Appointing an Older People’s Commissioner in every country of the UK is long overdue
Last month I had the honour of being the keynote speaker at the annual conference of the National Pensioners’ Convention (NPC) in Birmingham, their first in-person convention since the pandemic.
I am a strong supporter of the NPC, and this year I was particularly pleased to appear on the platform with Heléna Herklots, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, and to hear from her a most inspiring speech.
The post of Older People’s Commissioner does not currently exist either in England or Scotland, although there is a similar post in Northern Ireland. Having listened to Heléna, I am convinced that appointing national commissioners in all our constituent nations is long overdue and am now pursuing this with the Scottish and United Kingdom governments.
One in three people in the UK have experienced some form of age-based prejudice or discrimination
Heléna’s work goes far beyond simply spreading awareness of the issues affecting older people in Wales. As commissioner, she has legal powers to take real and necessary action against ageism on behalf of individuals, and for the wider community of older people as a whole. Her team can directly assist with individual personal complaints, representing them to a public body, and she also has the power to conduct broader reviews of whistleblowing, advocacy or complaints arrangements in our public institutions.
A recent ageism report found that one in three people in the UK have experienced some form of age-based prejudice or discrimination. This makes ageism the most prevalent form of discrimination amongst all age groups.
However, little is being done to address this. With increasing digitisation, older people are finding it more difficult to get access to vital services and to make themselves heard. A suite of commissioners could change this by effectively amplifying the voices of older people throughout the UK and combat institutional ageism.
It is no secret that these issues are neglected. Only around two per cent of age discrimination lawsuits are upheld, and it is estimated that 85 per cent of older people suffering from depression currently go untreated.
In my address to the NPC, I highlighted these and other issues that need action. The appointment of commissioners is the easiest to enact, would have the widest impact and is a relatively modest investment with far-reaching returns.
We have excellent charities such as NPC, Age UK, Age Scotland and the Scottish Older People’s Assembly fighting on our behalf. However, real change requires an advocate for older people with statutory powers.
And, although we have the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ageing and Older People, which I jointly chair, I feel that we have become more of a study forum rather than an action-oriented group.
Four commissioners, actively working with a revitalised APPG, would help cement the status of older people’s rights in our society and push a coordinated government response.
Action should have been taken in the wake of the pandemic, an event that the United Nations independent expert on older people noted had “drastically amplified prevalent ageism” – and this cost of living crisis is likely to have a similar effect.
Now, more than ever, we require vocal representatives for older people able to take up issues at the heart of government.
On Wednesday 19 October the UK government will be given an opportunity to start taking action when my Oral Question asking them to appoint a Commissioner for England will be debated.
Lord Foulkes, Labour peer and co-chair of the APPG for Ageing and Older People.
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