services are under growing strain due to tight national finances and ageing populations.
Are these, though, reasons to jump under the bed covers and become bitter and twisted? I think not. While headline writers lather themselves on the next scare story some of the best brains in the world are working on solutions that improve instead of degrade modern society. Right now the most profound issue facing all of us is not health, the climate or food security. It is unemployment.
The Pope issued a valuable tweet last week that suggested the financial system seemed at present more geared to profits than the creation of work. He is right in part because the money transmission system within the banks, especially in Europe, is not converting ultra low interest rates into higher levels of lending and, therefore, economic activity.
Employment must be kick-started by unclogging the market, not hair-brained spending programmes that create short-term work but long-term misery.
Freeing up lending at low interest rates, with measures that instil confidence among investors to commence new growth projects, is the important task at hand. Some will argue this will never happen but after five years of repairing the financial system, the chances of leaders finding a better way to drive our economy have improved. The glass, in other words, remains half full.
* Joe Gill is a director of corporate broking with Goodbody Stockbrokers
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