Paul Burstow writes… Time to prepare for life in an ageing society

Grey_Pride_logo_headerLast week Anchor launched their grey pride manifesto, calling on political parties to do more for older people. Not only to end the discrimination that we know many older people suffer, but to face up to the many challenges that living in an ageing society presents, challenges for which we are “woefully unprepared”, as last year’s House of Lords Committee on Demographic Change warned.

Having spent the last year chairing a working group for the Party looking at how we manage the societal and cultural shifts which go hand in hand with living in an increasingly ageing society, I can only agree. Though in government Lib Dems made real progress – Norman Lamb and I have driven through social care reform, banned age discrimination in the NHS and introduced a cap on care costs, while Steve Webb has delivered major pension reforms, there is still much further to go. We need to be much more open about the impact of ageing – we need to acknowledge that we are all ageing, both young and old, and we need to change the way we think about it. We need to start challenging the implied negativity that the word “ageing” brings along with it and do everything we can to support our own mental and physical wellbeing, whether we are in our twenties or our eighties.

Key to delivering these changes, as Anchor’s manifesto argues, must be the establishment of an Older People’s Commissioner for England, mirroring the roles that already exist in Northern Ireland and Wales, and a Cabinet-level Minister. Government needs to take the lead, be proactive in recognising and harnessing the opportunities as well as the challenges of an ageing population, to join up work across Departments and deliver a concerted focus on making sure that policies are both age friendly and future proofed. It will not happen without key people in place with clearly focussed remits and the power to drive change.

Last year, I edited a report making the case for an Older People’s Commissioner, and earlier this year I pressed Norman Lamb on the issue during the passage of the Care Act. As I argued then, older people need a powerful voice, someone who listens and acts on their concerns. Too often our ageing population is presented as a looming crisis. Successive governments have overlooked the huge contribution of older people – as employers, employees, carers, volunteers and active members of our society. They have failed to prepare for the rapid ageing of our population and it is high time that this changes so that we all have an older age we can look forward to.

Older People’s Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland are already making a difference. Older people in England deserve their own champion, working alongside a Minister for Older People to make sure that promoting healthy, happy and dignified ageing is never off the agenda. I am pleased to say Lib Dems recognised the case for an Older People’s Commissioner back in 2011, now we all need to do everything we can to make it a reality.

* Paul Burstow is Liberal Democrat candidate for Sutton and Cheam and was the MP until the dissolution of Parliament on 30th March.

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3 Comments

  • Jayne Mansfield 5th Aug '14 - 11:18am

    Seriously, old age isn’t that bad!

    Even though I have age _related macular degeneration, it does not prevent me leading a full and enjoyable life. In fact I am spoilt for choice between all the mixed- age clubs that there are in my area. When one has hobbies, everyone mixes and chats happily about the hobby whether it be art or salsa classes. Old people are just people who have been around longer and are not necessarily the wiser for it.

    There has not been age discrimination in medical care for decades and I do agree that there is a need for better home care to help me look after my sister two decades older in her own home.

    I think that more attention should be paid on the young. We aren’t grey in any sense of the word, ( I really like Jenny’s hair and now is the time to experiment).

    All this doom and gloom seems to be taking on the flavour of an excuse not to invest in other health and social needs for al l people irrespective of age.

  • Simon Banks 6th Aug '14 - 5:55pm

    While I largely agree with Jayne, I want to make two points. First, stereotyping of older people is rife in adverts. They’re frequently portrayed as ill-informed, unfashionable killjoys. Unfashionable I’ll accept: one of the joys of being old is that you don’t have to worry about what other people think of your tastes in clothes, music, drinks, whatever. But companies should remember grey spending power and even if their market is mainly young people, not resort to offensive stereotypes.

    The other matters more. It is not strictly speaking direct discrimination against old people that they are frequently treated as less than human in hospitals, their needs and views and pleas for help ignored, especially if it seems likely they will not recover enough to make a complaint – for vulnerable young people may be treated as badly. But it is indirect discrimination, for many once vigorous old people become vulnerable and they are heavily over-represented in the ranks of vulnerable people. Please note that I know of excellent care too, but there is too much dehumanisation.

    Oh, and I’m quite enjoying being old so far. I can still trek 25 miles in hill country with a full pack, am not particularly short of money and no longer have to worry about that dread inexorable progress towards being old. But I’m not that old and I’m lucky.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th Aug '14 - 9:57am

    I was shocked by reports that some GPs charge retainers for caring for patients in care homes. How can this be? I thought that they werE already paid for caring for old people on their list?

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