I’m fighting for a better world, but if that doesn’t come along, I will be destitute when I can no longer work. Is it OK to stockpile suicide supplies in case of that eventuality? I don’t have family support, and most of my friends are even worse off than I am. I’m an American now living in the United Kingdom.
I am so sorry that you’ve been living with the pain and fear that inspired this letter. You’re right, of course: We must build better social safety nets so no one ever asks this question. But even if socialism doesn’t emerge in time for your old age, you’ll still have ways to flourish.
Ann Neumann, author of The Good Death: An Exploration of Dying in America and a hospice volunteer, is emphatic that suicide won’t be your best recourse. She points out that even in this age of right-wing austerity, you have far more financial resources than you realize, whether from national or local governments or from charity. In the far-right United States, Social Security, Medicare, and food stamps seem likely to survive in some form; and while public assistance for the elderly or disabled in the United Kingdom is hardly generous, the poverty rate among seniors is much lower than it is here. Help is available if you seek it out. In fact, a 2014 report by Age UK revealed that a key cause of poverty among older people was the failure to take advantage of government benefits; many don’t know what they’re entitled to or are too proud to ask for it. An elder-law attorney can help you figure out what forms of assistance you’re likely to have access to (if social arrangements don’t change as much as we hope they will).
Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, emphasizes that the strongest factor in aging well is a robust social network—not, perhaps surprisingly, money. Neumann agrees: “The happiest community I regularly visit is the senior center at the Red Hook Houses,” she says, referring to a public-housing project in Brooklyn. “They pool their resources and have such a sense of community. They enjoy each other so much, and they have a better quality of life than anyone.”