It’s no way to treat our elderly

My long suffering wife, Erica, and I hope to have a long and happy third age. But like everyone else we have had to plan for it without clarity of the Government’s long term intentions.

Yesterday I spoke to people who are representing those women (WASPIs) who lost out on their pensions when the age that women could claim pensions shifted at relatively short notice (about 10 years) and many received no information about the change until it was too late to do anything about it.

I used that insight in a speech I gave later in the day at the LGA’s adult services conference about the woeful inadequacy of the way our society has thought about the issues created by the increasing number of elderly people in our communities. It would be easy but wrong to blame this Government for the problem although its performance over the past three years has been dire. It is a fault of every Government since the early 1970 because it is since then that we have known conclusively that the age to which we will live would get considerably longer but the number of years in which we would live healthy and satisfying lives would not grow at the same level.

Dealing with the issue must be a long term one because of the complexities that it presents:

Pensions. We need to be making major payments into private or occupational pensions from about the age of 40 if we are to have saved enough to provide comfort in the third age. Not easy when house prices have soared, people are having children later and there are all sorts of things to pay and support like tuition fees. The Government too has to make a careful assessment of the amount of the tax and NI take it can pout into pensions as compared to other priorities.

Health. If you arrive at retirement in a healthy physical and mental state it is likely that you will have a long and happy retirement. The reverse clearly applies. Yet we do little to support people from the age of 50+ to keep fit and healthy and make them aware of the problems that they will face. More than 10% of the nation’s hospital beds are filled at any one time with elderly people who have no major clinical or medical needs but cannot safely return to their own family home.

Housing. At the current rate of replacement of the nation’s housing stock a house built today will have to last 200 years! To make an appreciable change in a city’s housing stock can take 20 years. Yet the level of forethought about what type of housing; in what type of community; with what type of services has been minimal. Of course, elderly people want different things but they have a commonality about certain issues which need to be included in all long-term physical plans for an area.

Social Care. The biggest unseen killer for many people but especially the elderly is loneliness. That’s not what goes on the death certificate but it has been calculated that the difference between having no one to talk to and having regular chats is the health equivalent of smoking 10 cigarettes a day. What public and private facilities are readily available to encourage community and neighbourly activity. How do we use all the assets of the public sector which ae often underused to meet these hidden needs for companionship?

Technology. One of the joys of my life is when the grandchildren unexpectedly facetime Erica and I to tell us about an exciting thing that they have done or what they are going to do. It is not quite as good as a hug but it can come very close. If only every elderly person had access to what is relatively cheap technology and someone at the other end to chat to. We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of communications systems for a range of interactions including diagnostic activity and ‘take your medicine’ reminders.

I could go on into other policy areas but I closed my speech yesterday about how its not only the Government that needs to do things but all of us.

Families need to think through what being a family means and who supports which part of the family at which time. Do we live near each other or far apart? Which part of the family at any one time has money and time to deal with issues?

Communities need to think about how they can use assets to benefit the silent people who are too wary to come out and take advantage of what is available.

Neighbours need to be more aware of the people who live in their streets. Sometimes all you need to do is say hello and have a two-minute chat. If the weather is bad could you just make sure that your neighbours have basic supplies or could you get them for them if its too cold to go out?

Individuals must give more thought to their own future. Are, you saving enough money for retirement or are you spending their income on a spend today and let tomorrow sort itself out basis. That’s based on the assumption that there is anything left to save after paying for basics! Where do you want to live; how fit and healthy will you be; how will you react with the rest of your family if that is you have one.

The current government is especially culpable because of their failure to discuss the issues properly. We were supposed to get a Green (discussion) Paper on these issues in June 2017. Promise after promise was made about revised publication dates but know that the Green Paper has yet to be written. Until we know what the Government’s intentions and roles are over a 20-year period we cannot easily assess how councils, pension providers, the NHS, housing providers and the private sector can shape the services that are required.

We don’t just need one Government term to shape the future but many. That is why it is so important that all the political parties work together to achieve a consensus wherever possible on these issues. We need a Royal Commission to meet publicly to bring the issues to Government and the nation as a whole. We need politicians locked in a room and made to work together on these crucial issues which we all face towards the end of our lives.

Action is desperately needed now. The attitude of successive Governments in kicking the can down the road because the issues are too difficult to deal with must stop. We all deserve to end our lives in comfort, warmth and with dignity. Too few of us will achieve that without concerted action now.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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