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“Anonymised” elderly people to be sold off in UK government cost recovery plan

Older-guestsBy Simon Davies

Following recent revelations that the government is planning to sell “anonymised” health and taxpayer records to private companies, the Treasury chief secretary, Danny Alexander, today announced that plans are underway to sell-off anonymised old people.

The scheme has been outlined in a green paper titled “Maximising value from the golden years” that was drawn up last month by the PA consulting group. Cabinet gave preliminary approval to the scheme at its meeting yesterday.

Dormant old people are an "unrealised economic resource" to the nation.

Dormant old people are an “unrealised economic resource” to the nation.

The government has been cautious in its presentation of the new plan. Its intention to sell health and financial data had come under fire from civil liberties groups and technical experts, who claimed that true anonymisation was almost impossible to achieve. Most data could be re-identified relatively easily.

In a press conference earlier today, Mr Alexander defended the government’s plan, arguing that ministers were in full agreement that elderly people must not be sold to private companies unless they were “irreversibly” anonymised.

“We are sensitive to issues of privacy and human dignity, and there would be no support for a scheme that allowed for even the slightest risk that the product could be identified by anyone other than the government,” he said.

It is understood that the scheme was initially opposed by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, but his position changed when the government agreed to a contra deal in which student university fees would be reduced by eleven percent in return for a contractual commitment by students to enter the scheme five years before retirement.

Most of the old people being sold off have little or no remaining economic value and so there is no real incentive for malicious parties to re-identify them.

Mr Alexander explained that most of the old people being sold off had little or no remaining economic value and that there was no real incentive for malicious parties to re-identify them.

“It’ is true that old people who are still economically active have a higher value to the new scheme and in those cases we will provide enhanced security. Legislation will be put in place to establish an oversight commissioner to ensure that the old people are properly protected.”

The scheme was inspired by a report drawn up in 2012 by the Treasury which proposed that the government could recoup £11bn annually by “cross collateralization” of the elderly.

“Businesses have a real need for product in the form of verified old people. This resource can be exploited for purposes as diverse as statistical padding and  passive marketing. It is, however, not essential for these people to be identifiable. While anonymisation will reduce the unit value, there will also be a consequent reduced risk of legal complications if the technique is adopted.”

A government spokesman explained that there was little point having redundant old people just “sitting in storage costing us money” when they could be used to enhance the value and viability of industry.