An independent advocate is needed at the heart of government to champion and protect the rights of older people and better prepare for population ageing, according to new analysis from Centre Forum.
The think tank’s ‘Advocacy on ageing’ report urges the establishment of a Whitehall-based Older People’s Commissioner with appropriate statutory powers.
Such a role already exists in Northern Ireland and Wales and CentreForum judges that in both countries commissioners have had demonstrable success in championing and protecting the rights ofolder people.
Analysis suggests that an independent Office of the Older Older People’s Commissioner could be set up with less than 1% increase in spending on non-departmental public bodies under the Department of Health remit.
This would be equivalent to 0.01% of the department’s non-NHS budget – totalling £15.7 billion in 2013/14 – which CentreForum says makes the policy affordable even in the context of further austerity measures in the next parliament.
To support the Older People’s Commissioner for England, the think tank calls for the creation of a Cabinet-level Minister for Ageing and Older People combined with the role of Health Secretary.
The consequence, it says, would be a stronger and more joined up focus across government on the needs of older people and the many challenges that an ageing population brings.
CentreForum warns that there are now more individuals over state pension age than children, and that the government is unprepared for the impact this will have on public services and the nation’s health and wellbeing.
It says that experts talk a lot about the negatives of population ageing but too little about the positive contribution older generations make through the workplace, care and volunteering.
Many older people struggle financially and with loneliness and social isolation and their economic potential is not being maximised, it adds.
“Older people in England are losing out because, unlike in Wales and Northern Ireland, they not have a commissioner to speak up for them. Our research makes clear this would be a highly cost effective way of championing the rights of older people and making sure the country gets a proper grip on the challenges of an ageing population. The time is now right to make this move and our blueprint sets out how to make it happen.”
James Kempton, Associate Director, Education and Social Policy, CentreForum and co-author of the report, said:
“Older people in England are losing out because, unlike in Wales and Northern Ireland, they not have a commissioner to speak up for them.
“Our research makes clear this would be a highly cost effective way of championing the rights of older people and making sure the country gets a proper grip on the challenges of an ageing population. The time is now right to make this move and our blueprint sets out how to make it happen.”
Paul Burstow MP, Care and Support Minister from 2010 to 2012, said:
“The UK is not ready to face the challenges of the ageing society that we are rapidly becoming. An OlderPeople’s Commissioner could play a part in helping to ensure we age-proof the UK,
listening to and giving voice to the needs of older people and turning the spotlight on the issues that matter.”
Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director, Age UK said:
“Older people we speak to have differing views about a Commissioner and/or Minister for Older People. At Age UK we’d especially like to see a cross-cutting unit which can join up policy on older people across departments.
“What’s certain though is that we can’t go on as we are, with scarcely any central government resources directed at developing age-friendly policies and in ensuring older people’s views inform them.
“More of us are living longer and older and that is to be celebrated – but it does present some new challenges and, as a society, we need to ensure we’re planning for and embracing this changing demographic, rather than continuing with the status quo.”