Lord Foulkes: UK needs a "charter of rights" to protect older people in care

Posted On: 
15th November 2017

An opposition day debate on older people in the House of Lords tomorrow arises not merely from concern and compassion – important as this is – but about their human rights, says Lord Foulkes.

Older people tend to have poorer housing, live alone, and have lower and reducing income, says Lord Foulkes.
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Both the UN and Council of Europe have recognised that this is an issue and have made recommendations, including adopting my report on which this debate is based. The problem however, rests with the willingness of governments to act.

Older people are often patronised, discriminated against and sometimes abused – something that must be acknowledged and cease. We will all – assuming we avoid the worse alternative – be old and want our rights respected. The demographic time bomb will give us 16 million over 65s by 2030, hence the need for urgent action.

Older people tend to have poorer housing, live alone, and have lower and reducing income. Their access to health care can be refused solely because of their age. Some are abused mentally or physically – sometimes by carers, sometimes by relatives. But equally, older people have a great deal to contribute if their knowledge and skills are mobilised effectively. They are only too willing to put their abilities to purposeful use.

So what are the solutions?

Above all, pensioners should have an adequate income. The triple lock must be maintained; and we must halt the divisive propaganda (from those with offshore funds) that younger people are as a whole less well off than older people.

Suitable and affordable housing must be provided with easy access to services and in an inter-generational setting. I despair to see block after block of student accommodation in Edinburgh when mixed use, produced with proper planning, would be for the good of the wider community. Intergenerational provision, such as day centres for older people in the same place as nurseries, should also be developed more widely.

Discrimination against older people, which is theoretically outlawed, must be identified, reported and stopped. A charter of rights for older people in care, with an adequate inspection system and stiffer penalties for abuse is needed. A person centred approach is essential in both residential and home care.

A positive attitude to ageing and the contribution that older people can make to society needs to be fostered at all levels of government. Volunteering by older people to assist frail old people should be encouraged.

Above all, health and social care administration needs to be taken out of departmental silos and integrated. Older people are too often kept in inappropriate situations resulting in bed-blocking or discharged prematurely with no proper home care provision. Attempt to do this have been made in Scotland but it is not working on the ground. They must speed up total integration and England should follow.

I have been banging on about these issues since I was Director of Age Concern Scotland in the 1970’s and, while some improvements are evident, a great deal more needs to be done. Having questioned the government’s Health Minister in the Lords on the issue back in July, I’ll be pressing for a more positive response tomorrow.

Lord George Foulkes of Cumnock is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords, and Chair of Age Scotland.