Aging Population Strategy

– in the Scottish Parliament at 2:15 pm on 23rd March 2006.

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Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour 2:15 pm, 23rd March 2006

The next item of business is a debate on motion S2M-4164, in the name of Malcolm Chisholm, on the strategy for an aging population.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 2:56 pm, 23rd March 2006

I welcome this opportunity to open a debate on one of the most fundamental changes ever seen in Scotland. We are facing unprecedented demographic developments. Because of greater life expectancy and decades of lower birth rates, the age profile of Scotland's population is changing markedly. In the coming decades, there will be ever greater numbers of older people and a lower proportion of younger people. A large increase in the numbers and proportion of people aged over 65 is certain; indeed, current projections predict that, by 2031, one in four of the population will be aged 65 or over. That cannot be ignored, and any responsible Government must respond with a hard strategic look at the implications and the possible responses.

Our approach is based fundamentally on acknowledging the opportunities and benefits that an older population will bring. Too often, we see negative stereotypes of older people, from the grumpy Victor Meldrews of this world to the helpless little old lady in a shawl. Such images do nothing to help us to understand older people's diversity and range of contribution. Even more insidious and reprehensible are the assumptions that older people are nothing but a burden on society and a drain on essential resources. Over the years, there has been a lot of negative talk in the press about the burden and problems of an ageing population; however, we must challenge and break down the stereotype of older people being past it and of no value to society.

Our starting point is the enormous contribution that older people make to Scottish society and a determination to ensure that that contribution is valued, supported, recognised and encouraged. So much could be said on this subject. For example, the Parliament has previously debated volunteering and the contribution made by older volunteers. Indeed, earlier this week, I was privileged to launch the retired and senior volunteer programme's strategy for older volunteers.

Again, I must stress the incredible contribution that older volunteers make to Scottish society. From being active on boards and community councils to helping at the local primary school, hospital or charity shop, they form a fundamental element of the Scottish voluntary sector and all areas of society benefit from their selfless contribution.

However, that contribution is about much more than volunteering. For example, our systems of care provision would not be able to cope without the unstinting dedication and commitment of older people caring for their loved ones. Grandparents play a major role in caring for children, helping parents to go out to work and providing a loving and rewarding environment for children. We want to encourage and support such unpaid, selfless contributions.

However, older people are also consumers. Notwithstanding recent significant reductions in the figures, problems of pensioner poverty continue. That said, many pensioners have significant disposable income and are making clear consumer choices about how they spend their money. One of the benefits of an aging population is the growing importance of what is sometimes called the silver economy.

Our strategy consultation document is deliberately entitled "Age and Experience" in recognition of the fact that one benefit of an aging population is the breadth and length of older people's life experiences. That experience can benefit our nation—helping older entrepreneurs to achieve success; benefiting employers who seek to recruit and retain older workers; and benefiting all generations as skills are passed down to younger people. However, we must ensure that we remove the barriers to benefiting from that experience; we must combat discrimination and promote equality of opportunity and outcomes. In the strategy, we will consider carefully the barriers that people face when they try to make a contribution.

Some of those barriers are structural. For example, people may not be able to work because they are caring for older relatives or perhaps because they do not have the skills that employers require. Other barriers are social. As we know, there is still an attitude that consigns older people to the scrap heap. We have all seen the advertisements that ask for "young, energetic individuals". I am thankful that the forthcoming age discrimination legislation means that those ads will soon be a thing of the past—but attitudes are another matter. We have a responsibility to promote equality of opportunity, and that applies to age as well.

Unfortunately, agist attitudes do not exist only in the workplace. We could all name industries that focus entirely on youth markets, and I have already mentioned negative stereotypes of older people. Our strategy will set out how some of the barriers can be removed by challenging agism and age discrimination and by addressing structural and social barriers. We will consider how we can support older people to make a continuing contribution to society. We might do that by supporting intergenerational activity or volunteering, or simply by acknowledging the unofficial contribution that people make through their involvement in their own families and communities.

Through our consultation, we are seeking the views of individuals and communities on what practical support people need and on what we can do to help. Work is part of that, of course—but only for those who want it. As the motion says, we must support older people to contribute

"in ways which they choose".

If one side of our radical approach is breaking down stereotypes and valuing and supporting the contribution of older people, the other is ensuring that they receive the services that they need when they need them. That is why the second key theme of our strategy is integrated services.

This Government has put a great deal of effort into integrating services—paving the way for pooled or aligned budgets and encouraging, for example, the establishment of joint health and social care services. There are many excellent examples, such as the West Lothian health and care partnership, which was so successful that it led to West Lothian Council winning LGC Local Government Chronicle's United Kingdom council of the year award last week. I congratulate the council on that award, and I am very fortunate in having David Kelly, the man who heads the partnership, on my advisory group for the development of this strategy.

More generally, our work on joint future has led to a situation in which joint working is the norm for local partnerships in health and community care. That is a major step forwards for the provision of locally responsive services for older people.

However, some difficulties are more entrenched. When older people need services, the journey they have to go on is long, hard and strewn with obstacles. First, they need to find out about services—but where do they turn? Where do they go? How can they get the trusted information that they need? By funding the Scottish helpline for older people, the Scottish Executive has made a significant commitment to providing a source of impartial professional information for older people. Funding has been awarded for the next three years, enabling the helpline service and the consortium behind it to develop and grow—in particular, to develop local networks of advice and information services.

However, information is not enough. Trying to arrange the services needed and to sort out the complexities of who pays for what, and who provides what, can be daunting for the best among us, let alone for someone who is at a vulnerable point in their lives. We need to rise to the challenge of simplifying the route to the services that people need, while also allowing choice in the services that people want. As the next generation of older people age—a generation weaned on consumerism and choice—people will become more demanding of the services that they need. We must ensure that services are appropriate and accessible and that they are available where and when they are needed. That is the challenge for the strategy—to ensure that, now and in future, services are able to respond appropriately to the needs and demands of older people.

The "21st Century Social Work Review" has taken major steps forwards in addressing some of the challenges facing social work, and "Delivering for Health" has done the same for health services. Our strategy will be based firmly on the excellent work already done; it will aim to bring together budgets to create seamless and personalised services that meet individual needs.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative

I am listening carefully to what the minister is saying about integrated services and seamless care. Will he explain why we still have 1,488 delayed discharge patients who cannot be cared for in the community?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

As Mary Scanlon knows, tremendous progress has been made on that matter, although more needs to be done and will be done.

Integration will increasingly be the theme of inspection arrangements. This week, I was pleased to give approval to the first ever joint inspection of older people's services, which will be led by the Social Work Inspection Agency.

Another key theme of the strategy is promoting and maintaining health and well-being. Perhaps one of the most feared and publicised consequences of an aging population is the possible increased burden on health services. However, longer life expectancy will not automatically result in a proportionate increase in demand on health services. The greatest demands for health services tend to come in the final years of a person's life, regardless of what age they happen to be. Health improvement does not stop at 50. Increasingly, people can have more years of healthy life. Many excellent initiatives exist. Simply going out for a walk improves physical and mental health and gives people the opportunity to get social engagement, fresh air and exercise. We therefore support the paths to health initiative, which uses older volunteers to support walking among older people. I was pleased to meet people who are involved in that project a few weeks ago.

Mental health and well-being are important factors. Mental well-being can improve quality of life and is an integral part of healthy aging. We have established the national programme for mental health and well-being, which has later life as one of its themes. The programme supports local practical projects that support the mental health and well-being of older people. We want to know about the key initiatives that make a real difference to people's health and well-being. That is why the strategy consultation asks about the most important aspects for good health and well-being in later life and what can be done to support them.

In our ever more dispersed society, transport is critical to allow people to stay involved. As our dependence on cars grows, those who are dependent on public transport can find themselves excluded. Free local bus travel for older people has made a huge difference to people's quality of life, as it enables them to get out and about and engage more fully with society. The extension of the scheme to national travel, which will happen in the near future, will bring wider benefits, as it will enable older people to travel, thus further improving their quality of life and connecting communities throughout the country. The strategy will consider how transport systems need to adapt to an aging population and how the design of housing and communities can meet the needs of older people, which is another key theme.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

The minister will be aware that, although the national travel scheme is welcomed by all members, many people who live in rural communities will find it difficult to use their free national travel pass, because there are no buses or no low-rise buses. Will that be addressed in the strategy?

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour

The Minister for Transport and Telecommunications is addressing that issue. There is clearly more work to do, but we should all welcome and acknowledge the big advance in opportunities for older people that the national travel scheme will bring.

We want to support people to stay at home in accommodation and an environment that meet their needs as they get older. Meeting that objective is partly about designing wider services and partly about housing design and new technology that enables people to stay in their homes.

The aging population poses fundamental questions about Scotland's future. The issue impacts on all aspects of life, from health and social care services to employment practice. It is an issue for older and younger people. Because of that, we are undertaking a major public consultation exercise to ask public and professional audiences what they think. The questions are complex ones with no easy answers and we want to hear from as many people as possible. I look forward to hearing from members today and I hope that their constituents will contribute too, either through the consultation paper or through the website——that we have set up, which gives people the opportunity to make an online submission. We are holding a series of focus groups to find out the views of different age cohorts, to get rural and urban perspectives and to get perspectives from different equality groups.

The aging of the population is to be welcomed, not feared. It is testament to improvements in public health, longer life expectancy and our nation's growing prosperity. The issue presents us with challenges, which we ignore at our peril, but also great opportunities. We can reap the benefits of foresight and build a better Scotland for today's generation of older people and for everyone as we grow older.

I move,

That the Parliament acknowledges the changing age structure of Scotland's population and the benefits and opportunities it brings; values the enormous contribution of older people as volunteers, carers, workers and in many other ways; recognises the need to challenge stereotypes of older people and support them to contribute in ways which they choose; supports the further development of effective integrated services for older people, and welcomes the consultation and ongoing work currently being carried out to develop a Strategy for a Scotland with an Ageing Population.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party 3:10 pm, 23rd March 2006

As convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and aging, and as the age reporter to the Equal Opportunities Committee, I have always taken a keen interest in issues relating to aging. [ Interruption. ]

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

Ms White, the sedentary interruption was to the effect that Mr McNeil could not hear you. Perhaps you could speak a little more loudly.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

That was nice of Duncan McNeil—normally he does not hear me or, if he does, he does not listen. I will do my best, Presiding Officer, although I hope that I will not lose any time because of the interruption.

The National Assembly for Wales launched a strategy on aging in 2003, and I have always said to the minister and others that Scotland should have a strategy. I am glad that we are now to have one. The strategy in Wales has been fully costed at £10 million for three years, and that sum has been committed by the Welsh Assembly. I hope that the Parliament, through scrutinising the minister and his work, ensures that any strategy is fully costed to enable it to work so that the findings of the consultation can be turned into reality.

The minister has outlined the aims and objectives of the strategy. I support those aims and objectives, but as I have said to the minister on previous occasions, some issues concern me. For example, I wonder whether the 12-week consultation period is adequate. Will groups and individuals be able to respond within that period? Will the 12-week period for the collation of information be sufficient to bring about the launch of the strategy in December? Will there be a national advertising campaign to alert groups and individuals to the consultation so that they can get hold of the forms and send them in? It is imperative that we get the strategy right at the start.

My colleagues will focus on a number of the areas referred to in the Scottish National Party's amendment, but I wish to mention some of them briefly. First, food preparation under free personal care has become a postcode lottery. That problem must be resolved. The Executive said that it would issue revised guidance to local authorities but I believe that that has not yet happened. I would like a response from the minister on that. Secondly, care homes are closing almost weekly and older people have nowhere to go. There is a lack of secure tenancies for people in care homes, which leaves older people vulnerable. That issue should be covered in the strategy. I know that the issue is complex, and not just from a financial point of view, as we must also consider the suitability of buildings.

Some exciting developments are happening, and I hope that the strategy will tap into developments in the Parliament, such as Scotland's futures forum. The forum, which is based in the Parliament, was set up to promote new and fresh thinking and is embarking on a project on age issues. I look forward to seeing its report. Members of the forum are going to an international conference in Copenhagen in June, and then the forum will host a conference in 24 November in the Parliament, at which it will launch the results of its work. I hope that that will be possible to feed that work into the Executive's strategy. We should congratulate the forum on its ingenuity.

I have an article here entitled "Lords condemns government attitude to ageing". Obviously, that is a reference to the Westminster Government's attitude to aging, as the Scottish Parliament is at the forefront on aging. Perhaps Westminster can learn something from us—we will lead rather than follow. The Lords said that the Westminster Government seems to consider an aging population a burden, not an opportunity. I believe that an aging population represents an opportunity.

That brings me to pensions. The SNP amendment says that moneys and autonomy should be handed over to the Scottish Parliament. Other countries have had innovative ideas. In Switzerland, for instance, people can work up to five years beyond the statutory retirement age to increase their state pension—all facilitated by the Swiss Government. We have to consider such ideas. At this week's meeting of the Equal Opportunities Committee, the minister said that if we do not have the powers to implement in Scotland ideas that emerge from the consultation, they will be fed back to Westminster.

Other good, innovative ideas are being implemented in other countries. For example, we should consider ideas such as reducing hours at work with no financial penalty, job sharing or shortening the working week five years prior to retirement and using the pension fund—if one is still available—to top up salary levels.

In Scotland, we are good at freeing up employees to undertake voluntary work without loss of pay in the pre-retirement period. We have been doing that for many years, and as we have just launched a national strategy for older volunteers, we should give more thought to that area. Older people want to volunteer but they do not want to be penalised by having to give up their work. We should feed that suggestion into Westminster if we do not have the powers to act on it in the Scottish Parliament.

Growing older should not be thought of as a burden or anything negative; basically, it should be celebrated. The older people whom I have met celebrate their old age; they go back to education and, if they want to work, they should be allowed to. I sincerely hope that the evidence that we get from the consultation proves that, although older people have concerns, they are not all about care and health but about the fact that they want to contribute to Scottish society. It is up to us to enable them to do that.

I move amendment S2M-4164.1, to leave out from "and welcomes" to end and insert:

"notes, however, the injustice of charging for food preparation under the free personal care legislation, ageism, fuel poverty and associated excess winter deaths, the punitive council tax and the discredited basic state pension, all of which deprive our elderly population of independence, security and choice, and recognises that until Scotland has power over tax and benefits many of Scotland's pensioners will continue to live in poverty."

Photo of Nanette Milne Nanette Milne Conservative 3:16 pm, 23rd March 2006

My parents, who were nearly 40 when I was born, brought me up on the maxim that age is an attitude of mind, which is quite relevant to the debate. I am sure that all members know people who are old at 40 and others who are young at 80 largely because of attitude of mind, although other factors—such as health and living conditions—inevitably play a part.

I get irritated when I see the word "elderly" in newspaper articles routinely being attached to people who are in their 50s and 60s. I have many contemporaries who hold down responsible jobs, care for older relatives or young grandchildren and do myriad voluntary activities, such as delivering meals on wheels, staffing citizens advice bureaux and carers centres or going abroad to underdeveloped countries to provide vision or other aid. Some do university degrees and others enthusiastically pursue outdoor activities such as hill walking, sailing and golf—I am proud that I qualify for my half-price senior ski pass when I visit the Alps.

People in my age group and older have a lot to offer, but there are increasing numbers of us and, as we get older, more of us will develop chronic health problems such as high blood pressure, arthritis or macular degeneration. We are likely to live independently for far longer than previous generations and, by the time we need care, we will be very frail indeed in body and/or mind. There is a need to plan ahead for that increase in the elderly population and to change the nation's mindset from one that regards older age as a burden on society to one that recognises and seizes the contribution that older people can make. We are all individuals and we have to be treated as such, not lumped together as older people, pensioners, senior citizens or whatever else others may care to describe us as.

At the previous meeting of the cross-party group on age and aging, I listened to Jess Barrow, who is on secondment from Age Concern Scotland to the Executive to work on the strategy for an aging Scotland. She is putting huge effort into reaching as many older people throughout Scotland as possible and listening to their wide-ranging viewpoints. I hope that she will heed what they say. A successful strategy will result in older people becoming part of the mainstream of society and participating actively at all levels. I hope that the strategy will be effective and practical, not just another glossy publication that is produced in a blaze of glory and left to gather dust on a shelf. To be frank, we are too driven by strategies and targets but, if the strategy leads to more respect for older people, the removal of barriers to their participation in society and better-integrated services for them, it will be a good thing.

Not everyone, I am sad to say, is fit in older age. I will say a little about the many people who develop a communication disability as a result of illnesses that hit them in later life and who need support services, which currently are inadequate—particularly those that are based in the community. In Scotland, 10,000 people a year suffer strokes, and 5,000 of them are left with impaired communication—including 1,000 who will have lifelong communication support needs—while there is virtually no communication support for the 60,000 people who have dementia. Many others have progressive neurological conditions such as Parkinson's disease, which add to the challenges of the normal aging process. Those are current figures, but they will rise as the population ages and as medical improvements lead to higher survival rates among people with chronic conditions.

The new strategy needs to contain the key objective of developing a strong, sustainable communication infrastructure for older people with communication support needs. That infrastructure should include speech and language therapy and communication-accessible leisure and transport. To assess what is needed, it would be extremely useful if today's older people with impaired communication could be involved as a group in the current consultation process. Untold benefits to the quality of life of such people in the future could be delivered if their opinions could inform the strategy. I am pleased that, together with the communication impairment action group, the Minister for Health and Community Care has initiated research in that area. I look forward to the results of that research in due course.

There are some issues relating to care packages for the elderly that need attention urgently. Councils that charge older people who have been assessed as requiring free personal care for the preparation of food are going against the intention of the law that that should form part of free personal care. We have been assured by the First Minister that the people concerned have a right to free personal care as soon as they are assessed, so councils must be stopped from charging for that. A delay in carrying out needs assessments before providing the appropriate care package as a result of insufficient funding is common in councils across Scotland. That needs to be addressed, perhaps by moving to one unified budget to deliver seamless, effective and appropriate delivery of health care.

Fuel poverty, pensions, council tax and transport: there are far too many issues to deal with in a short speech, but they all have a huge impact on the lives of older people, and they all need to be addressed. The challenges before us are great, but I hope that the strategy, when it is developed, will go some way towards enabling people in Scotland to grow old both happy and fulfilled.

Photo of Donald Gorrie Donald Gorrie Liberal Democrat 3:22 pm, 23rd March 2006

I speak with more confidence than usual in this debate, because its whole tenor comes from the fact that older members, like me, have great wisdom and experience to spread among the others, who should listen with great care and attention and who should value our efforts. I look forward to my efforts being valued more than they might be sometimes.

In order to sustain many of the good things that help older people to sustain themselves and to help other people, we need a more consistent funding system than the present one. Many organisations need very little money, but they need some. As long as the Executive goes only for shiny, new initiatives, rather than keeping the tried and tested ones going, it will struggle. The minister should pay more attention to directing small sums of money to the many organisations that would benefit from it.

Members have been right to mention the caring industry, which is largely sustained by older people, often looking after even older people. There is a lot of scope for carers and for supporting people who, although they do not need a carer, are lonely and need a bit of support. One-to-one interaction and social interaction in groups are both important. There was a reception in the Parliament the other evening for an organisation that, with a few paid staff, supports volunteers in explaining to older people how to manage their heating better, for example. That sort of thing is admirable. It involves like speaking to like—it is not a case of some young whippersnapper telling an older person what to do, which can often cause problems; it is an older person talking to another older person and giving them good advice.

We have often debated issues concerning grandparents. In my view, they still get a raw deal, and they are not sufficiently helped to make a contribution to looking after their grandchildren in cases when the immediate family is breaking up.

Older people can do many things in education. I know of examples of older people going to primary schools and helping pupils with their reading on a one-to-one basis. Through oral history, older people can make a great contribution to young people's understanding of the past. In reverse, young people can benefit from going to sheltered housing or old people's homes. There is often a good reaction between the older and the younger generations when we leave out the middle. In many ways, we can make better use of older people's talents and make them happier. The person who gives heating advice, for example, benefits from doing that by feeling that they are contributing something useful, and the person to whom they speak has company and good advice.

Another matter that I will discuss is leaving work gradually. It is insane that, in most ways of life in western industrial civilisation—if that is the right word—on Friday, John Smith still works X hours a week flat out, but on Monday, he does absolutely nothing and people expect him to accept that. That is a foolish way to organise matters. We should allow people to leave work gradually if they want to. We could smooth their path if we dealt more sensibly with pension and tax issues. Some of that is reserved, but I am sure that, with a bit of ingenuity, we could help people by supporting companies or charging companies less tax if they treat their employees intelligently and allow them gradually to ease off.

Some people want to continue to work, but not flat out. I have met many teachers who are in promoted positions for whom the whole thing is getting to be too much and who want to give up their posts. However, they would still quite like to teach in the classroom. Such people—especially if they are experts in a subject that is in demand—could be used no longer as a head teacher or the head of a department but as an ordinary class teacher, even if that were for only three or four days a week. They could make a real contribution, which would help them to feel that they were contributing and would make for a more worthwhile life. Within our abilities, we could do a lot of things. However, we should also kick the guys down at Westminster and Whitehall. They must sort out pensions and benefits, which are a total disaster. That is not a party-political issue, but a managerial issue. The whole system is a disaster and we must get it sorted out.

Photo of Karen Whitefield Karen Whitefield Labour 3:27 pm, 23rd March 2006

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate and I welcome the steps that the Executive is taking to develop a strategy for an aging population. All the statistics that have been issued for the debate highlight the change that is taking place in our population. It is clear that we have an aging population. It is predicted that, in the next 20 years, 42 per cent of Scotland's population will be aged 50 or over.

It is not just the number of older people that is changing; it is inevitable that attitudes will change, too. I look forward to the next few years in which the baby boomers will be replaced by pensioner punks—the people for whom "Elvis" means Costello rather than Presley and who are more familiar with Sid Vicious's rendition of "My Way" than Frank Sinatra's.

However, I am sure that one thing will remain constant in the face of all that change—the important role that older people play in our communities. Anyone who has any experience of the voluntary sector will know that older people form the mainstay of most of our local community and voluntary groups. From church groups to food co-operatives and from credit unions to tenants associations, such organisations could not survive without the hard work and commitment of older people. That is not just because older people often have more free time, but because older people bring with them a wealth of life experiences in matters such as planning, fundraising, managing budgets and dealing with the public. As Emily Dickinson said:

"We turn not older with years, but newer every day."

Any strategy for supporting older people must recognise the value of such work and tackle the barriers that older volunteers face. For example, the strategy could aim to ensure that older people have improved opportunities for education and training and improved access to public transport.

Much has already been done for older people through Executive initiatives such as the warm deal and the central heating programme, which have provided real improvements to the quality of life that is enjoyed by senior citizens throughout Scotland. Having visited many constituents whose homes have been insulated thanks to the warm deal, I know how pleased people were to benefit not only from warmer homes, but significantly reduced fuel bills.

I am pleased that the minister announced last week that the Executive will extend the warm deal and the central heating programme beyond 2006. From 1 January 2007, the central heating programme will be widened so that pensioners in receipt of the guarantee element of pension credit will get an upgrade if they have a central heating system that is partial or inefficient.

However, more can and should be done. I have some sympathy with the call from Help the Aged for the Executive to establish energy efficiency targets under the Housing Act 2006 provisions on the development of a strategy for improving energy efficiency. It is important that we upgrade central heating systems for older people, but we must also ensure that new housing is built to a standard that both keeps people warm and helps to reduce fuel consumption and energy bills.

I also welcome the range of measures that have been introduced to enable older people to remain within their own homes for as long as possible. That is undoubtedly the preferred option for most older people. Not only do people feel more comfortable and at ease within their own home, they also retain the important links to the community in which they live.

The Executive's strategy, which is to be published soon, must also try to tackle any and all forms of age discrimination. I welcome the minister's comments on the issue. Excluding people from work on the ground of their age is not only discriminatory, but detrimental to our economy. We cannot, and must not, lose the valuable skills and experience that older people can bring to many jobs. Although legislating for such a change could be difficult, the Executive must do more to improve how the public and business perceive older people and to highlight the many benefits of employing older, more experienced people.

In conclusion, I welcome the Executive's continued commitment to improving the lives of older people in Scotland. I also welcome the approach whereby older people are viewed as a valuable resource for our society rather than a burden. The Parliament can be proud of the services that it has provided for older people, such as free personal care, the central heating programme, the warm deal and free off-peak bus travel. All those initiatives are improving the lives of older people.

I urge the Executive to continue that good work and to ensure that the strategy sets out clear and measurable steps to improve the lives of all older people in Scotland.

Photo of Roseanna Cunningham Roseanna Cunningham Scottish National Party 3:33 pm, 23rd March 2006

During Wednesday's time for reflection, the Rev Martin Johnstone pointed out that 87 per cent of the media's coverage of young people was negative, but the same might be said about their coverage of older people. That possibly says more about our media than about either young people or older people. The coverage of older people always relates to issues such as pension black holes, bedblocking, resources and how older people place a burden on health provision, yet when we hear of a death—such as Margaret's—our immediate reaction is, "So young?" I digress briefly, but I believe that it is appropriate to pay tribute to Margaret Ewing in this debate for her work over many years in raising awareness of fuel poverty and of its impact on older people in particular. The prism through which older people are viewed is particularly negative, but that perception must change.

When I asked my assistant to pull together for me information about innovative ideas for living among older people, her default response was to hand me a lot of stuff about residential care, as if that is what it is going to be all about the minute we hit 60. We have only to look around us in the Parliament to know that that cannot be so.

I was hoping to be told that I was too young to take part in the debate, but the truth of the matter is that age does not mean what it used to, which is a matter for rejoicing instead of doom and gloom. I spoke to a lady in my constituency two years ago who, having retired, went to art college, won awards for her work, went on to win a Churchill fellowship, spent nine months studying embroidery in Japan, came back and set up an exhibition in Perth gallery. She began a new career post retirement that came completely out of the blue. We can all point to such individuals.

That is not to say that there are not issues that need to be dealt with. The short consultation document touches on a number of important areas that need to be addressed. However, I am not taking the gloom and doom route this afternoon. I acknowledge that there are challenges and difficulties: the Health Committee care inquiry is considering personal care for the elderly, so I could hardly be in ignorance of them.

We should be particularly concerned to ensure that people are not pointlessly prevented from contributing across the board in all areas of life because of something as trivial as the date on their birth certificate. That will involve tackling prejudices in wider society. It will also mean acknowledging that if someone is over 50 or 60 that does not put them into a homogenised group that can be dealt with as if everybody over a certain age had the same needs and priorities. There is an ocean of difference between 60 and 90. It is the same difference as between 30 and 60 and we would not dream of putting 30-year-olds and 60-year-olds into the same age bracket. We need to find a way to acknowledge and embed such diversity into any strategy. In the modern world—Karen Whitefield touched on this—the 60-year-old will have more in common with the 40-year-old than with the 90-year-old. That is just the way our life is now.

We should all come clean on this. Until only about 50 years ago, older people would never have been questioned in society; they got respect automatically. We all point to the age that Churchill was when he became Prime Minister. There was never a question about his age. I cannot help thinking that the social change that swept away all that respect happened to coincide with the very baby boom generation—us—that now faces old age. Curiously, we demand from others that which we often denied our own parents and grandparents. That is a salutary lesson for us all.

My constituency has a higher than average age profile and it is getting older—that includes me. There are lots of local initiatives, as there are in many other parts of Scotland, most of which are aimed at involving older people themselves in the development of a strategy. That is all to be welcomed. I commend Scotland's Futures Forum for the work that it is undertaking.

It is important to go beyond the ideas that are contained in the consultation and the forum's work. Once I had disabused my assistant of the likelihood that everyone who hits 60 is in imminent need of a walking stick and residential care, I had to explain that I was really looking for examples from throughout the world of where older people have created for themselves new ways of living, which I think that we should consider.

I will take a minute or two to talk about co-housing, which is an interesting innovation. The idea was born in Denmark—I have to make a political point and say that that is a small country, which is a full member of the European Union and is independent. Groups of people in Denmark who were dissatisfied with existing housing and communities began to band together to plan their own communities that were more environmentally friendly and sustainable. Each co-housing community was planned in its context and was flexible to the needs and values of its residents and the characteristics of the site. The housing varied from flats to clustered detached houses. Some communities were multi-generational and involved older people in the care of children, which allowed them to remain connected socially—which is often not the case in our communities.

Inappropriate housing can leave older people feeling isolated and almost like prisoners in their own home. Co-housing, done well, can prevent older people from becoming cut off and help deal with crime, poverty, joblessness and lack of educational opportunity. That sort of community will meet older people's needs for housing that is easier to maintain, provides more security and contact with neighbours and offers common activities and mutual help without suggesting that elderly people have been put out to pasture.

The idea is imaginative, innovative and is the kind of initiative that we need to import. As we face up to the requirement of providing for older people, we should challenge perceptions, including an individual's assumptions about what they are capable of, and we should offer real lifestyle choices while recognising that, as they get into their later years, older people increasingly need—and deserve—help and assistance.

I hope that, when we debate a strategy in the longer term, the innovative practices from other parts of the world will be judged to be capable of being brought into Scotland and that, instead of older people feeling that they have a long, dark tunnel in front of them, they can begin to see that they have real choices and that their lives can change, even when they are older.

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green 3:41 pm, 23rd March 2006

The minister described Scotland's aging population as one of the greatest changes that has ever been seen in Scotland. We all agree that the Executive is entirely right to address this issue.

I have been struck by the difference in tone between this debate and last week's on the fresh talent initiative, which also touched on the aging population—although, in that debate, it was more often described as the falling working age population—which was seen as a challenge for our economy. Today, however, the consequences are being talked of much more in terms of opportunities and benefits. To be honest, neither analysis has a monopoly on truth. Both interpretations have something to offer the debate.

The Executive's consultation reflects the fact that the issues that affect older people cover the full range and that older people are not a simplistic stereotype any more than are any of the other groups that we refer to in relation to equality strands.

The minister mentioned recent equality legislation, which includes the Westminster Equality Act 2006, under which the commission for equality and human rights—which will enforce provisions against age discrimination—will be set up. There is also legislation that gives us our devolved responsibility to promote equal opportunities. Those are important changes that will impact on many of the aspects of life that are distinctive for older people.

On work, Donald Gorrie was right when he talked about flexibility. After all, politicians make flexible provision for themselves in their retirement. When Westminster politicians graduate out of the Commons after many years and the constituency burden is lifted from their shoulders, they are still able to contribute from another chamber. Why should we not give that kind of flexibility to people in many different walks of life and jobs and enable them to continue to contribute at a level that is appropriate for them? Most people want to work in some way or other. That is reflected in the high level of volunteering among older people.

The diverse range of housing needs that people have must be recognised. Although some want to stay in the home that they have lived in for many years, Roseanna Cunningham is right to recognise the benefits of co-housing. She has already dealt with that issue, so I will not go into it in great detail. However, I will say that many people want to share their housing socially with other people.

We have said that older people are not a simplistic stereotype. That means that the services that we deliver have to reflect the diversity of older people. As Scotland's population ages, those services will encounter a far greater level of diversity in cultural and religious terms as our new Scots, welcome as they are, age and begin to need to take up those services.

Sexual diversity is another part of the changing picture. Services for older people—particularly residential services—are quite used to seeing people who, sadly, start to experience dementia. Those people might have lived in the closet all their lives. Perhaps they were brought up at a time when being sexually different meant imprisonment or what today we would call psychological torture. Even though that is no longer the case, they live with those attitudes because they were ingrained at the time. If they are no longer able to maintain the pretence of living in the closet, which their families are used to, the already distressing experience of dementia can be all the more shocking for their families to encounter.

However, that situation will diminish and, instead, services for older people will encounter more people who are out and who have been living with a same-sex partner for many years. By then, we might even say that they have been married for many years. Services will need to adapt and be willing to challenge the prejudice that exists in residential settings.

I want to comment on the structure of communities. I know that I am running short of time. I think that we are on six-minute speeches. Is that correct, Presiding Officer?

Photo of Patrick Harvie Patrick Harvie Green

Although free local travel is an excellent, valuable development, it is not a substitute for local services in either the private or public sectors. Having a travel card is no compensation for the loss of post offices and local shops. Free travel is a great thing in itself, but it does not compensate for the changing structure of communities.

Members get a lot of complaints about antisocial behaviour. The Executive was right to address it, but I end by reflecting on an experience that the Communities Committee had during the pre-legislative inquiry on antisocial behaviour. We visited an older people's project and heard many stories. The residents told us that antisocial behaviour is an extreme problem that has a big impact on their lives, but we then heard half an hour of anecdotes about how they had all got up to far worse in their day. The picture is not as simple as it appears to be.

We will support the Executive's motion but I also want to support the SNP's amendment in recognition of the fact that, despite the consequences of Government choices both here and at Westminster, we still have a great deal to do to address the poverty that far too many people experience in Scotland today.

Photo of Irene Oldfather Irene Oldfather Labour 3:47 pm, 23rd March 2006

A great deal of progress has been made in enabling our elderly people to live with dignity in retirement. Other members have spoken and will speak about the opportunities that retirement should afford elderly people to engage with and make a contribution to our society. In my speech, I will focus on the frail elderly and, in particular, on those who deal with the challenge of dementia.

We have come a long way—in particular, I mention the introduction of free companion bus passes, which has removed an inequality from the system—but we are still looking to develop future strategies and I want to mention a few areas in which more progress is needed. Because we are talking about a joined-up strategy for the elderly, I raise the issue of keeping old people with dementia out of care and in their own homes for as long as possible. We provide practical support and assistance directly through care in the community, but I ask the minister to consider the recent guidance on drug therapies for people with Alzheimer's.

The minister might be aware that the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, with input from NHS Quality Improvement Scotland, is reviewing the guidance on the prescribing of drug therapies. There is no cure for Alzheimer's. The most recent guidance from NICE suggests that drug therapies should be restricted to those with moderate dementia and should not be made available to those with mild dementia. There are many reasons why that is inappropriate. We could spend the whole debate arguing about whether it is appropriate to use the mini-mental state examination as a definitive test to determine whether people will benefit. We could talk about the savings that could be made by keeping old people out of residential care and in their own homes using relatively cheap drug therapies.

We could argue about whether sufficient cognisance is given to improved quality of life for sufferers, their carers and their families. We could point out that the present NICE recommendation is inconsistent with the good practice for managing dementia that was outlined just last month by the Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network. However, the overwhelming argument is that it is cruel and inhumane to deny those drugs to people with mild Alzheimer's. It is cruel because it means that, when someone is diagnosed—and we are calling for early diagnosis—they will have to be told to wait until they have deteriorated to a certain level before they can be helped with drug therapy. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is opposed to that, as are Alzheimer Scotland and carer groups, and I hope that there will be cross-party support in Parliament today to say that we are opposed to it.

I ask the minister, in summing up, to lend his support and weight to ensuring that the Scottish Executive input to NICE and to NHS Quality Improvement Scotland is unequivocal in calling for all sufferers, including those with mild Alzheimer's, to have the opportunity to try out the drugs and to see whether they benefit.

I ask that any strategy for the elderly should consider how people with advanced dementia can be managed in the acute sector when temporary hospitalisation is necessary. I would like all health boards to be required to put in place a plan for how people with dementia will be managed from the moment that they come into hospital, whether that happens through accident and emergency or through planned admission. If people have been assessed by social work as requiring 24-hour care, we need to ascertain how social work can work jointly with health boards and the health service to ensure that people with dementia are not placed at risk in a hospital environment during any time when a clinical condition has to be managed.

People with dementia become easily stressed and disoriented by unfamiliar environments and new faces, and a strategy to minimise their time in hospital and, if necessary, to ensure that a sitter service is available would enable simple steps to be taken to put better strategies in place so that elderly people can benefit from better joined-up service planning and working. The minister spoke of avoiding consigning older people to the scrap heap, and it strikes me as bizarre that, when an elderly person is admitted to residential care—the point at which they are perhaps at their most vulnerable—they lose access to the services that were previously available in the community. Their social worker withdraws, their consultant physician often withdraws, the care assistants whom they may have seen on a daily basis for years withdraw and, at a time of great change when they need advocates who can speak up for them and who understand their needs, they are literally written off the books. That increases social exclusion, and I ask the minister to consider how the strategy can better bridge the gaps back into their previous independent lives. Residential care is changing and there are examples of good practice, but we need to see elderly people—even those who are in residential care—as an integral part of our communities. The most vulnerable must have advocates who can speak up on their behalf.

The last time that we debated the subject, I spoke about the importance of the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care in regulating standards of care. The information that the care commission gathers about residential care establishments and independent agencies must be made more widely available. Homes that are falling short of the standards must be brought to task. Increasing unannounced inspections, expanding the areas to be examined and providing greater access to information are all areas that merit further exploration in the work of the care commission. Let us not forget that the commission is not there to tiptoe around and to be nice. It is there to ensure that minimum standards are adhered to and that the highest standards are encouraged. If that means naming and shaming to protect old people, so be it.

Today's debate affords us an important opportunity to speak up for those who are not able to speak up for themselves. The people whom I have spoken about will not be standing outside with placards to lobby us. They are a silent majority. They are sitting quietly at home, or in nursing homes, looking out of their windows and watching television. Nonetheless, this is their Parliament and we represent their interests. Let us do so well. If we do not speak up for them, who will? I support the motion.

Photo of Murray Tosh Murray Tosh Conservative

I do not know whether anyone from facilities management is monitoring the debate, but if they are it would be helpful if the temperature in the room could be lowered from some remote command centre.

Photo of Mary Scanlon Mary Scanlon Conservative 3:55 pm, 23rd March 2006

I will focus on three of the aims that I picked up from the consultation document, "Age and Experience: Consultation on the Strategy for a Scotland with an Ageing Population". I commend Irene Oldfather for her speech and for the short-life working group on dementia. I commend the work that she is doing as a member of that group and the progress that she is making.

The first of the three aims is

"Effective integrated services for older people", which the minister has mentioned quite often. The second is

"Promoting and maintaining health and wellbeing".

The third is

"People living in accommodation and environments which continue to meet their needs and wishes as they age."

As I said to the minister during his speech, the figure for delayed discharges stands at 1,488. The situation in which people who have been assessed for care in their own homes or in a care home are being left languishing in a hospital, where they face the issues that Irene Oldfather mentioned, does not represent integrated care. A hospital is certainly not an environment that suits the person's assessed needs and their delayed discharge from a hospital does not indicate that there is an integrated service.

Recently I visited Dunoon hospital, where there are nine bedblocked patients who are there through no fault of their own. One of the patients—an elderly gentleman—enjoys smoking his cigarettes outside the hospital. He goes out through a fire door near his room. After Sunday, that gentleman will not be able to smoke there because the health board will not allow smoking in the grounds in addition to not allowing it inside the hospital. He has been assessed to go to a care home or his own home, where he could smoke. Does the minister expect that elderly gentleman, who is in his 80s, to stop smoking because he is, through no fault of his own, a delayed-discharge patient? That is a serious issue that must be considered. I have asked a written question on the matter, so I am sure that I will get an answer in the fullness of time.

Figures indicate that 26 per cent of Scotland's population will be over 65 in 2031, so surely we should encourage people to save for their old age and they should not be penalised for doing so. When people who are self-funding have to pay more for their care than those who are funded, that is hardly an incentive to save. A case was brought to my attention recently of a lady who pays £143 more per week than other residents in a care home because she is self-funding. She receives exactly the same level of care as everyone else. The care commission might want to consider that issue in regulations, because the situation certainly gives people no incentive to save for their old age.

The principle of understanding in the Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002—the minister was on the Health and Community Care Committee with me when we considered the bill—was that there would be one type of integrated care home, which would cater for elderly people's needs as their condition deteriorated and they became frail in old age. Ministers gave us a guarantee that people would stay in one home and that, depending on their condition, nursing care and other care would be brought in so that care in the home would be appropriate for their needs. However, that has not happened. I do not know where the principle went wrong, but it went wrong somewhere between the act, the understanding, the guidance and the care commission regulations.

I have discussed that matter with the care commission and with members who served with me on the Health and Community Care Committee and who share my understanding of the position. Instead of there being integrated care homes to suit elderly people's needs as their condition deteriorates, the choice is between residential homes, nursing homes and a few integrated care homes. The result is that as a resident's condition deteriorates and they need nursing care or a greater level of care than that which a residential home can give, they languish in residential care. Again, if we return to the aim, it is clear that people are not living in accommodation that meets their needs as they age. The minister must look again at that serious issue.

My final point, which has been raised by Age Concern, Help the Aged and several members in the debate, relates to free personal care for assistance with the preparation of food. I understand that 13 councils still charge for that assistance. The Community Care and Health (Scotland) Act 2002 stated clearly that free personal care covered assistance with the preparation of food. Unfortunately, the guidance contradicted the 2002 act. I ask the minister to ensure both that clarity is brought to the issue and that the act that was passed by the Parliament overrules the erroneous guidance. As someone said, there is a postcode lottery because some councils charge while others do not; the Western Isles Council used to charge, but has now paid back the money. The situation is a mess and people simply do not understand it.

The Conservatives welcome the strategy for an aging population. I hope that the minister will take on board the issues that I have raised, because they are crucial for vulnerable, elderly people and the understanding of what they are entitled to.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat 4:02 pm, 23rd March 2006

Scotland's population has been roughly static for many years, but the age profile is changing, which has implications for public services, the private sector, employers, business and the leisure industry. It is sensible therefore to consider the issues at strategic level. The Executive's consultation should stimulate discussion and garner useful suggestions and information with which to develop the strategy.

The minister outlined to the Equal Opportunities Committee earlier this week how the Executive is working to ensure that the consultation is disseminated widely and that it is as inclusive as possible. That work is facilitated by the design of the consultation document and the suggestion that the document can be used as a basis for group discussions. I hope that that suggestion will be taken up. I think that it is a useful mechanism for involving people and doing a bit of blue-skies thinking and brainstorming on the issue. Perhaps we as MSPs could help to facilitate that in our constituencies.

I welcome the positive emphasis of the Executive's motion. As other members have said, the debate on aging and older people is too often coloured by negative stereotypes of older people and old age. If we ask almost anyone to define old age or at what age someone becomes old, I can guarantee that the answer will be five, 10, 20 or 30 years older than the age of the person who is asked. That is why I am pleased that the consultation defines the word "older" as 50 years or older. That will get an awful lot of people thinking of the issues in terms of me and us, rather than in terms of them. That alone should help to dismantle widespread agist attitudes. Ageism is now illegal, but the law is effective only when we win hearts and minds.

Scotland's age profile is changing, but so is the working life profile. I was struck by an observation that was made to me that we are debating whether we can defuse the pension time bomb by raising the retirement age, but in fact a significant proportion of the working population retires far short of the current retirement age. If everyone simply continued to work until 65, that would have the same effect as raising the age of retirement. I am not an expert, but that sounded quite plausible to me. Whether it is the case or not, the point is perhaps not very relevant, because we probably need more flexible arrangements that would allow individuals to choose how long and how hard they work and which would offer them the opportunity of a tapering out of working life. Many people who take early retirement go on to second careers, either paid or voluntary, that may stretch over as many years as their first period of work. There is also a salient point to be made about older people who may not be in employment and paying taxes to help to fund pensions, but who may be making an even more valuable contribution, which could be quantified in cash terms, by bolstering statutory service provision through their voluntary activities.

As Malcolm Chisholm indicated in his speech, the stage in life at which more support is required is likely to be the last few winding-down years. However, as life expectancy lengthens, it is likely that those extra years of life will be healthy and vigorous, rather than necessarily part of a winding-down phase.

Irene Oldfather usefully highlighted the necessity for the strategy to address the needs of those people who cannot speak up for themselves. She made a valuable speech.

Having more older people around will create more demand for things such as better and more flexible public transport, better insulated homes, a wider range of housing provision and more inclusive leisure facilities. As Roseanna Cunningham said, there will be demand for different kinds of communities and ways of providing housing and living together, such as co-housing. That can only be good.

I am looking forward to old age and the heaps of things that I want to do but do not have time to do now. There is a well-known saying, variously attributed, which runs along the lines of "Old age sucks, but it is better than the alternative." The maxim that I prefer is, "I intend to die young, but as late as possible."

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party 4:07 pm, 23rd March 2006

Unlike Nora Radcliffe, I am horrified to learn that I have only nine months left as a young thing and that I will then suddenly become part of a strategy for old age.

Photo of Nora Radcliffe Nora Radcliffe Liberal Democrat

If you cannot be a good example, be a dreadful one.

Photo of Linda Fabiani Linda Fabiani Scottish National Party

That sounds like very good advice.

I will try to get over my horror and astonishment and to make some of the points that I had planned to make. The minister started by talking about an issue that we have been discussing in western societies for a long time—the demographic change that cannot be ignored. There are many more older people in our societies. However, many members have made the point that older people are not a homogeneous group. Just as there are in any other walk of life or age span, there are many variations within the group.

I want to talk about a particular group about which I have spoken many times before—elderly carers, especially elderly parents of children with learning difficulties. There has been much talk about that issue of late, due in large part to the Murray Owen Carers Group in East Kilbride in South Lanarkshire, which has submitted petitions to the Parliament and has been very active in raising awareness through Enable. As a result of its activity, South Lanarkshire Council recently published a report that contains a great deal of information and which the Executive is considering.

There are some items of concern. Although I am quite knowledgeable about this subject, some points in the report really stunned me. We must bear in mind that its findings do not apply only to South Lanarkshire, but are likely to be relevant to the whole of Scotland. The report highlights the exacting nature of caring tasks for elderly parents. Two fifths of their sons and daughters living at home have an additional disability, such as epilepsy, erratic sleeping and dementia. Irene Oldfather talked about dementia in older people, but people with some forms of learning disability are prone to early-onset dementia with which elderly parents whose children still live at home have to deal. More than 42 per cent of family carers are lone parents and of them more than a quarter are over 70 years of age.

The problem is not just their living situation, but the fact that there seems to be disparity in different places—that takes us back to the postcode situation—in achieving assistance and getting information about help and services. That creates a terrible anxiety about the quality of the support that exists.

I have come to be very fond of the people I know who are over 80 and caring for their adult children at home. The report said that for many older family carers in South Lanarkshire, any new services might come too late and that the local authority should work with older carers as a matter of urgency. I found that particularly horrifying. The problem is probably Scotland-wide, and that is disturbing.

What brought the Murray Owen Carers Group to petition the Parliament was the publication of the report "The same as you?" The strategy was very worthy and the people who petitioned the Parliament had no problem with the principles of the report, but they said that despite the worthy attempts to ensure that people with learning difficulties who come from institutional care are properly placed and looked after in communities, those who still live in their family homes are not being provided for to the same extent.

Only one parent in the East Kilbride group of elderly carers of adults with learning difficulties has been able to get rented accommodation for her adult son to move into and that happened only after a crisis situation. That contrasts with the new accommodation that was recently provided for five residents so that they could move out of a hostel and into proper housing. That is not to say that those five residents should not have got that proper housing, but the needs of other groups must be considered, too.

We have spoken about demographic change and the fact that there are now more elderly people, but there has also been demographic change in relation to people with learning difficulties. The University of Lancaster carried out an interesting study on behalf of one of the Whitehall departments, although I cannot remember which one. The report says that there is good reason to believe that as a result of changes in the demographic profile of people with learning disabilities, changes in expectations and the pattern of informal care, the situation will become substantially more pressing over the following two decades.

I know that the Executive has seen and considered that academic study and that there are no plans to commission the same kind of research for Scotland. However, as I said, the South Lanarkshire situation is likely to be spread throughout Scotland and I imagine that the situation in England is similar. I ask the Executive to consider carefully and with compassion the needs of elderly carers of adults with learning difficulties.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour 4:13 pm, 23rd March 2006

I and many other people throughout Scotland welcome the debate. I know from a briefing that I received this week that Help the Aged in particular welcomes the debate and believes that the Executive should be applauded for recognising that Scotland's aging population represents an opportunity, not a crisis, and that much needs to be done if the challenges that demographic changes will bring are to be overcome.

Help the Aged says that the Scottish Executive deserves praise. In turn, as politicians, we too applaud and praise the efforts of so many voluntary organisations that do so much to support older people in our communities. In that respect, I think of 85-year-old Lizzie, who works in the Dr Barnardo's shop in Cowdenbeath and still wants to look after older people. I really admire her attitude.

Many people have joined the campaign for a Scottish strategy for an aging population because they understand that such a move would address obstacles that stand in the way of our capitalising on the opportunities offered by an aging population and ensuring that Scotland's older people benefit from their experience, skills and abilities. Most of the issues that members have raised this afternoon have already been raised by people who have asked us to take account of their concerns; of course, many of those concerns are already being examined. For example, in its first post-legislative inquiry into care in the community, the Health Committee is addressing many issues that have been raised in e-mails. I am sure that, given the points that she made, Mary Scanlon will welcome that.

As colleagues have pointed out, societal attitudes towards older people—who are now from the baby boom generation—and their expectations have changed. There is growing demand for different and more positive attitudes to work in later life. The challenge is to position Scotland so that it benefits from an aging population and to ensure that its services, economy, buildings, infrastructure and image contribute to a Scotland in which old age is no barrier to participation.

All Executive departments need to own and contribute to the strategy. After all, its success will be measured in part by how it addresses matters other than health, social care and transport.

The Scottish Executive is rightly conducting a comprehensive consultation process to identify the differing needs and views of age cohorts, and the relationships between them and policy development. We can no longer think of old age as something that affects only people who are aged from 50 to state pension age or those who are aged 65 and over. I am sure that Linda Fabiani will be glad to hear that, although I should point out that, as they say, 60 is the new 50.

Photo of Helen Eadie Helen Eadie Labour

Indeed. I remember how, when my Polish friend, Krystyna Robinson, reached 50, she said to me, with a glint in her eye, "Here's to the next 50!" In our planning, we must stop lumping older people together and recognise different needs and aspirations. That will mean listening carefully to the widely varying views of all older people across Scotland.

I—and all MSPs—have a key role in shifting people's perception that those in old age are simply end-users of services, instead of people who can contribute to society across a range of activities. We must change the view that older people are a burden on society and ensure that we maximise and recognise their contribution.

One major problem that must be tackled is age discrimination in the provision of goods and services. In that respect, we can be justly proud of our Westminster Government, which will shortly outlaw age discrimination in employment and training. However, although such moves will benefit wider society and the economy, they will do nothing to stop age discrimination in the provision of goods and services. For example, at the moment, insurance companies are within their rights to refuse travel insurance on the basis of age. I know from my postbag that many older people face that very problem, which will become more acute as Scotland's population ages. Although control of that area of legislation is reserved to Westminster, I am sure that the Minister for Communities and the Scottish Executive already acknowledge the problem and will press our colleagues in the Westminster Government to address it urgently.

Donald Gorrie quite rightly pointed out that one creative challenge that we face is to identify ways of working with our Westminster colleagues on such matters. However, the Scottish Executive can counter pensioner poverty through maximising the take-up of benefits. According to UK statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions, up to 42 per cent of pensioners who are eligible do not claim pensioner credit and up to 47 per cent do not claim council tax benefit. Although there are a range of reasons for that, lack of knowledge of the available benefits and eligibility criteria, combined with complicated and confusing application forms, deter many potential applicants who are eligible for and would benefit greatly from those benefits.

I urge the minister to develop teams to go into some of the most deprived communities in Scotland, including some in my constituency. They could work in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions—Donald Gorrie said that we had to be creative—and do door-to-door checks to ensure that the most impoverished people receive the great benefits that are available.

The Labour-led Scottish Executive, the UK Department for Work and Pensions, local government and voluntary organisations meet regularly in the partnership against poverty working group. We are working jointly to encourage older people to claim what they are entitled to. I hope that the working group will achieve its aims.

It is important to remember that women have been disproportionately represented among the poorest pensioners. Many women have not made full national insurance contributions, either because they took time away from employment to raise families, or because, in years past, they paid the small stamp. Increasing the basic state pension will not solve that problem, because only half of women pensioners have a full basic state pension. Furthermore, 60 per cent of the additional expenditure of increasing the basic state pension goes to better-off pensioners, whereas with Labour's earnings-indexed pension credit, 80 per cent of the additional expenditure goes to the poorest pensioners.

I am pleased that the Scottish Executive has taken a holistic approach to fuel poverty. It has introduced the warm deal and free central heating programmes. Indeed, the Executive recently announced the extension of the central heating programme to 2008. The eligibility rules have been widened to include recipients of the guarantee element of the pension credit who have partial or inefficient central heating systems. In addition, there will be a two-year micro-renewables trial to investigate the possibility of adding renewables technology to the scheme in the future.

The free central heating programme and the warm deal on energy efficiency have made great inroads into tackling excess winter deaths and fuel poverty. The programme is the envy of the rest of the UK. It was important that the programme was extended—I know that organisations in my constituency, such as Help the Aged Scotland, are pleased that the Executive has done so much to expand the eligibility criteria.

The strategy depends on resources. I hope that the Scottish Executive will provide adequate funds for the implementation of the strategy once it is launched. The National Assembly for Wales allocated £10 million over three years to ensure that its strategy for older people had a strong base from which to grow. We hope that the Scottish Executive will follow that example.

Finally, I say "Salut!"—a toast, once we reach 50, to the next 50. Here's to 100!

Photo of John Farquhar Munro John Farquhar Munro Liberal Democrat 4:22 pm, 23rd March 2006

Before I start, I should declare an interest: I have reached the age when people are considered old, if not ancient.

Any strategy for an aging population should take into account the elderly people who want to continue to take an active role in the workforce—and there are many. There is a danger that we view the fact that our population is aging in a wholly negative way. Nobody here would take that view, and yet a prevailing view in society is that an aging population is a drain on resources.

I am sure that many members have seen at elections and rallies that pensioners want to get involved in the democratic political process. Some of us pensioners want to remain as members of the Scottish Parliament, and we hope to convince the electorate that the magic age of 70 does not diminish that aspiration. My friend John Swinburne was elected by the growing power of the pensioner vote. I thought that he would be here for today's debate but—and this just shows the spirit of the man—he was playing five-a-side football and cannot be here because he sustained a slight injury. Quite amazing for a man of 75 years of age.

As I said, we have only to look in polling stations or in political parties' campaign headquarters at election time to see that pensioners take an active role in the political process. While there is no doubt but that Scotland needs a strategy to deal with the aging population, I was slightly offended by the classification of older people as those who are over 50. Nobody accepts or believes that. When I was 50, I considered myself to be a boy; I am 70 now and I am not much older. If people are old at 50, what does that mean for John Swinburne, Donald Gorrie and me, as septuagenarians? There might be another term for us, but I do not think that Donald Gorrie considers himself to be old any more than I do.

I broadly agree with the strategy's aims, particularly the importance that is placed on the maintenance of a good health service and suitable living accommodation, which are essential elements of anybody's well-being. The most important way of keeping older people active in the community is to maintain their health for longer. The Scottish Executive strategy of health promotion is starting to be enacted in health centres throughout the country, which is to be welcomed. However, the increasing cost of fuel and therefore household heating could leave many pensioners susceptible to illness or death because of an inability to pay their heating bills. I am sure that members agree that that should not happen in a rich and civilized modern society.

I listened to yesterday's budget announcement and was disappointed that the £200 council tax rebate that was offered to pensioners in last year's budget was shown to be a one-off pre-election bribe. I am not sure why pensioners need support in an election year but not in the year after. The move means that every pensioner household faces a £200 rise in bills this year, in addition to any increases that local councils make.

As I said, suitable accommodation is vital to older people's well-being. I am disappointed to report that, in my area, Highland Council has in the past few years tried to abandon its responsibility to look after older people by selling off its care homes. The council is at present trying to dispose of seven care homes in its area. Members can imagine the trauma and difficulty that that causes for the elderly people who are housed in those establishments. Councils must be given a duty to look after the elderly in their areas and they must be funded to do so. Whenever I raise the issue with Highland Council, it says that the problem is a result of insufficient funds and that it needs more funding for its social work.

As with most issues, the present one ultimately comes round to funding. The Executive's strategy is commendable, but we must ensure that sufficient funds are in place to deliver it.

Photo of David Davidson David Davidson Conservative 4:28 pm, 23rd March 2006

I will not join the queue and declare my age. It has emerged clearly in today's debate that there are a range of issues that the Executive must address, with, I hope, support from all parties, in developing a road to follow—I do not like the term "strategy"—to benefit and increase recognition of older people in the community.

The minister began by talking about barriers, which instantly made me think that he has not concluded his ideas and has not done anything other than acknowledge the problems. However, I welcome that encouraging start. He also talked about access to information, which is the key to all systems. If people do not have information, they need advice.

One or two members talked about advocacy, which is important. We have all had constituency cases in which people do not understand or know about something. Helen Eadie talked about pensions and unclaimed benefits. Someone who is entitlement to something has a right to access it.

We should ensure that those issues are properly addressed.

The minister touched on the key area of transport. Older people, whether they are retired or partially retired, may have something to contribute, may need to interact with others and may wish to take part in recreation and leisure opportunities, but many of them do not have access to transport, whether it is their own transport or the routine bus services. I make a plea to the minister to consider proper funding for the voluntary dial-a-bus and community transport systems for young and old alike. A great chunk of the Scottish population does not live within easy access of a regular bus route. Many people look across three fields at buses going by on the main road and have no way of getting to them. We must get that right.

We had a debate on this subject some years ago and I mentioned that we should introduce annual health MOTs. Age Concern Scotland and others wrote to me about that and I raised it with the minister when he was responsible for health. If the Executive can put money into free eye and dental checks, it ought to be able to put resources in to health MOTs. As other members have said, if we know when a problem is coming and can get it dealt with easily, we will improve the quality of life. We must all aspire to that.

Many of us were at the 50-plus volunteering event last week, which has been referred to. I was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm, activity and energy of the people who attended the event. Such initiatives are a great resource for Scotland and, as the minister hinted, we must do all that we can to ensure that people are able to give back or add to society. If embroidery lessons and so on ends up in a career, good on you. Of course, there is always a tax take on that.

Sandra White mentioned care homes. Mary Scanlon and John Farquhar Munro talked about integrated care homes. Several members, including Roseanna Cunningham and Nanette Milne, talked about mindset and attitude. We tend to dump people in a box: "That is it. You are labelled." That is no way for society to operate, particularly when the benefits that we younger folk enjoy today came out of the efforts of those who went before us. They are entitled to have dignity and respect and to be involved.

Fuel poverty is a major issue. John Farquhar Munro highlighted the poor response from the Chancellor of the Exchequer when he withdrew the £200 rebate. It is a fact of life that the older one is, the more heat one needs. Sandra White mentioned building standards. Many on the Conservative benches have talked about that in the past. We must ensure that we use fuel efficiently and that people are warm. If people are warm and have good ventilation, and if they can get exercise and activity, they will remain in good health.

I was a bit disappointed in the SNP amendment, although the Conservatives agree with much of it. Aging is a fact of life. It is not just about the positive things, such as putting people back in the community and keeping their skills going when industry is short of those skills. Bringing up the constitutional argument was a little misplaced. Patrick Harvie talked about post offices, banking and access to services. The minister cannot necessarily intervene on those issues, but we must have debate with the relevant sectors about them. Although unified budgets have been mentioned a lot, they must be focused and must contain priorities. I hope that in time the minister will be able to develop that.

There were some humorous contributions. Karen Whitefield, for example, referred to the Conservative-introduced warm deal. I congratulate the Executive on developing that. We can share a common interest there.

We must acknowledge the fact that our population is aging. It is becoming more important for us to address that fact, but there are age bands and ability bands within the aging population. It is not a case of older people ticking a box and falling off the shelf. Our economy needs older people to be involved and we cannot afford to lose their skill base. Whether in child care or in family support, they offer a huge service and we must help them to help the rest of us.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party 4:35 pm, 23rd March 2006

Who are the older people about whom we have been talking? I have found out in the debate that we are between 50 and 95, but my afternoon has not been entirely wasted because I lost 10 years thanks to Helen Eadie—that was very kind of her. Are we all the same? Of course we are not. Members need only look at Donald Gorrie, John Farquhar Munro, me and John Swinburne, who borrowed my walking stick earlier this week, to see what we are like. Some of us are not curmudgeonly—I will not point any fingers.

The debate has been wide ranging, so I will not be able to remark on every speech. I will start with some facts, because we cannot sidestep the issues. One pensioner in five in Scotland lives in relative poverty. Excess winter mortality in Scotland is three times greater than in Germany and Sweden, where the weather is much colder. Only 12 per cent of buses and coaches in Scotland have low floors or a powered lift or ramp. For the reasons that Helen Eadie explained, 17.5 per cent of single women are not entitled to the basic state pension. Four out of 10 pensioners who are entitled to claim council tax benefits do not claim it. Those are facts.

Efforts have been made to make older people claim benefits and they have not worked. I hold up—for the last time, I hope—the pension credit forms that pensioners are required to fill it. Given the size of the forms, it is no wonder that they give up trying to get their pension credit. I say to Mr Davidson that the reason for the Scottish National Party amendment is that one cannot walk away from the fact that, until we have a decent basic state pension and control of the benefits system in Scotland, ministers with good will, such as Malcolm Chisholm, have one hand tied behind their backs; they have limited resources and are often firefighting.

I applaud the contribution of elderly carers, as Donald Gorrie did. It is important because there is benefit not only to the person who is being cared for but to the carer. One-to-one interaction is good; it lifts people out of isolation and sometimes gives them something literally to get out of bed for. Linda Fabiani made a heartfelt speech about the support that elderly carers need. Members should remember that we now have two generations of pensioners—as I have said before, I am collecting my pension and my dad is collecting his at 91—so generations of pensioners are looking after each other.

We must remove age-related barriers. Let us start with the press, who insist on putting a person's age in brackets after their name. They do that particularly with women—I mean nothing personal to you, Deputy Presiding Officer—and it is absolutely irrelevant.

I thank Patrick Harvie for acknowledging pensioner poverty and supporting the SNP amendment. Council tax has been mentioned. I must correct Mr Davidson: the one-off payment to which he referred was money to help with the council tax. The Scottish Parliament could get a move on with a local income tax, which is supported by many members and would stop penalising elderly people who simply stay in their family homes and do not have the income to pay their council tax. Older people pay their bills and more elderly people in Scotland are in council tax poverty because one tenth of their income goes on paying council tax.

I commend Roseanna Cunningham for reminding us about Margaret Ewing's work on fuel poverty. When Margaret talked about cold-weather payments in the 1970s, I—just like everybody else—wondered what she was talking about. She pioneered the cold-weather payment, which has at last moved a step on. However, it is not good enough because, with every 5 per cent increase in fuel costs, another 30,000 people get thrown back into fuel poverty. Therefore, with the recent 30 per cent increase, 180,000 people have been thrown back into fuel poverty. That demonstrates why it is difficult for any Minister for Communities to keep promises about eradicating fuel poverty by whatever date when we are not in charge of energy policy. The central heating programme is to be welcomed, but it needs to be extended not only to more kinds of systems but to low-income families.

Free personal care, which the Parliament pushed through, is not operating in the way in which we thought it would. Having read the Sutherland report, which was quite clear about food preparation forming part of free personal care for people who cannot do it for themselves, we never thought, when we were voting on the policy, that they would be charged for it—and charged depending on where they lived. That must change.

There have been council cutbacks. In the Borders, frozen meals are now given to people instead of meals on wheels, which had more of a personal touch. There is now home shopping, whereas it used to be delivered. Alternatively, someone would come and take people shopping or would get them their messages and then have a wee chat with them. That is gone, and it is now a matter of ordering two weeks in advance.

Members have raised issues around care homes. There is great concern about the standards in some of them. We must look into the care commission, which is self-funding. I do not think that that is good enough. We need some independent funding to let the care commission do its job properly. There are some care homes that I would never want to be put near, frankly. I would rather put a gun to my head and end it than be put in them. We have seen some things on documentaries. That situation cannot be right in a caring society.

The concessionary fares scheme is excellent. However, we return to the fact that people might not have a low-rise bus service that they can use, or might be able to use a low-rise bus for part of their journey but not for the rest of it, as a result of which people can get stuck in places. There are people in Scotland who are disfranchised from transport and movement, and that is a big issue when it comes to keeping elderly people hale and hearty.

I heard the minister speak about housing design and new technology. Roseanna Cunningham made a substantive contribution, which would be well worth following through. Many people cannot get aids and adaptations. I say to Nanette Milne that we have been banging on in here for years about having one funding stream, so that social work does not compete with the health boards over which budget is used—we have been here for seven years. At least the consultation document is here now. I will be filling in my response, but I suspect that the space allowed for experience will be too small for me.

Roseanna Cunningham said to rejoice in age. Bits of me are but, to be honest, bits of me are not—and modesty prevents me from disclosing those. However, I have a Malacca walking stick with a silver band, and it is on offer to anyone else who goes out and plays football with their grandson. I will end on the fact that I now have a shiny new bike.

Photo of Malcolm Chisholm Malcolm Chisholm Labour 4:42 pm, 23rd March 2006

This has been an excellent debate, in which most people have welcomed our determination to develop a strategy for a Scotland with an aging population. However, I am slightly mystified by the SNP's wish to delete the part of our motion that

"welcomes the consultation and ongoing work currently being carried out to develop a Strategy for a Scotland with an Ageing Population."

We are determined to have a comprehensive consultation process. I assure members that all Executive departments are involved, which is something that Helen Eadie called for in her speech. I am in the process of holding meetings with ministers, and all of them will be considering the implications of an aging population for their portfolios.

Traditionally, this subject has been viewed in terms of the demands on traditional services. That is certainly something that we do not overlook, but we want to deal with the issues in new and more integrated ways. There are further issues around the services that support the involvement and contribution of older people and all the work that we need to do to remove the barriers to that involvement and contribution.

John Farquhar Munro was concerned about older people in some places being defined as those over 50. As the consultation document says, we take a flexible approach there, and it is good to break down stereotypes. The fact is that that probably is the decade in which people begin to experience ageism, with regard to employment for example. Karen Whitefield highlighted the benefits of employing older, more experienced people, and other members also covered employment. Donald Gorrie did so in the context of flexible working, as did Nora Radcliffe.

Patrick Harvie made a comparison with last week's debate on fresh talent. I hope that there are not contradictions there. We are clear that if we are to grow Scotland's economy, we need to capitalise on the assets of the aging population. Older people have a lifetime of skills and experience, and they can contribute immeasurably in that regard. We need to help those people who want to stay in work until they are ready to retire, and we need to ensure that they have the skills that they need. We must increasingly think of retirement as a process, not an event. That is why the whole idea of flexible retirement is so important.

I am pleased to have Linda Boyes of the Scottish Council Foundation on my advisory group. She has recently done a piece of written work on flexible working arrangements. Some changes to the pension regimes at Westminster are also helpful, including the change from next month that will allow people to receive an occupational pension while working for the same employer.

Sandra White raised several matters. She queried whether 12 weeks was adequate time for the consultation; we believe that it is. We are receiving responses and many inquiries for more questionnaires. The consultation document is easy to respond to, so we are confident that 12 weeks are enough.

Like Christine Grahame, Sandra White talked about food preparation under free personal care, to which the amendment refers. Discussions are taking place between the Scottish Executive and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities to resolve those issues. As I chaired the care development group, I assure Sandra White that the issue was complex and that we spent much time on discussing it.

As for the closure of care homes, the fact is that some homes will not meet new standards by 2007. However, new modern facilities are being built and major companies are investing heavily in the sector, which shows confidence.

Christine Grahame, Sandra White and others mentioned pensioner poverty. We should recognise the significant reductions that the figures that were released 10 days ago or so showed. Half the pensioners who were in relative poverty in 1997 are now out of it and more than three quarters of pensioners who were in absolute poverty in 1997 have been moved out of it. Of course there is more to do, but we should acknowledge progress.

I know that the SNP and others are hostile to the pension credit. As Helen Eadie said, we must deal with uptake, but we should remember that pensioners are on average £19 a week better off with the pension credit than they would be if the earnings link had been applied to the basic state pension since 1997.

Many issues in relation to the frail elderly were raised. Nanette Milne talked about people who have communication difficulties because of stroke or dementia. We are exploring with disability organisations how to reach those people and to hear their views. A piece of research that I announced a while ago and which Nanette Milne supported is based on listening to the views of people who have communication impairment and learning from them in the development of services.

Irene Oldfather was concerned about various issues that relate to dementia. I will not become involved in the drug therapy issue, other than to note that the final appraisal document from NICE will be published soon, after which NHS Quality Improvement Scotland will give a view on it. Important developments in dementia care have taken place and I am pleased that, in the Easter recess, I will go to the dementia services development centre at the University of Stirling to launch its work on housing, care and support for people with dementia.

Mary Scanlon talked about delayed discharge. The latest census showed that 778 patients had been ready for discharge for more than six weeks, which was down 19 per cent on the figure in January 2005. The total of 1,488 patients, which Mary Scanlon quoted, represents a reduction of 10.8 per cent on last year's figure. Recently, Lewis Macdonald announced new targets to eliminate by April 2008 all inappropriate delays over six weeks.

David Davidson talked about health issues. He will know of the strong emphasis on anticipatory care in the management of long-term conditions following David Kerr's report.

Roseanna Cunningham talked about co-housing. We are certainly aware of innovation elsewhere, including co-housing. We welcome input that suggests new and innovative ways to meet housing need. More generally, in the survey that was conducted before the consultation's launch, housing was identified as marginally the top issue for the Executive to get right for the aging population. The houses that we build today will need to be suitable for an older population. We need to think beyond the traditional models of housing for older people and the Executive is reviewing older people's housing.

Karen Whitefield and Helen Eadie referred to the central heating programme and fuel poverty. I am pleased that they welcomed the extension that was announced last week. The programme will continue beyond 2006 and, from 1 January next year, it will be widened so that pensioners who receive the guarantee element of pension credit will be able to receive upgrades to partial or inefficient central heating systems.

Under our commitment to eradicate fuel poverty by 2016, we have already spent more than £200 million on measures to tackle fuel poverty. We have provided central heating to more than 63,000 homes and we have insulated more than 223,000 homes under the warm deal. Our central heating programme is the best targeted fuel poverty programme in the United Kingdom.

Patrick Harvie referred to antisocial behaviour. I have already met the Minister for Justice—she has just entered the room at a timely moment—to discuss with her what impact an aging population will have on issues that come within her portfolio. Notwithstanding what Patrick Harvie said, many older people's lives are crippled by a fear of crime that stops them going out at night or getting involved in social or community activities. Many local police forces do excellent work in building bridges between generations and helping older people with basic security measures to help them to feel safer. Among other matters, the strategy will consider community safety as well as—to return to the central theme of both the debate and the strategy—the contribution that older people make to creating stronger and safer communities.

I see that I am in my last minute. As I am expected to keep to 10 minutes, I will stop at around 10 to 5 rather than repeat my previous performance and talk for 19 minutes.

As I said, the central theme of the strategy is the contribution of older people. Linda Fabiani and Donald Gorrie mentioned the role that older people have as carers, whereas Helen Eadie, Karen Whitefield and others highlighted their role as volunteers. Certainly, the central thrust of the strategy for a Scotland with an aging population is that it is time to break down the stereotypes about older people. We want to do everything that we can to remove the barriers that prevent older people from contributing to society in ways that they choose. That is not only an important but an innovative and radical approach, which I am glad has been broadly welcomed today.

We will not, of course, forget the traditional services that older people need. The strategy will also consider how those should be modernised and reformed for the benefit of older people.

I look forward to the consultation over the next three months and I hope that members will encourage their constituents to participate. I look forward to presenting to the Parliament the completed strategy later in the year.

Photo of Trish Godman Trish Godman Labour

I will suspend the meeting until 16:59 to enable people to get into the room.

Meeting suspended.

On resuming—