My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Foulkes not just for initiating this debate but for his lifetime commitment to this issue. I honour and respect it. Looking at the programming, it is not really a surprise to see—if I may dissent—that the BBC is now part of the Department for Work and Pensions. There is a decline in autonomous civic institutions that run independently of government. It is sad to see how few Conservatives are here, but this used to be a pillar of conservatism—there was a body politic with autonomous institutions that made their own decisions. This is therefore part of the general problem with our politics.
I really appreciated the speech by my noble friend Lord Howarth. There is a general malaise in a society based on individualism and an economy in which, if you really want to get on in life, you have to come to London. I cannot count the number of people I have spoken to who are distressed to be separated from their elderly parents and cannot care for them. We have to look at that issue in the context of regional policy and the economy. These are really huge issues. Obviously, I agree with my noble friend Lord Foulkes and others who have spoken. The noble Baroness, Lady Redfern, spoke extremely eloquently, saying that television and radio are a crucial part of people’s lives. As I say to my children all the time, “The friends you’ve got on Facebook aren’t your friends”. Nothing can beat relationships and real contact.
We sometimes ignore the beauty of this House. What amazed me in the first year I was here was that it is an institution where older people have power and responsibility, and they do work. If you go anywhere else in our kingdom, it is so rare to see vital, alive and engaged older people. To rephrase a somewhat tarnished ex-Prime Minister, I believe that we are at our best when we are at our oldest.
I will put forward three things we can think about, because I hope the Chamber takes responsibility for the debate and thinks about the role of older people in a sustained way. First, it is very typical that there is an initiative called Teach First. I do not know whether noble Lords have heard of it. Young, bright people go into schools—as if they know anything. What about “teach last”? What about getting older people into schools? What about getting them in front of classrooms? What about genuinely showing honour and respect, and giving some power to older people?
I am the Lord of Stoke Newington and Stamford Hill. In the Orthodox community in Stamford Hill, at Yesodey Hatorah School, every single student is paired with an older person who has been widowed or widowered. They visit them every day. They are a part of their lives. When I took that to Hackney Council it said, “Can’t do it—health and safety”, and so on. We have to think of relational ways to integrate older people into the joys of life, such as birthdays. That is what they are excluded from. They are not part of that.
Thirdly, it is now clear that we have to rethink vocational training and skills. How about getting retired workers in as teachers in vocational colleges? There are so many ways in which we can honour older people. I do not think that we should be greedy and keep the privilege of participating in public life strictly for the House of Lords. We should make the argument for it and extend it, because the key aspects of health and life are loving, stable relationships, a sense of dignity, empowerment and participation. That is the key to our treatment of older people.