A Minister for Older people would ensure the voice and insights of the older generation are heard and taken account of across government, writes Conservative MP Margot James.
All the charities and lobby organisations that represent older people have joined together to call for a Minister for Older People. I support that call. We already have ministers with specific responsibilities for women, children and people with disabilities. The minister for women is also minister for equalities; although that has included older people with regard to legislation against a forced retirement age, the equalities brief is primarily focussed on women, ethnic minorities, gay and transgendered people.
The principal arguments for a Minister for Older People are not so much that other demographic groups are represented at ministerial level, but that a specific set of interests and challenges are associated with our ageing population that require the voice and insights of the older generation to be heard and taken account of across government.
What would the role of Older People's Minister involve? Dame Joan Bakewell made a very good start as Older Person's Czar under the last government. Championing the contribution made by older people to society, raising issues, challenging policy, all this fell in to her territory and I would want to see a new Minister take up from where she left off in that regard.
But the role of a minister would go beyond that of Czar or Champion. A key part of any Minister's remit is to do battle for their cause. Under the last government such a minister would surely have challenged the 75p pension increase, the derisory amount by which social care was increased (just 0.1 per centin real terms between 2004 and 2010 versus real terms increases during the same period of 20 per centfor the Police and 10 per centon schools), the closure of quite so many care homes and the move from wardens to 'floating support' in sheltered housing.
There is still plenty to challenge on behalf of older people. Existing pensioners are concerned about proposals for a flat rate pension paid on an individual basis to new pensioners from 2015. There is also a need to challenge the 'never had it so good' thinking that is being applied to older people by the research published by the IFS recently. Yes there are affluent pensioners but there is also considerable pensioner poverty; the scandalous deaths of older people each winter caused by fuel poverty shame our society.
Another crucial aspect of the Minister's role would be to act as 'critical friend' to the older population. The job is not to promote older people's economic interests in a silo, as if the wider economy were not an issue. That is why I spoke up for the measure announced in the budget to reduce the tax allowance threshold for pensioners.
One of the toughest jobs for a Minister for Older people is to manage the expectations of our growing older population. The government has taken difficult decisions to raise the retirement age and to put public sector pensions on a more sustainable footing but I believe we will have to go further. It is a year since the Dilnot Commission reported on the funding of long term care. There is no new money to pay for Dilnot's recommendations, a new Minister would need to level with families and older people about what is affordable and what will have to be financed by individuals and private insurance.