Such podiatric reverence was probably not uppermost in Simon Hughes’s mind when he cited African and Asian families as models of how the young should look after the old. Rather than “forcing” the elderly into care homes where their main companion is a television set, the Liberal Democrat justice minister railed, British families should seek to emulate the example of immigrant families who “look after their families to the end”.
It is true that the circle of care, at least in Indian families, embraces all generations. When we speak of family, we do not limit its meaning to spouses and children. By family, we mean the “wider family” that Hughes invoked: parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins, even second cousins and in-laws. And, in the pecking order, age is the determinant of veneration.
This is neither right nor wrong in any moral or cultural sense but we do know that we English have been living in nuclear families at least since the Middle Ages. We’ve had at least half a millennium where the standard household unit is two adults and their own children. We haven’t been living in the extended family for as far back as we can reliably trace. Granny didn’t live with her grandkids.
Just ain’t the way we did it.