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Tue, 1 December 2020

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Older people are facing severe and constant threats to their health, wellbeing and quality of life

Older people are facing severe and constant threats to their health, wellbeing and quality of life

Credit: PA Images

4 min read

While the Government provides much needed support to businesses and industry, it would be tragic if vulnerable elderly people were forgotten a second time, just because they are out of sight and out of mind.

Back in the 1970s, before my election to Parliament, I worked as Director of Age Concern Scotland, campaigning to protect and promote older people's rights and interests - a cause I have continued to champion throughout my career in both the Commons and the Lords.

Now 50 years on, and part of our ageing demographic myself, I reflect on some of the improvements made to many elderly people’s lives through key policy interventions.

To name a few, the introduction of the triple-lock on pensions, concessions for over-75s on travel and free TV licences, and the provision of sheltered housing for older people.

However, many of these provisions, including some of the aforementioned, are now under increasing threat and are in some cases already being eroded away.

What is clear is that a combination of ten years of Conservative austerity, the coronavirus pandemic and inter-generational rivalry, are a severe and constant threat to older people’s health, wellbeing and quality of life.

The pandemic has ruthlessly exposed long-term systemic failings and a lack of Government support for our social care system, which has been beset by a lack of access to testing, insufficient and affordable PPE, and significant levels of staff sickness.

Not to mention blanket “do not resuscitate” orders for care home residents at the height of the pandemic. The tragic result has seen our death toll the highest in Europe.

Reforms to our ailing and disjointed care sector are therefore urgent with the need for a National Care Service.

However, while the Government promises improvement, it is of no surprise that many in the sector fear reforms could be put on the back burner, given its current record on delivery. This is despite renewed demands on the care system as we hit a second wave.

Moreover, for months now the Government have been working on a test and trace system. Yet we find ourselves in a situation where testing for many of our elderly, who the Government know are most at risk, is very much ‘lost without a trace’.

Indeed, many older people are missing out because they either do not use a smartphone or do not have the latest technology that corresponds with the NHS – or should I say Serco – App.

Worse yet, Age UK report that older people continue to face difficulties booking tests, because of the requirement to have an email address or mobile phone to receive texts. As a result, many older people are not being tested at all because they cannot receive the results.

The Conservatives promised our over-75s “the security and dignity they deserve”, yet loneliness is increasing at a colossal rate, the test and trace system does not meet the needs of our elderly, our care homes require urgent reform, and long-standing social benefits are being withdrawn.

As the UK enters the second wave, older people face even greater challenges.

This all points to the Government’s serial incompetence and its treatment of our elderly as second-hand news.

Indeed, the recent decision to withdraw free TV Licences for over-75s only increases loneliness and financial hardship for many older people – made worse as many remain confined to home.

As the UK enters the second wave, older people face even greater challenges. Yet I fear the decision on TV licences is a straw in the wind in anticipation of wider erosions to vital services that support our elderly.

Charities like Age Scotland, Age UK and its regional and local partners are also doing their upmost to provide services to support older people, despite facing difficult financial odds and an increasing workload.

While the Government provides much needed support to businesses and industry, it would be tragic if vulnerable elderly people were forgotten a second time, just because they are out of sight and out of mind.

So much progress has been made over the last 50 years, and I therefore call on the Government to be what Priti Patel might describe as a ‘do-gooder’ and stand by its promise to provide older people security and dignity in their later years.

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