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Cameron to promote 'grey Britannia'

Written by: Staff

LONDON, Oct 23 (Reuters) Conservative leader David Cameron is to call today for a cultural shift in the way the elderly are treated and viewed.

Accusing society of often trying to ''airbrush the elderly out of the picture'', he will say the older generation has a key role to play in society and the economy.

In a speech at Age Concern in east London, he will say the elderly are about to ''paint themselves back in''.

The campaign is in contrast with Tony Blair's attempt to promote a ''cool Britannia'' at the beginning of his tenure, when he enlisted pop stars and other celebrities to push for an image of a young and vibrant nation.

The grey vote is due to become an increasingly important election battleground as the 11 million baby-boomers of the post World War Two era reach retirement age and the UK birth rate continues to drop.

Labour recently introduced laws which made it illegal for businesses to discriminate on the grounds of age.

''We need a quite profound cultural change -- in the way we think about older people. And a revolution in social responsibility -- in how we behave towards older people,'' Cameron will say.

He is to focus on the role national and local government can play as well as the NHS and social services, business and individuals.

He will criticise the ''departure lounge'' mentality that exists in some residential care homes which help to create ''grey ghettoes with rows of elderly people: isolated, unoccupied, just waiting to die''.

''It's a national tragedy,'' he will say.

The Tory leader is also due to blame urban planning for tucking away the elderly out of sight and out of mind. He will call for a greater mixture of ages living in a community.

''It is true of neighbourhoods: the presence of older people in a community is a civilising force.'' One answer to isolation could be for older people with large, empty houses, to homeshare with young, homeless families.

The older person provides the accommodation, and the young people do household chores.

''It's a perfect example of social responsibility, of the generations coming together,'' Cameron will add.

He will also call for a more gradual retirement process.

''You work at full pelt right up to the wire -- then you stop altogether. It doesn't make sense any more,'' he is due to say.

''We need to see retirement as a process, not an event -- a slope, not a cliff -- then we will realise the potential of older people.'' REUTERS MQA RK1615

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