It is a pleasure to follow Bob Stewart. I am grateful for this opportunity to raise what I and others—including my good friend, Rochdale Councillor Billy Sheerin—consider to be a much-overlooked issue. In the current Government, following the Prime Minister’s last reshuffle, we have Ministers for Women and Equalities, for disabled people and for loneliness, and social care has been added to the remit of the Secretary of State for Health, but we have no Minister for older people. Yet we have 15.3 million people aged over 60 in this country. By 2035, 29% of people will be over 60. Nearly one in five people currently in the UK will live to see their 100th birthday. Some 60% of older people agree that age discrimination exists in the daily lives of older people.
The older people’s champions network in the north-west, composed of local authority elected members, has been campaigning for the establishment of a post of older people’s Minister, and many hon. Members will have received an email from this group asking for their support. It is a cross-party group, led by a Conservative councillor from the Ribble Valley, Susan Bibby. This group wants the post of older people’s Minister to be established and to work across Departments in the same way that the Minister for Disabled People works to ensure that disabled people are not disadvantaged in any way.
With the increase in pension age, people are having to work longer to make enough money to live. The Government are in a position to encourage employers to embrace and utilise their older workforce, through the Work and Pensions Minister route and through advertising job vacancies and press releases from MPs encouraging employers in their constituencies to take on older workers. On health issues, dementia is the biggest killer in the UK today, and living well with dementia is the key to people being able to continue to contribute to society.
An older people’s Minister could work more closely with Public Health England to educate on prevention and living well with diseases generally associated with later life. I am pleased to be able to talk about the great steps made towards inclusivity of older people by the Combined Authority of Greater Manchester, led by Mayor Andy Burnham. On
Greater Manchester’s age-friendly strategy covers a multitude of areas, including housing, health and social care, transport, art and culture, physical activity, work and welfare and benefits, as well as a campaign to positively change the way that older people are viewed. It is clear that the north-west is leading the way in making sure that older people remain valued members of our society and are able to live healthily, happily and independently for as long as possible, from the positive approach shown by Mayor Andy Burnham to the campaigning work done by the older people’s champions in the north-west.
Caroline Adams, the Director of Age UK said that she would like to see a cross-cutting unit that could join up policy on older people across Departments. She said:
“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 ensuring older people's views inform them.”
Some might argue that the Minister for loneliness might cover some of the role, but loneliness is, sadly, not exclusive to older people, and there are so many other issues that are crucial to our ageing society to enable them to have full and active lives. We live in an ageing society, and the impact and implications for us all will be immense. The creation of the role of an older people’s Minister is an idea whose time has come. I hope that by next Easter such a post might be in place.
To finish, I would like to wish everyone in the House a very happy Easter.