WRITING FOR POLITICSHOME, TORY MP PENNY MORDAUNT SETS OUT THE CASE FOR THE CREATION OF A MINISTER FOR OLDER PEOPLE.
By varying definitions anyone from the age of fifty might be considered an ‘older person’, and simply by appreciating that much it is evident that no one department can fully account for the needs of ‘older people’. The Minister for Older people I would like to see would take account of the cardigan-wearing Worther’s-toting retired grandfather, but also the redundant skilled manual worker in his early fifties; the thwarted grey entrepreneur; the isolated 80 year-old; isolated in his own home miles from his family; the couple who depend on each other for care; and the first older generation to live with HIV.
This over-arching approach would lead to better government. There have been too many missed opportunities and unforeseen outcomes which have robbed the Treasury of income, the taxpayer of value for money, and older people of life-enhancing possibilities. There are many ministers across government with responsibilities which touch some aspect of older people’s lives, but only with a narrow focus of one policy area. This is why there must be someone in government who is responsible for the interests of older people, and why 137,000 people signed a Downing Street petition, organised by older people’s charity Anchor, to call for a Minister for Older People.
It has been suggested that older people are doing well during this time of austerity. The Government has introduced the introduced the triple lock on pensions; pensioners enjoy free bus travel, winter fuel payments, and the over-75s get a free TV licence. It is also reported that pensioners’ incomes have risen by 29.2 per cent in the last twelve years compared to a rise of 26 per cent for non-pensioners. Yet against these advantages must be weighed the greater cost of living for the over-50s and especially the over-65s, and a host of more specific problems.
There is huge unmet need; there is isolation; and there are the unintended consequences of policies which are not ostensibly for ‘older people’. At Transport we have trains without lavatories on 80-minute routes which prevent some older people from travelling, exacerbating their isolation. At the Treasury there is talk of combining NICs and income tax – how would the non-NIC-paying pensioners be affected? What is happening at BIS to encourage employers to take advantage of the willingness to work of older people which SAGA has found? If 71 per cent of over-50s would like to work part time after 65 and 7 per cent of people already work past the age of 70 we should make the most of their skills and experience. Most Local Authorities do not direct those enquiring about care home options to financial advice. Instead they wait till they have spent their savings and then are a burden on the state.
A Minister for Older People could take cognizance of all these areas and make representations to the relevant Secretary of State, who has not, perhaps, had occasion to consider the consequences of his policies for older people. Who might this minister be? In order to prevent the sort of silo thinking which has created some of the problems I have described, it should be someone already in the cabinet on the model of the Home Secretary who also has responsibility for Women and Equalities. If there was someone at the cabinet table who could check all policy submissions against their consequences for older people I am confident that we would have better and cheaper government.
There is no better mark of the values of a nation than in how it treats its older generation, and this is foremost in our minds on the publication of the Social Care White Paper. Just think how much easier it would be to make the reforms in social care we need if the sort of unintended problem I have outlined were to be avoided.