The next item of business is a debate on motion S4M-10257, in the name of Shona Robison, on celebrating the contribution of older people to Scottish society.
Before I call the cabinet secretary, I warmly welcome back to Parliament Nanette Milne, who will lead the debate for the Conservatives today. Members will see that she is using a stick but I am assured that, in the near future, she will be gambolling along like a spring lamb.
We have a bit of time in hand today, so the Presiding Officers will be generous with time.
It is good to see Nanette Milne back in the Parliament. Becoming like a spring lamb is something to live up to, but I am sure that she will cope.
I am pleased to open today’s debate, which marks the valuable contribution that older people make to life in Scotland. In April, the First Minister invited me to join the Scottish Cabinet as Cabinet Secretary for Commonwealth Games, Sport, Equalities and Pensioners’ Rights. The introduction of a specific brief on pensioners’ rights is a practical demonstration of the importance that this Government places on older people in Scotland. We want Scotland to be a place where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their talents. As the new cabinet secretary with responsibility for pensioners’ rights, I am committed to ensuring that the rights of our pensioners are fully protected, respected and realised.
I want today’s debate to be very much focused on the positive role of older people in society. Our older population is a critical driver for creating the Scotland that we want to see in the coming years. We want our people to be able to maintain their independence as they get older and to be able to access appropriate support when they need it. As well as being the right thing to do, that will enable older people to maximise their contribution to Scottish life and to play an active, healthy role in our communities and our rich cultural life.
When we talk about older people, we are not just talking about health and social care services. Older people have a valuable role to play—they have families and neighbours and make a positive contribution to their local community. They use services such as housing, transport, leisure, community safety, education and arts, and they also use shops, banks and other commercial enterprises.
It is vital that we recognise the valuable contribution that older people make to the economy and to society more widely. We have more older workers than ever before, a rising state pension age and too many people dropping out of the workforce well before they are entitled to a pension. Early exit from the labour market can have serious implications for the health, wellbeing and incomes of individuals, and comes at a significant cost to the economy, business and society as a whole. We want employers to embrace the challenge of retaining older workers, and services such as the Scottish centre for healthy working lives can help employers get information and advice on the steps that they can take to support older people in the workforce.
We should acknowledge the vital and important role that grandparents play in the upbringing of children and young people—I certainly would not have managed without my parents’ help. The contribution of wider family and of grandparents in particular in the day-to-day care of children and in providing practical, emotional and often financial support to their own children is hugely significant.
Of course, with this week being carers week, I cannot forget that many older people are caring for those who are closest to them. I pay tribute to them, and reiterate this Government’s strong commitment to ensuring that all carers are supported. We are providing unprecedented levels of support, including at least £46 million between 2012 and 2015 from the reshaping care for older people change fund. Specifically, we are investing nearly £14 million for short breaks, as we recognise the difference that a good-quality short break can make to carers and those whom they care for. So far, more than 25,000 carers and young carers have benefited from those resources.
Shortly, we will introduce legislation to support carers and young carers. Of course, under independence, we would be able to increase the carers allowance by £575 a year. By increasing carers allowance to the same rate as jobseekers allowance, we will bring to an end an unacceptable anomaly that sees carers—many of whom have had to give up work to care for a loved one after an accident or illness—awarded the lowest income-replacement benefit.
As newly appointed cabinet secretary for pensioners’ rights, I will ensure that support for pensioners is a priority for this Government. As I said, I acknowledge the positive contribution that older people make to the economy. Where people want to remain working beyond retirement age, they should be able to do so. However, for many that is a significant challenge.
Last month, the Scottish Government published research showing that because of lower life expectancy, people with identical state pension entitlement but average life expectancy would receive substantially less over a lifetime in Scotland than in the United Kingdom—a situation that has been exacerbated by decades of Westminster industrial and social policies that have ravaged many communities throughout Scotland and, according to the previous chief medical officer Sir Harry Burns, led directly to the lower life expectancy that we see in too many parts of Scotland.
If we compare Glasgow with the highest life expectancy areas of the United Kingdom, the differences are stark—£50,000 less for a man and £46,000 less for a woman. The UK plan to speed up the increase in the state pension age to 67 by eight years, from the original timetable that was set out by the previous Labour Government, will only make the situation worse. Today’s publication of lifetime state pensions value by local authority area has revealed exactly how much Scottish pensioners are losing out compared with their peers south of the border. I am struck that, in my home city of Dundee, men are on average receiving £80,000 less and women £15,000 less.
My apologies, cabinet secretary.
Clearly, the fact that life expectancy in Scotland is lower than that in the UK as a whole is a matter of considerable concern. However, I would ask the cabinet secretary to make her comparisons with areas of deprivation and early death in England, where the results are exactly the same. Her comparisons are surely parochial and false.
I do not believe that they are. It is our responsibility, as the Scottish Parliament, to want to do something about that. I would have thought that Labour members would share that aspiration.
I am therefore very disappointed that, on the state pension age, all three unionist Opposition parties in the Parliament choose to ignore the interests of their constituents and instead take their lead from Westminster. Before the most recent UK election, the then Labour Government proposed a much longer timescale for increasing the pension age. However, once the coalition had accelerated the process, Labour fell silently in behind the Tories. The result is a pensions pay gap for the vast majority of pensioners in Scotland. For future pensioners in Scotland, a no vote at the referendum on 18 September will cost an average of £10,000, as people will have to work longer and longer. The simple message for future pensioners is that if they vote no, they will be worse off.
In “Scotland’s Future”, we have committed to establishing an independent commission to consider the appropriate rate of increase in the state pension age. The commission will consider fairness, life expectancy, affordability and equality issues in the round. It will reach a decision that genuinely suits Scotland’s circumstances—hopefully, everyone in the Parliament could welcome that.
We know that social protection is more affordable for an independent Scotland. Over the past five years, total expenditure on social protection, which covers pensions and broader welfare spending, has been lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK. Social protection expenditure in 2012-13 was 15.5 per cent of GDP in Scotland and 16 per cent in the UK; 42 per cent of Scottish tax revenues were spent on social protection compared with 43 per cent in the UK, so a better deal for pensioners is affordable. A number of commentators, not least the UK Government’s pension minister, Steve Webb, have confirmed that in an independent Scotland, pensions would be safe.
We are taking action to mitigate the effects of the UK Government’s welfare reforms, which affect many older people. The estimated cumulative impact could result in a reduction of £6 billion in the Scottish welfare bill by 2015-16. The solution, of course, is for the Scottish Parliament to have full control over welfare so that it can put in place policies that benefit the people of Scotland. At present, all that we can do—as we have strived to—is mitigate the effects of those UK Government welfare reforms.
For Labour, the issue always seems to be the messenger rather than the message. When Gordon Brown cut corporation tax, that was apparently a good idea. Perhaps, following Gordon Brown’s demand for David Cameron to come north of the border and debate with the First Minister, members on the Labour side of the chamber will change their position on that, too.
We are committed to upholding the rights of pensioners in an independent Scotland. In the meantime, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to pensioners’ rights through our actions using the devolved powers that we have, with a focus on social and public health policies to address the underlying causes of poor life expectancy, whether that involves supporting the smoking ban or reducing alcohol consumption.
Providing high-quality health and social care is critical to ensuring that the contribution of older people to society can be maintained and enhanced, and to protecting the gains that the Parliament has made under devolution on policies such as concessionary bus travel and free personal care for the elderly.
I will outline some of the things that the Scottish Government has done. We have maintained the national health service resource budget in real terms and not wasted time, money and energy on unwanted market reforms. I give older people this reassurance: they can be sure that, with this Government, the NHS will remain a public service that is publicly funded and free at the point of need.
Does the minister accept the response that I received in writing from the cabinet secretary that all the additional funds that are being put into the national health service in Scotland between 2011 and 2016 consist entirely of consequentials arising from Westminster additional spending? There is no additional spending from the core Scottish budget—it is all coming from Westminster. Will the minister confirm what the cabinet secretary has said in writing?
Of course, all that resource is money that Scottish taxpayers have contributed to the London Treasury. It is not unreasonable to ask for our fair share back.
We have maintained and fully funded the concessionary bus scheme for older people throughout Scotland. For us that is an entitlement and a right for older people; it does not represent a something-for-nothing society.
We have increased funding for free personal and nursing care, and continue to regard it as one of this Parliament’s major achievements. We have not placed it on the chopping block as part of a cuts commission, as Labour have done.
We have increased funding on fuel poverty and energy efficiency by 40 per cent in cash terms since 2007, and we have installed more than 600,000 energy efficiency measures since 2008 while Labour and coalition Governments south of the border have cut spending on fuel poverty.
We do not believe that those social protections should be dismissed as something for nothing. While Johann Lamont’s cuts commission continues to cogitate—it is taking rather a long time, but I am sure that we will see the results soon enough—we do not believe that those entitlements should be axed, as they are important gains that this Parliament has made. The Government is clear that we will not only protect those entitlements but, with independence, go further in providing the support that our older people deserve.
I am proud of our record, but there is much more that we could do on jobs, pensions and welfare with the full powers of independence, in order to build a fairer country for all our people, young and old alike. I have no doubt that many of the themes that will be raised in today’s debate will be part of that day, and I hope that members will engage with the issues that are discussed. I invite members to support the motion.
That the Parliament celebrates the valuable contribution that older people make to life in Scotland today; welcomes the publication of Somewhere to go and something to do - Active and Healthy Ageing: An Action Plan for Scotland 2014-2016; recognises the contribution that older people have made to society and believes that entitlements such as concessionary bus travel, free personal care and the winter fuel allowance should be not dismissed as “something for nothing”; welcomes the report of the Expert Group on Welfare and the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the carer’s allowance by £575 per annum; further welcomes the fact that life expectancy in Scotland has improved in recent decades, but questions the decision of the UK Government to increase the state pension age to 67 from 2026, and supports the proposal that, in an independent Scotland, a commission should be established to examine the state pension age, taking account of Scottish circumstances.
What we have just heard was not so much a speech about older people as another speech about independence.
I am very aware of the important role that older people play in our society. In my seven years working in the social housing sector, which included a spell in sheltered housing, and in my nine years as a councillor, I witnessed at first hand the massive contribution that older people make in our communities. Older people are often the glue that binds towns and villages together, through their paid and unpaid work. Through their volunteering, care and commitment, they are a great example to young people; they show them that community activism, participation and solidarity make our society better and stronger.
Speaking personally, throughout my working life, within my circle of friends and family and throughout the Labour movement, the advice, guidance and encouragement of older people have helped me greatly. From their lived experience, older people bring a perspective that is vital to our collective wellbeing and to our understanding of society and how we develop it in future. Indeed, I believe that we do not tap into that experience enough and that too little intergenerational work is being done. Such initiatives ensure that older people are able to speak to, and interact with, younger generations, which builds community cohesion and understanding.
Older people also contribute economically. Many work longer in years, enjoying new opportunities and filling the skills shortages that we have. Rather than being a financial burden, as they are often portrayed, they are a financial asset as well as an outstanding social asset.
It is important that we consider whether the Parliament, the Government and our society are doing enough for our older people. Indeed, it is imperative that we consider whether we are planning well enough for future challenges, not least the demographic challenge posed by the predicted increase in older people, and whether we are making our older people aware of the consequences that could lie ahead should Scotland separate from the United Kingdom.
Often today, grandparents, aunties and uncles or other older relatives are for various reasons being left to raise their grandchildren or relatives in place of parents. Such older people are often in the twilight of their lives and they are among the heroes of our society. They need our support, yet Scottish Labour’s attempt to end the postcode lottery of financial support for kinship carers was rejected by the Scottish Government during consideration of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill. How much value did the Scottish Government place on those older people who currently provide care and a home for their vulnerable grandkids or young relatives?
Let us look at health inequalities. What substantive action has the Government taken to tackle Scotland’s shame, which sees so many of our older people not reaching retirement or being in such poor health that they are unable to enjoy their remaining years? We know that £1 billion has been cut from anti-poverty initiatives aimed at our most deprived communities, where males have 23 fewer years in good health, compared to 12 years in the least deprived areas. For females the figures are 26 and 12 years respectively. Is it not to the minister’s shame that when she came into her post, her first statement was about whether people should be entitled to more pension because they die younger, rather than about why they die younger? That is what we should be addressing.
Does Neil Findlay agree with Harry Burns, the previous chief medical officer, who said that life expectancy is low in many communities because of the decades of deindustrialisation under the hands of the Westminster Governments? Surely he would want the relevant powers to be in the hands of this Parliament, rather than see more of the same from Westminster.
I agree with a great deal of what Harry Burns says. Unfortunately I agree with very little of what the minister says.
Scotland faces a serious demographic challenge, with the number of over-75s set to double in the next 25 years. As people live longer, demands on our services—particularly health and social care—will rise. Already we have seen an impact—[Interruption.]
We see accident and emergency departments full to bursting; in Glasgow last weekend, people, including older people, were issued with apologies for their overnight trolley waits. Nurses in Glasgow complain that boarding of older people is an everyday occurrence.
Our social care system is in crisis. In some areas up to 20 per cent of care home places are out of commission due to concerns over poor levels of care. In home care, we know that seven or 15-minute visits are now the norm. What level of care is being provided to our older people in seven or 15 minutes?
We know that staff budgets are being cut and standards are being affected. Of course, that all takes place against a backdrop of local authority budgets being slashed, with 40,000 jobs lost—many of them in services delivered to our older people. Councils are forced into making those decisions, and all the while the Government ignores their call.
Peter Johnston—I used to serve with Mr Johnston on West Lothian Council—who is the SNP group leader on the council and social care spokesperson for the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities said recently:
“Councils have been doing everything they can to protect social work services, but a difficult financial climate and a year-on-year increase in demand cannot be overcome through efficient and effective budget management alone.”
For once in my life, I agree with Councillor Johnston.
Pensioners need a health and social care system that is fit for purpose and fit to meet the demands of the 21st century. Why will the Scottish Government not rid itself of its complacency and do what Labour has called for by producing a Beveridge-style review of our health and social care services? Pretending that everything is okay when we have daily reports of unprecedented pressure just will not cut it.
The member mentioned health and social care services. In April 2016 there will be integrated health and social care across Scotland—there was cross-party support for that from across the chamber. Would Mr Findlay put on hold health and social care integration? That would be the consequence of what he is suggesting.
Health and social care integration has been happening. Mr Doris should come to West Lothian and I will show him how it has been happening for the past 10 years. We do not need legislation to make it happen; we need a cultural change to make it happen.
What about fuel poverty? Choosing between heating and eating is a daily choice for many Scots pensioners during the cold weather.
We see an extra 2,000 deaths among the over-65s—many of those deaths are cold related—yet it was this SNP Government that cut Labour’s policy, which was introduced in 2000, to provide free central heating and other cold-related benefits and improvements for our pensioners. That policy benefited around 80,000 Scots by reducing fuel poverty, but there was no mention of it by the minister.
What about independence and its impact on older people? We know that Scotland gains from seeing our resources pooled and redistributed; we pay less in than we get back and the risks are spread across 50 million rather than 5 million. Of course, the finance secretary, Mr Swinney, has already admitted that there would be a pensions black hole under independence, and he is right—of course we know that he is right.
Then there is the latest cynical bribe to our army of carers. A press release claimed that 100,000 of them could benefit from an increase in carers allowance, despite the fact that only 57,000 receive the benefit at present and many would not gain anything due to the rules applying to other benefits.
Add to that the increased cost of a 3 per cent corporation tax cut—equivalent to the entire amount that councils spend on services provided for older people in their own homes—and the question has to be, how will those deep black holes be filled in trickle-down Scotland under the SNP?
Rather than raising phoney scares in her motion, why does the minister not congratulate Labour on the policies that she highlighted and which we introduced? Why stop at free personal care? Why stop at bus passes or winter fuel allowance? What about pension credits, introduced by Labour? What about free TV licences or eye tests; an increase in the number of nurses and spending on the NHS; or the extension of lifelong learning?
No thank you.
Labour has a track record of commitment to older people. It is for that reason that today I am delighted to announce that the provost of Fife, Jim Leishman, has been appointed as Labour’s older people’s champion and will sit with us in our wider shadow Cabinet. I look forward to working with Jim Leishman and the older people of Scotland to develop a programme for a Labour Government in a further devolved Scotland.
I move amendment S4M-10257.3, to leave out from “and believes” to end and insert:
“; acknowledges that concessionary bus travel, free personal care and the winter fuel allowance are all policies introduced by Labour or Labour-led UK or Scottish administrations; notes that the policy of free central heating and the warm deal schemes that benefitted 80,000 pensioners and reduced fuel poverty in pensioner households were cut by the SNP administration; recognises the role of older people as carers; believes that Scotland faces a serious demographic challenge and that the predicted rise in the number of older people needs to be addressed and planned for and that an independent Scotland would have to raise taxes and cut public spending to be able to pay for the SNP’s pensions plan and that this could not be achieved while cutting corporation tax for the biggest businesses; recognises the huge pressure on hard-working health and social care staff and the services that they provide and calls for a review of the NHS in Scotland to ensure that services for older people are fit for purpose, and notes that, while life expectancy has increased for some, health inequalities in Scotland mean that far too many people are not reaching, or able to enjoy, their retirement as they are living fewer healthy years than others.”
Presiding Officer, I thank you and the cabinet secretary for your kind words at the start of the debate, and congratulate the cabinet secretary on her recent elevation and extended role.
It is perhaps fitting that the first debate that I am involved in since my recent hip surgery should be about celebrating the contribution of older people to society, because it gives me the opportunity to congratulate my husband, elderly like me, on his very effective role as carer in the early days of my recovery.
Members: Ah. [Applause.]
I have no doubt, however, that he is relieved that the role was a temporary one, because not all cared for people are easy to please, and I will leave members to guess where I stand on that one.
Today’s debate is right to acknowledge the very significant contribution that older people make to our society as paid employees, entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers, and as volunteers and carers, which is particularly appropriate at the start of carers week. I was therefore a little disappointed, although I suppose not really surprised, as the referendum debate drags on, to read the sting in the tail of the Government’s motion, questioning the need that has been identified by the UK Government to increase the pensionable age in future.
Of course, Scottish Conservatives continue to support free personal care, as we have done since the outset, and we want to see the concessionary travel scheme continued and extended to include community transport because the present situation is unfair to many pensioners who cannot benefit from free travel because they do not have access to standard bus services. We also agree that carers should be financially and otherwise supported in their very valuable role, and welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the carer’s allowance, as we state in our amendment. However, if all that is to be possible and sustainable into the future in the face of a burgeoning elderly population, any sensible Government must plan ahead for its funding, and that is why changes to the pensionable age will be required. The UK Government is quite right to take that on board. That Government, as we heard in last week’s Queen’s speech, is also committed to introducing a private pensions bill and a pensions tax bill to help the pensioners of the future in planning for their old age. Most people realise that there really is no such thing as a free lunch and simply do not buy into the SNP’s myriad uncosted promises.
We will support the Liberal Democrat amendment, but we cannot support Labour’s amendment, simply because of its call for a review of the NHS in Scotland, which we have already opposed.
I now turn to the celebratory part of the debate, and acknowledge the immense contribution that older people make to Scottish society. The Royal Voluntary Service has estimated that the economic contribution of over-65s in 2010 was worth £40 billion, and that that will rise to £77 billion by 2030; an enormous sum in anybody’s book. Employers are increasingly recognising the value of older workers and encouraging their employment, to the extent that Age Scotland has this year created an employer of the year category in its annual awards scheme.
Many professional people continue to play a valuable role after their retirement. In the NHS, for instance, particularly in general practice, retired doctors working as locums plug many staffing gaps, covering for holidays or allowing GPs time off for training or professional meetings. That benefits the NHS and allows the doctors to continue the medical work for which they were trained without the burden of administration that besets so many senior GPs in the modern world. My colleagues who have locum experience all say how enjoyable it has been.
We are all familiar with the contribution that is still being made in the field of bacteriology by Professor Hugh Pennington, using his knowledge and experience in the battle against campylobacter and E coli 0157. Just the other evening, I learned that Professor John Mallard, the inventor of the magnetic resonance imaging scanner went on after retirement to develop the positron emission tomography, or PET, scanner that is so widely used today. I was also delighted to learn that John’s prototype MRI scanner is to be preserved and displayed permanently within Aberdeen royal infirmary, which is a fitting tribute to a man whose immense contribution to society worldwide has never had the public recognition that it deserves.
Volunteers are essential to our society and older people are widely recognised as some of the most active local volunteers, as good neighbours or active residents. The 2008-09 citizenship survey found that a third of people aged 60 to 74 and a fifth of those aged 75 and over undertake some formal volunteering in their community. That led me to think about my contemporaries in my local area in Aberdeen. My next-door neighbour joined the children’s panel when he retired from the oil industry, and a close friend continues her long involvement with Citizens Advice Scotland. Other neighbours run our local neighbourhood watch schemes or play an active role as community councillors, and others produce and deliver our regular community newsletter. A group of older people run our annual community festival.
Cancer patients rely on the support of volunteers who work as Friends of Roxburghe House or with Cancer Link Aberdeen & North—CLAN—a well-known and active local cancer charity. Many of my age group do regular fundraising for those and other charities, such as Marie Curie Cancer Care, Friends of Anchor or the Maggie’s centre, not to mention Guide Dogs, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, the Cyrenians and many other organisations. Hospital patients and housebound people have come to rely on the RVS for the provision of refreshments in wards and clinics and the social contact that is provided by volunteers, many of them retired, who deliver meals on wheels to people who rarely have visitors from the outside world.
I have given just a few examples of the extent of volunteering in my area, so just think of the contribution of volunteers to Scottish society as a whole when such activities are multiplied across all our local communities. If we add to that the enormous contribution that grandparents make to childcare in Scotland and the number of older people who willingly and lovingly care for their partners, friends or neighbours, we will realise just how much we rely on older people to support the fabric of our communities and how much resource they save the public purse. We should not regard the elderly as a burden; rather, we should celebrate their role in contributing to a cohesive and caring Scottish society.
I move amendment S4M-10257.2, to leave out from “and believes” to end and insert:
“; understands that changes to the pension age are required as a result of the aging population; commends the UK Government’s commitment to introducing a Private Pensions Bill, to allow employees to contribute to “collective pension” funds, and a Pensions Tax Bill, to give those who have saved discretion over the use of their retirement funds; believes that a solution must be found to the issue of community transport being excluded from a concessionary travel scheme; welcomes the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the carer’s allowance, and urges the Scottish Government to address the underlying social issues that lead to such poor life expectancy rates in some parts of Scotland.”
The Presiding Officer:
Thank you, Ms Milne—it is good to have you back.
Before I call Jim Hume to speak for the Liberal Democrats, I give an indication to back bench speakers that we can give you each seven minutes and, if you take interventions, you might get a bit longer.
I, too, state that it is good to see Nanette Milne back in the chamber.
As members have said, older people enrich our communities. They contribute a wealth of knowledge and support to family life and, as the population grows, it is incumbent on us all to ensure that older people are looked after as they become more reliant on healthcare and other support services. The Scottish Government is correct that we should celebrate the contribution of our older people. This year’s Normandy commemorations were an emotional reminder of what older people bring to society, as a living link to our past.
It is correct to acknowledge the positive impact of concessionary bus travel and free personal care—policies that were brought about under the Liberal Democrat-Labour coalition. However, the Scottish Government motion would have us believe that all is well in the care of older people when, sadly, that is not the case, as highlighted by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland’s depressing report into the care of dementia patients.
For far too long, Lib Dems have been warning that older people are being let down by the Government’s confused priorities. Figures that we obtained recently show that emergency admissions for older people are increasing while the number of staffed hospital beds has plummeted. In an answer to a parliamentary question, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing confirmed that the number of geriatric beds is at its lowest level in more than 10 years while emergency admissions for older people are at their highest in more than 10 years. That is a huge imbalance between supply and demand.
The Government is failing to meet the national indicator to reduce emergency admissions to hospital. The figures came just one week after an Audit Scotland report found that at least 90 per cent of patients who experience a delay of more than three days are aged 65 and over. Sadly, older people are being let down by the Government’s confused priorities. At a time when people are living longer lives and for longer in periods of ill-health, the Government continues to slash the number of staffed beds for older people, despite the fact that the number of unplanned emergency admissions for people aged 65 has increased by around a fifth.
Given that we have an ageing population, it is not surprising that emergency admissions for older people have increased. The Scottish Government is cutting the number of beds drastically without improving social care and support, which only puts more pressure on an NHS that is already being asked to do more and more. The SNP’s short-term approach to the stewardship of our NHS could have a long-term negative impact on patient care. It is bad for patients and for our NHS’s resources when beds are used by patients who are clinically ready to leave hospital.
The member will be aware that the Department for Work and Pensions has kept back £270 million from the Scottish Government since we introduced free personal care. Does the member think that we should have that paid back to us so that we can help provide better support for our pensioners when they become frailer?
I will come to many points at the end of my speech on exactly how much support the Lib Dems in coalition have been giving to all the people in Scotland, but it amounts to nearly three quarters of £1 billion.
The health secretary’s position on continuing care is hugely disappointing. He has refused to admit that changes to the policy announced in May would mean that people will qualify for free accommodation only if they are being cared for in an NHS hospital. The Government’s own independent review, which was published at about the same time as the policy announcement, recommended that any patients receiving NHS continuing care after 2015 no longer be able to have costs for accommodation in care homes paid for, which could affect hundreds of patients.
In England, more and more people are qualifying for NHS continuing care. That contrasts with the position for patients in Scotland, where health boards have seen a year-on-year decline, leading to claims that many people with complex care needs were paying for care homes when they were entitled to have that paid for by the NHS.
Many people do not want to spend lengthy periods or, in some cases, the rest of their lives in hospitals. If it is the case that patients with complex care needs will no longer have costs for accommodation in care homes paid for, then people will be astonished. If anything, that will mean that people will have every incentive to stay in a hospital bed. That is completely at odds with the Scottish Government’s claims that it wishes to transfer care into the community.
When it comes to tackling health inequalities, the SNP has a stop-and-start approach, with a two-year break between updates on the progress report and no updates in nearly a year from the ministerial task force. The statement published recently by the Scottish Government on health inequalities failed to mention any specific projects that it is funding to reduce inequalities in Glasgow, where life expectancy is among the lowest in Scotland.
Can the member reconcile what he says with welfare reform, which is reducing the money that people have to support them? Does he think that that helps or hinders health inequalities and the tackling of them?
The minister will be well aware that the amount of funding for pensions, which I will come on to soon, has been increased by nearly three quarters of £1 billion in Scotland alone.
The SNP seems to have got its priorities confused again. People are dying earlier in Scotland, but instead of coming up with solutions for how we can help more people live longer, healthier lives, ministers hit the calculator to work out how much pension people will miss out on. The Liberal Democrats warned the Scottish Government that it needed to do more after it put its equally well action plan on the back-burner for five years.
We will support the Conservative’s amendment, but we will not support the Labour amendment, because we do not think that the NHS should be put on hold while there is a complete review of it.
Richard Simpson knows that that is my position.
By anyone’s standards, it is a pretty bleak aspiration to simply lower the pension age rather than tackle our health inequalities. The Lib Dems have tackled age discrimination in the workplace by abolishing the compulsory age of retirement, which means that workers can no longer be forced to retire just because they have reached their 65th birthday, and allowing people to have more control of how long they work. That change sends a powerful signal that older people should be valued at work and that they can share their important work experience with colleagues.
If the Scottish Government wants to see how to celebrate our older people it should just look to the Lib Dems in coalition, who have delivered a triple-lock guarantee to pensions that amounts to £800 more per year for 890,000 pensioners in Scotland, which puts some £712 million back in the pockets of our older people.
I move amendment S4M-10257.1, to leave out from second “welcomes” to end and insert:
“notes the increase in cold weather payments by the UK Government, which now stand at £25 per week, up from £8.50; welcomes the re-establishment of the link between pensions and earnings through the triple lock, which means that pensions will continue to rise by whichever is the highest of earnings, inflation or 2.5%, giving UK pensioners, for the first time, the certainty that their pensions will increase annually by a significant amount; notes with concern the findings of the Mental Welfare Commission on the treatment of dementia patients; further notes the loss of a third of geriatric beds while emergency geriatric admissions are at a 10-year high, and condemns the Scottish Government’s decision to remove future continuing care funding for people being treated in the community; recognises that meeting the challenge to increase healthy life expectancy will require cross-party commitment in order to guarantee continued action from government to government over time; believes that the Scottish Government should focus on reducing health inequalities as a means by which to increase life expectancy, rather than calling for a reduction in the state pension age; notes that costs relating to the recommendations of the Expert Group on Welfare were not included in the white paper on independence, and, therefore, calls on the Scottish Government to publish revised costings for its independence plans to include the selected welfare recommendations and the transition and set-up costs that have so far been concealed.”
I, too, welcome Nanette Milne back to the chamber and to the Parliament and I thank her husband for looking after her so well. Welcome back, Nanette.
The debate is about acknowledging the contribution that older people make to Scottish society, be it through the economic contribution that they make to caring or through the civic contribution that they make to local organisations, through their work in the community. Also, as has been said previously, older people are able to carry on working if they want to—perhaps some people in the chamber are in that category—and contribute to the economy that way.
However, I want to touch on something that came from the Labour benches. I do not think that we in this place need to take any lessons from the members on the Labour benches—look at Gordon Brown and how he raided the pension pots. We can talk about concessionary fares, which are absolutely fantastic, and everything else that has been introduced for older people—yes, I pay tribute to Labour for the introduction of free personal care. I am not being political in this particular—
However, we cannot say to the Labour Party, “Well done for doing that,” when Johann Lamont and the cuts commission then said that we should take all that away. You have to be absolutely honest with yourselves—the cuts commission is about taking all that away, so please do not lecture us on anything at all.
If I can just carry on with that theme, which I did not want to do—
Sorry, I did not want to carry on with that theme but I do not think that I can let it go. It saddens me that the amendments that are before us—and some of the members that we have heard from—far from celebrating the contribution of older people, seem intent on continuing to focus on older people as burdens and as a problem, with little respect for the countless older people who make an invaluable positive contribution to our society each day.
Also, I was a wee bit confused by Jim Hume’s speech—he mentioned that people are not living long enough but then said that people are living too long. I would like to question—
I agree that it is in the motion, but it is not what Labour members said. The fact that people are living longer is something to celebrate. Is it not positive that we are living longer? There is, though, a contradiction in the fact that people have been dying younger for decades. In my home city of Glasgow, where the council has been Labour controlled for decades, nothing has been done to get rid of the poverty.
The member mentioned my name and said that she was a little confused. I am sorry that Sandra White is a little confused, but we are really concerned about health inequalities. Health has been a devolved matter for 15 years. Does she recognise some of the good that the coalition Government has done in allocating an extra £712 million to 890,000 pensioners in Scotland?
Thank you, Presiding Officer.
As I said before, I am not being political on this subject, but the Liberal Democrats have never congratulated the Scottish Government on what it has done to alleviate not just the problems that pensioners have but the problems that are faced by households in poverty. If more money is being spent and people’s health is getting better, people will live longer. I think that we should celebrate that—I do not mind saying that. At the heart of the debate is the fact that we need to change the way in which society perceives older people—they are an asset rather than a burden—and we have a chance to do that today, which I sincerely hope we take.
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting a reception for the Annexe Communities connects project, which is based in my constituency. It was one of the first projects to receive a grant from the Big Lottery Fund’s investing in communities fund, way back in 2011. It was a fantastic day and we all ended up outside singing and waving flags. I enjoyed it very much. The project works with vulnerable and isolated older people in the local area, helping them to reconnect to their community through various activities. It has been such a great success that it has been emulated by others.
Some of the comments that I heard that day were fantastic. People talked about the friendship and love that they had found. They said that they did not need to sit in the house any more but were able to get out. One elderly lady said that she goes to meditation classes and gets reiki treatment every day. Why should she not? She should be able to do that. It is fantastic to see those older people so full of life.
Although much of today’s debate has focused on the economic arguments to do with an ageing population, I believe that it is equally important to look at and learn from projects such as those that I have mentioned and the tangible ways in which they benefit the lives of older people. Older people are not just assets or burdens to be bandied about; they are real people, whom we should respect. We need to remember that.
That is another reason why I welcome the publication of the action plan, which identifies the need to share examples of projects that work and that people benefit from. We can learn from those examples. However, although all the priority themes and actions that are identified in the plan will benefit older people, I am bit concerned about how projects such as the Annexe Communities connects project that I mentioned will fit into it. Members will have visited many grass-roots community-based projects that assist older people. We need to learn from those hundreds of examples and identify how they can feed into the plan.
I acknowledge that it is important to take a top-down approach to address certain issues that older people face, but I think that we need to make more effort to ensure that as much focus is given to a bottom-up approach. That is an issue that, as convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing, which is one of the oldest—pardon the pun—cross-party groups in the Parliament, I will raise with the group, with a view to our exploring it at future meetings. I would be happy to look at the findings of that project and to report back on them to the minister, if she so wishes.
Tomorrow, the cross-party group will hold its AGM so, like someone who is shamelessly plugging their new book, I invite members who are interested in issues that affect older people—I know that several members who are in the chamber are—to come along and listen to us discuss our future work programme; they will be more than welcome.
We will all be old one day—some of us sooner than others—so when we debate the issue we should treat it with respect because, one day, we will be the people who will be discussed.
Older people are not a homogenous group of people who are defined simply by their age or their pension. They are carers, activists, volunteers, workers, grafters, students, teachers, employers, investors, artists, engineers, makers and creators. They are also mothers and fathers and sons and daughters.
Many of them have already played their part in shaping our society and, given that older people are still consistently more likely to vote than any other age group, they continue to do so. If any message goes out from the Parliament from this afternoon’s debate, let it be not only that we recognise the contribution older people make but that we are thankful for it. They are an asset, not a burden. By valuing their skills, their talents, their potential and their experience, we can enrich our society, better educate the young, and provide dignity, opportunity and fulfilment well into later life.
I want to bring to the chamber’s attention an example from Germany of how the oldest generation can make a difference to the youngest. It is a unique example with a beautiful simplicity behind it. It is called—please excuse me if I do not pronounce it properly—the Mehrgenerationenhaus, which, translated literally, means multigenerational house.
In our towns, cities and villages across the country, we have community centres that host all kinds of activities and which provide all kinds of facilities, such as day centres for pensioners, nurseries for children, meeting points for communities and family centres to give advice to parents on the health and wellbeing of their children, but is it always right to compartmentalise the community in that way?
Since 2006, people in Germany have been considering how to bring just some of those different services that are aimed at different groups of people under one roof. One article that I read tells the story of a young girl called Emily and her great-grandmother. They both make the same journey to the same place every week, but while Emily goes to the Salzgitter childcare centre, her great-grandmother receives treatment for dementia at a day centre across the hall in the same building. There is an open-door policy between the two.
Salzgitter was the model for the multigenerational house. It is a model that is now growing and developing all across Germany. Pensioners can volunteer to get involved in the kindergarten by looking after the children, reading books, playing and singing, thereby bridging the gap between the generations. In a world in which families increasingly live further and further apart, children who might not see their own grandparents can learn from other older people, who act as positive role models.
As the model is spread out in Germany, common public places—bistros, cafeterias, libraries and lounges—are emerging where the different generations can socialise and interact. The knowledge and experience of the older generations does not have to be lost to the next generation. Likewise, the knowledge and experience of the young does not have to remain alien to older people. That is the lesson from Germany, and it is one that we would do well to learn here in Scotland.
Of course, we cannot debate the future of older people in our society without dealing with the choice that we will all have to make on 18 September, to which the clear and comprehensive Labour amendment alludes. When it comes to dealing with health inequalities, life expectancy, the stability of our pensions system and the resourcing of our public services, devolution provides the best way forward. We have a strong Scottish Parliament, which is growing stronger and which takes decisions here about health and social care, and we share risks, rewards and resources across the whole of the United Kingdom as part of a redistributive social union. That is the best of both worlds for Scotland’s pensioners, and the best of both worlds is best for Scotland.
I am just finishing.
We all age, but with innovation from Government, creativity in our public services and the pooling and sharing of resources to provide strength, security and stability for Scotland’s pensioners, I hope that more and more of us can age well—and age well together.
I am pleased to take part in the debate and I declare an interest, because I am an older person—ich bin ein pensioner, if I may plagiarise—of the Elvis and Beatles vintage. Yes, I once wore a miniskirt; that has changed, but the hair has not.
Although there has been some mention of benefits and assets, the Labour amendment refers to a “demographic challenge”. I do not see myself or my generation as presenting any kind of challenge; I think that we are an asset—or rather, we are no more a challenge or an asset than is any other age group.
I think of Saturdays in B&Q, a company which obviously sees pensioners as an asset, and not just because it gives them a 10 per cent discount on Wednesdays—by the way, I do not mention that because I want a 15 per cent discount. I have even been asked whether I want to join the band of pensioners who work there part time. Those staff are excellent—the retired electrician and the retired joiner, who can tell customers what to buy. There is no vacancy for me there at the moment, but if there should be in the future I could see myself being useful in the plants and gardening section—albeit that that is not an intimation of a plan for the coming years.
On Sunday I was in charge of my three-year-old granddaughter for five hours—a marathon, I assure members. My repertoire of finger painting, drawing, cutting out, storytelling, seed planting, plant watering and more storytelling was occasionally and mercifully interspersed with rest periods watching “Cinderella”—or, as she will have it, “Cinderellie”—for the umpteenth time. Like many grandparents, I am the child-caring asset that the cabinet secretary and others mentioned.
The great concern for pensioners and elderly people is their pension, now and in the future. We had scare stories from Westminster that, in the event of a yes vote, state pensions would be at risk. No sooner was that out in the ether than, as the cabinet secretary said, we had Steve Webb saying, “No, your state pension will continue to be paid, because it is an entitlement, not a benefit”—an approach that we have subscribed to.
As I was speaking to my gas engineer as he assessed my combi boiler yesterday—I lead a very exciting life—he asked me about his occupational pension in the light of a yes vote. Of course, occupational pensions are a matter of contract, and whether somebody is living in an independent Scotland or seeking summer climes to get away from those debilitating energy bills, both state and occupational pensions will be paid. Sunny Cyprus or less sunny Scotland—it is all one and the same. Pensions are a contract and they are payable, so let us put that to the side.
Much as I agree with the general tenor of what Ms Grahame says about older people being an asset to our society, does she not accept that there is an issue about the dependency ratio that we have to face up to? Scotland is going to have a worse dependency ratio than the rest of the UK unless we address that issue.
No, and the member is also not putting into the mix the free services that pensioners give, some of which I have just listed. That is on the plus side of the balance sheet.
There are 1 million or so pensioners in Scotland, and the white paper has made it plain that they will receive their state pensions, as now, on time and in full. In the event of a yes vote, there will be a full overhaul of the pension age and also pensions and benefits.
I heard what Neil Findlay had to say about pensions and pension credit. I think pension credit is a disgrace. People should not have to apply for a pension credit to bring themselves up. We should have a decent basic state pension from the start. As from 6 April 2016, if we are independent, new pensioners will receive a single-tier pension of £160 per week. The fact is that 30 per cent of those who are entitled to pension credit do not claim it, and they never have. It is bewildering and the forms are difficult. Let us get rid of the pension credit and give pensioners a decent pension from the start.
These have been dealt with ad nauseam. I want to go back to Labour’s track record, which the member mentioned.
Gordon Brown, the man of the moment, has a track record on pensions. In 2000, he announced that he was raising petrol tax and pensions in line with inflation, but he failed to explain that he was using 3.3 per cent for petrol and just 1.1 per cent for pensions. The result was a basic rise in pensions of 75p per week. No wonder 10 million pensioners were up in arms.
Jim Hume rose—
I ask the member to let me finish this bit.
Gordon Brown had previous form, which Sandra White alluded to. In 1997, he changed the advance corporation tax of private pension funds. The effect was to take £5 billion a year out of those funds—the figure is now £10 billion a year. Of course, the result is that people who contracted into those pension funds are getting less of a pension. We need no lessons about that.
There are very few advantages in getting on in the Parliament, but I have been here for 15 years and I have to say to Labour members that I remember people on the Labour benches who resisted free personal care. One thing that I will give the Liberal Democrats credit for is that, as part of the coalition, they managed to get Labour to change its tune on that and the whole Parliament voted for it.
Labour spent time before the most recent Scottish Parliament election telling people that we were thinking of getting rid of concessionary bus fares. We are not—no way—as they are a health and a social asset, but Labour has form. Who started the whole thing about a winter fuel allowance in Scotland? I bet Labour members do not know. Margaret Ewing did that when she was an MP at Westminster, long before anybody else ever thought about it. [Interruption.]
I apologise for being, like Christine Grahame, part of the demographic challenge that the Labour Party has identified. There are one or two others of us who may yet speak in this debate.
It is interesting that we started the debate with a reference to grandparents. I have the misfortunate not to have known any of my grandparents. All my grandparents were born before the first secret ballot in a parliamentary election, which took place on 15 August 1872. When my paternal grandfather was born, Abraham Lincoln was president.
Many of my generation had less connection with grandparents than others, because we were born immediately after the war to parents who were a bit older, as our dads had been away in the war. We probably experienced less grandparental nurturing than many have.
Pensions have been around for a long time. When Lloyd George introduced them, they were worth half a crown a week—I beg his pardon; they were half a crown a month. That was thought to be such a revolutionary and huge financial bonus that, in the book “Para Handy Tales”, Para Handy contemplated starting pensioner farms to exploit that money. He would keep a few healthy pensioners on a Scottish island somewhere and make huge profits.
As I said, pensions have been around for a long time. My great-great-grandfather Andrew Barlow, who was a soldier in the Napoleonic wars, ended up as a Chelsea pensioner, because he went deaf. When my great-great-great-grandfather left the Navy in 1782, he got a pension.
Only in modern times—almost within our memory or that of people whom we know—has the universal pension come along. That is why Gordon Brown’s intervention to take away some of the tax benefits for pension funds was catastrophic—that is partly why the private pensions of some people whom I know were wiped out to zero. That happened on the Labour Party’s watch.
The Labour Party has done many good things. For example, the anti-smoking legislation in the Parliament took great courage and I absolutely commend it for that. Labour introduced the bus pass scheme, which benefits old people and sustains the bus network in rural areas—each £1 that is spent on that has two benefits. The Labour Party was behind the introduction of comprehensive education, which I strongly support. In West Lothian, the Labour Party has done many good things, although I remember that it was Jimmy McGinley—in 1980, I think—who introduced the Christmas bonus for pensioners, rather than the Labour Party.
We have been around and we have had quite a lot of good things from the Labour Party, so it is disappointing that there is a perception—because the prospect has been put into the debate about ideas for change, reduction and containing costs—of a threat to the benefits that the Labour Party contributed to bringing to Scotland through the operation of the Scottish Parliament. That party has every opportunity to put to one side that perception now or later and say that there is no threat. It could say that those benefits are protected and will be left.
Are we challenged by the economics of older people? Yes, of course—there is no country in Europe where that is not the case. However, the reality is that the costs in Scotland are rather less. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research said:
“Our analysis has shown that the costs of the state pension would be lower in Scotland”, for the bad reason that Scotland has lower life expectancy. We want to drive up life expectancy—nobody in the Parliament from any political party wants to do anything different. We disagree only about means and timing; we do not disagree about objectives. That is good—let us try to build on that consensus.
Social protection costs are lower in Scotland. In 2012-13, those costs were 15.5 per cent of gross domestic product in Scotland, whereas they were half a percentage point higher in the UK, which is 5 or 6 per cent higher. In Scotland, we spent 2 per cent less of our tax revenues than the UK on social protection. Those are all opportunities to provide better care for people who require it.
Of course, old people do not necessarily require care. There are very many fit older people. If a person starts fit, they can stay fit. I remember watching breakfast television in Australia in the 1980s—that is very sad, but that is what I did. I saw the guy who had just won the Australian over-40s marathon for the 40th consecutive time. He was in his 90s and was beating people in their 40s. He was fit, he stood proud and upright and his voice was strong, because he had never let himself get unfit at any point in his life.
That is the great trick that Christine Grahame and others have got completely wrong.
I will draw my speech to a conclusion.
Neil Findlay described very well the challenge that we face. I thought that he did a fine job. He quoted Peter Johnston, who reinforced that. I agree with Peter Johnston, but the economic challenges that local government, the Scottish Government and communities in Scotland face do not, of course, stem from the Scottish Parliament, which has no control over the macroeconomics of our economy or the substantial majority of the taxation or expenditure that affect our citizens, but from a system that we on the Government benches wish to replace.
A solution is available. The causes have been identified by Mr Findlay, but he rejects the resolutions. As always, he came from a position of supporting people who need. I respect him for that, but he will earn my greater respect if he understands that there is an opportunity to do things differently in an independent Scotland and that we should take that opportunity and do what he so earnestly desires.
I join all those who have welcomed the publication of the active and healthy ageing action plan, and I add my thanks to Dr Whoriskey and her team for their work in putting the report together.
I echo the comments that have been made about the important role that older people play in our communities—including comments by a number of allegedly, or self-styled, senior citizens in the Parliament. As I will go on to argue, it is only right that our representation reflects wider society.
The action plan makes a number of very helpful recommendations, which I am pleased that the Government has endorsed. I like the way that the process is framed; it is not framed as a passive process, but as a process of active ageing, which we can shape together, as a society. Dr Whoriskey used the phrase “age healthily” in her foreword. That neatly sums up the purpose of the plan and, I had rather naively hoped, the debate, too.
In many ways, “old” is a relative term, of course. In his retirement, my father used to tell us regularly about his visits to so-called older people. We would point out that they were a lot younger than he was. Marie Galbraith was a friend and constituent, who sadly died last year. When she was well into her 70s and 80s, she did much to shape the Parliament’s Title Conditions (Scotland) Act 2003, more than a decade back. She once told me that “Old is 10 years older than you are.” The refined version is, “Ten years is older”—I am sorry. The refined version is, “Old is 10 years older than you think you are.” [Interruption.] I say to Christine Grahame that we have had examples of failing memory already.
As I have just demonstrated, vulnerabilities go with age, and they simply cannot be ignored. There is not just infirmity or declining physical strength: there are problems such as increasing loneliness and social isolation, which my colleague Margaret McDougall brought to Parliament for debate just last month.
Technology moves on, and that can be liberating for some older people, but it can become a barrier for others. That is where we have to act; we have to respond to the new challenges. The Government and the Scottish Parliament have to intervene to ensure that we put in place the right protections. A bump in the car for an older person can become a source of anxiety rather than something to be forgotten about; it can turn into a reason not to drive any more. For us, as parliamentarians, that should mean more reason to support the free bus pass, so that people who choose not to drive do not lose their mobility.
The confidence that comes from maturity and experience—from a life of work or bringing up a family—can begin to wane, and that is an opening through which fraudsters and scam artists can thrive. For us as elected representatives, that is a growing threat. We need to respond to it and we need to help to protect vulnerable people from unwanted cold calling and doorstep selling. As MSPs, we are rightly proud of having introduced free personal care for older people, but we should be ashamed to be in office while older people in Scotland suffer the indignity of the 15-minute care visit.
It is right that we question and debate the costs of our policy choices, but at least as important are the support mechanisms that we put in place, the social and cultural attitudes that we help to shape and the political voice that we hear from older people.
I will give one more example. There are many retirement complexes in my constituency and, I am sure, in many other constituencies. The properties are owned by the residents and run by property managers, but the relationship between owners and manager is often reversed. I do not know how many times I have met residents who feel intimidated or, which is worse, who fee3l powerless and bullied. Patricia Ferguson’s Property Factors (Scotland) Act 2011 has, for the first time, created an avenue for complaint, but from my experience, the jury is still out on whether we need to go beyond a voluntary code of conduct.
As the motion highlights, there is also much that we can celebrate. Last week, I was delighted to host an awards ceremony for local volunteers in East Renfrewshire, along with my Westminster colleague Jim Murphy MP. The event was attended by almost 150 people from all walks of life and of all ages. It was an uplifting, life-affirming and unsullied demonstration of our common humanity—quite an antidote to the jaundiced cynicism that too often accompanies politics. I heard first hand of many daily demonstrations of kindness and solidarity—from dementia carers, to bereavement counsellors to environmental campaigners and everything in between.
Last year, the Royal Voluntary Service found that one older person in five in the UK—some 2.25 million people—volunteers for two charities or more. In Scotland, almost one person in five over the age of 75 still volunteers.
We should not, however, have to justify older people in terms of the economic contribution that they make through hours of caring or volunteering, substantial though that is. A particularly interesting study from University College London last year found that any suggestion that older people are a hindrance to society or a drag on our economy is unfounded. It found that the fact that people are living longer, which is often categorised as a problem—even by SNP members of the Parliament—is actually a net benefit to the economy, even taking into account the increasing health service and social care costs. Part of that net benefit includes the increasingly important role that older people play as kinship carers and foster carers.
The Fostering Network recently analysed a sample of its foster carer members and found that 23 per cent of all carers in Scotland are aged between 60 and 69 and 4 per cent are over 70. The same study discovered that only 6 per cent of carers are aged under 40. Other studies have found similar figures in other caring roles. The University of Bristol recently found that 54 per cent of children in kinship care are cared for by their grandparents; 23 per cent of kinship carers in Scotland are aged over 65.
I am surprised that that important kinship care role, which has remained hugely underappreciated and undervalued for too long, is not mentioned in the action plan, and that there is no mention of older people being supported to be carers.
I welcome the debate and the opportunity that it gives Parliament to say with one voice that it enormously appreciates not only the contribution that older people have made to Scotland, but the contribution that they continue to make. Whether working, caring for others or volunteering in every community, older people play an integral part in holding the country together, and we owe them not only a debt of gratitude but all the support that we can provide to allow each of them, and each of us, to age healthily.
As my colleague Ken Macintosh did, I welcome the new action plan on active and healthy ageing in Scotland, “Somewhere to go and something to do”, which outlines Scotland’s vision for its older people to
“to enjoy full and positive lives—happy and healthy at home or in a homely setting.”
That vision values older people and their contribution to society and seeks to empower them to be active partners in how support and services are planned and delivered. It also sets out a number of key actions that are to be achieved by 2016, which are built around four key themes that older people have identified as being important to them:
“I want to have fun and enjoy myself”;
“I wish to remain connected to my friends”;
“I wish to be able to contribute to society for as long as I want”;
“Don’t talk about me without me, and respect my beliefs and values”.
Ensuring that older people have somewhere to go, something to do and someone to do it with is fundamental to achievement of better health and wellbeing outcomes. That is important if we are to confront the demographic changes that are happening in our society, as people live longer. That more people are living longer should be welcomed unreservedly as a positive development across society, as other speakers have already said. However, we must also recognise that that brings new challenges, including the challenge to ensure that people have a good quality of life in their later years, and the challenge to ensure that we are able to support those of our citizens who will find themselves in need of key public services as they grow older. We must ensure that we can meet those challenges and deliver those services in ways that best suit individuals’ often complex needs, and that, whenever possible, we do so in the most appropriate setting.
Our legislating for the integration of health and social care services, which this Parliament did in February, and as was recommended by the Christie commission, will go some way towards ensuring that Scotland’s older population can attain an acceptable quality of life at home and in their communities through joined-up delivery of services that are firmly integrated around the needs of individuals, their carers and their families.
A key issue that I would like to mention is the important role that housing has to play in empowering older people to live independently. In that regard, I want to thank the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations for the briefing that it provided us with ahead of today’s debate.
Providing services for the elderly is a key activity for Scotland’s housing associations and co-operatives, and their involvement in delivery of older people’s services is growing, especially in care and repair. They also provide local personal preventative services such as befriending—which combats social isolation—exercise and physical fitness, arts projects, and day-to-day handyman services.
I, therefore, welcome the Government’s recognition of the key role that housing has to play in improving the health and wellbeing outcomes of our citizens—not least with regard to its policy commitment to enabling people to be cared for at home for as long as possible. I am also glad that housing stakeholders were added to the list of persons whom Scottish ministers must consult before prescribing national outcomes for health and wellbeing.
I represent Dumfries and Galloway, which benefits from a large and active population of older people who are often the driving force behind community activities of all shapes and sizes, and who enrich our communities. The breadth and strength of the voluntary sector in Dumfries and Galloway is directly related to the proportion of the population that has the benefit of years of experience in their trades or professions, and an interest in giving something back to their communities—for example, the people who support Crossroads (Newton Stewart & Machars) Care Attendant Scheme in Wigtown, which provides a range of services including respite care, personal care, palliative care and assistance with transport and shopping, or the people who work with Food Train and ensure that people in their communities have enough good-quality food to eat, in addition to some social interaction, which is a way to help to deal with feelings of isolation.
Furthermore, the community buyout of the Mull of Galloway, which I was delighted to be involved with, was led by two redoubtable retired couples. They have given so much back to their community that it would be difficult to imagine what it would look like without their involvement.
Older people make a massive contribution to Scottish society and our economy, as we heard from Nanette Milne and Ken Macintosh. The Scottish Government not only values that contribution, but is determined to support it to the fullest extent possible, within the powers that we currently have.
This Parliament’s record on protecting the income of older people, whether it be by continuing the council tax freeze for the seventh year in a row, providing free personal and nursing care for our elderly citizens, providing concessionary bus travel for our over-60s or introducing energy-efficiency measures to help us to tackle the scandal of fuel poverty, demonstrates that decisions about Scotland are best made in Scotland.
I rise to speak as the constituency MSP for Strathkelvin and Bearsden, which has one of the fastest rising populations of older people in Scotland. A friend of mine who is a consultant in NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde told me that a few streets in Bearsden have the fastest rising population of older people in the whole of western Europe. That is a testament to how well we have lived our lives in our early years and continue to live them in our later years.
Indeed, in Milngavie, in the constituency next door to mine, there are more centenarians than anywhere else in Scotland. Two years ago, my late father-in-law missed being a centenarian by only six weeks. He is an example of an older person who continued to contribute to society and his community until he was 99 and a half and was slayed by a heart attack. My father-in-law was the oldest man in Scotland at the time—he was 89—to receive a certificate for learning in computer technology. He ran his local residents association and sheltered housing association until he was in his 90s. He was quite an amazing man.
I think that it was about 15 years ago when someone in England completed their pilot’s licence at the age of 82. There are no limits to the heights to which we can aspire.
I was content that my father-in-law was a silver surfer. I am not sure that I would have been happy with him being a silver flyer. Towards the end, we were not sure that he should have been silver driver, but there we are.
The demographics in Ken Macintosh’s constituency are very similar to the demographics in mine, so I was interested in the degree to which the structure of my speech was reflected in Ken’s contribution.
Although it cannot be denied that a growing elderly population can present challenges for services, I want to use the rest of my speech to talk about all the expertise that is provided by a growing older population.
For Strathkelvin and Bearsden, those older people represent an enormous number of volunteers. They represent carers, activists in the community and spenders. That is an important point, which Nanette Milne made in her speech. Research by the Scottish Government in 2009—and research by the RVS in 2011, which was referred to by Nanette Milne and is worth repeating—shows that older people make a net financial contribution to UK society of £40 billion per annum. We should remember that, whenever we talk about “demographic challenges” or the older people “time bomb”. They are a group who spend a lot; they spend more than they cost society.
On carers, 21 per cent of over 65s support their parents—their parents!—their partners and their children, and 65 per cent of older people help their elderly neighbours to remain safe in their homes and communities. Those are things that we need to acknowledge and celebrate. As has been mentioned by the cabinet secretary and others, older people are also the carers of the next generations. They brought up their own children, and 51 per cent of families in Scotland say that they have asked the grandparents to be child carers, which represents a saving of £660 million per annum throughout Scotland.
When I was looking at that statistic, which I think was from Age Scotland, it reminded me of when my son was young, 23 years ago. It was because my mum could look after my son that I was able to continue volunteering at the Marie Curie Cancer Care hospice where I had set up a library. I could not have done that if my mum had not been able to look after my son. There were many times, pushing my pram around Bearsden Cross and Milngavie town centre, when I felt like the only person pushing a pram who did not have grey hair because so many grandparents in my area supported their children to go out to work by looking after their grandchildren.
Older people are very much involved in volunteering. The figures show that 42 per cent of volunteers are aged over 50, which is a significant number that we should bear in mind when we discuss older people.
Ken Macintosh spoke about hosting an awards ceremony for volunteers. I was delighted to attend the East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action “You’re our hero!” awards last Friday. I was invited along to give the award to the young volunteer of the year, which I was delighted to do, but our volunteer of the year was a man called Martin Brickley. He calls himself a retired teacher, but he has certainly not retired from life and from active commitment to his community. I will read out a wee list of what he has been up to in the past year. He is a board member of the local public partnership forum, a member of the change fund transformational group and the secretary of Kirkintilloch and district seniors forum.
It is important that I quote Martin Brickley’s own words after he had won the award. He said:
“The benefits I derive from volunteering are the enjoyment from actively participating in my local community, meeting new people and exposure to new experiences. Older people should volunteer because it makes a massive difference as to how they feel and to what they provide for the wider population. It also means they require less healthcare and general support by being active and feeling useful.”
Those are wise words from Martin.
Pat Brown volunteers as a telephone befriender, a member of the knitting group and as a volunteer officer for East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action. Her quotation in the group’s brochure was lovely. She said:
“it’s not just a one way street, you get your own glow back.”
Perhaps the best quotation of all was from Winnie Findlay, who is 94 years old. She is part of the “Wool You Be Our Volunteer?” knitting project, and she has been knitting for the Samaritan’s Purse UK shoe-box appeal for many years. She went into a care home a few months ago, but vowed that she would keep on knitting and volunteering.
My community has an enormous number of older people who are actively volunteering. I will mention just two more: Nan Middleton, who runs Creative Care and last year won the Queen’s award for voluntary services, and the people in the Anand Bhavan cultural centre in Kirkintilloch.
I certainly will.
I want to make it clear that we recognise the many achievements of older people and that we celebrate and support them in all that they do.
Scotland’s older people deserve better than the carping that we have heard from the Opposition during the debate. Opposition members need to get real. The UK is eroding through welfare cuts, changes to pension ages and the widening inequality gap, and we need to fight to ensure that Scotland’s older people continue to get the services that they deserve.
There is no doubt that the generation that inhabits the Parliament owes a debt of gratitude to our older people—not just to those who make up the current generation, but to those who went before.
Stewart Stevenson generously acknowledged the Labour Party’s contribution on many issues, but that contribution has come not just from the party. Over many generations, it was the members of the organised labour and trade union movement who decided that they were not going to stand for the kind of conditions that pertained in Britain in the early part of the 20th century. Having fought the second world war, they decided that, through their struggles, endeavours, agitation and action, they would change the country for the better. They wanted to ensure that their children and grandchildren had the opportunities that they never had.
It is because of those struggles—because of those people’s determination—that I, like many in others in this Parliament, was the first in my family who could go to university. It was because of their contributions and struggles that I and many others could take free healthcare for granted. It was through their struggles that, unlike my granny, who had to live in a room and kitchen with an outside toilet, her children and grandchildren could aspire to decent houses.
Stewart Stevenson mentioned comprehensive education, and there is a whole list of things that the labour and trade union movement delivered for this country. The movement helped to define Britain in the 20th century and into the 21st century. Because of that, we owe those people something. We should thank them, with not just words but our actions, for everything that they did to give us the best possible start in life.
Fiona McLeod said that all she has heard from the Opposition today is carping. Far from it. Labour members and the Lib Dems, when we were in coalition with them for a period, delivered a number of things in the Parliament when the money was flowing, such as free personal care and free transport, as others have said. It was right that we did that.
The challenge is not older people, because, as Nanette Milne and others have said, older people are not a burden but an asset to our society. The challenge is for our generation to find the means and the money to ensure that older people are able to live their retirement with dignity and pride. That will mean that we have to make choices as a society; there is no doubt about that, because everything cannot be delivered to everybody irrespective of the consequences.
As other members have said, the ageing population—the population’s changing demographic profile—means that more and more older people are relying on fewer and fewer younger people to pay for their retirement. How will we meet that challenge? If our aspiration is to repay the debt that we owe to that older generation, we should look at providing decent pensions—there is no doubt about that—and ensuring that the money is there to pay for those pensions. Therefore, it is right to debate how we pay for them and what we can afford. The last thing that we want to do is make irresponsible promises that, as older people are wise enough to know, can never be delivered.
We heard about housing and care, but it is not enough to say that people in later life who need care deserve it. We have to show that quality care is there for them in their time of need. Something that is apparent not just in Renfrewshire Council, in my constituency, but right across the country is that we are not building enough specialist homes and very sheltered and sheltered housing. We are not building enough houses that are appropriate to the needs of the older generation, if many of them, like Fiona McLeod’s father-in-law, are living to near enough 100.
That is a challenge for us. Up until now, we in this Parliament have made a choice: we have decided that money will not be available for all the homes that are necessary. That is the wrong choice, because older people need homes now. In the same way, they need care—flexible care. Ken Macintosh and others have mentioned what is happening in care, with people going in and out quickly, and the proper levels of care not being sustained.
The problem is most obvious for those with dementia. Although there are one or two initiatives in this country that deliver fantastic care, we are closing our eyes to the problem that is confronting our society with the growing numbers with dementia. They are not a burden and they are not a challenge; they are simply members of our families who need a particular type of care. Dementia services need to be reshaped, rejigged and retooled.
To Sandra White and others who talk about the Labour Party threatening to take things away, I say that nothing could be further from the truth. What we are attempting to do is face up to how we pay for everything that we want to deliver for our older people, because what they demand and what they deserve are honesty and sensible policies.
This has been an interesting debate. There has been little consensus, other than that we all genuinely and sincerely believe that an ageing population should be celebrated and should not be seen as a burden and that we all have to work together in partnership to make sure not only that older people live longer but that their quality of life is as positive as possible. There has been consensus about that, even if there has not been consensus about how to achieve it.
I will say a little bit about the affordability of pensions. It is worth noting that 42 per cent of Scottish revenues go towards social protections—I am talking about all the moneys that Scotland spends on not just pensioners but those who are unemployed and those with disability and everything else. However, on a UK basis, the figure is 43 per cent. I give that figure because, although some have suggested that pensions will be less affordable in an independent Scotland, the figure suggests that they would be more affordable in an independent Scotland. Given that that has been part of the debate, it is important to put the figure on the record.
I also put on the record the fact that in 2012-13, 15.5 per cent of Scotland’s gross domestic product was spent on that form of social protection, but in the UK such spending was at a higher level, at 16 per cent. On affordability, we can quite clearly say that pensions are more affordable in Scotland than across the rest of the UK. That is just a fact that we should all learn to accept, just as we can also accept the DWP’s confirmation that the state pension has a cast-iron guarantee in an independent Scotland. The only thing that we are arguing about now is whether there will be a higher increase for new pensioners in Scotland than for other people in the UK. In any debate, that is not a bad position to be in. We also know that, because of the contractual arrangements, occupational and private pensions are safe for pensioners in an independent Scotland. That is important for our older population.
We are really talking about the increase in the UK retirement age, and it is not a glib promise to Scottish pensioners if an independent Scotland does not increase the retirement age. We are saying that we promise not to make things worse for Scottish pensioners, and the fact is that the UK intends to make things worse for Scottish pensioners.
I thank Bob Doris for taking the intervention. He has just said that Westminster is focused on making things worse for Scottish pensioners, but we have seen the biggest rise in pensions, with a triple lock. It is worth some £800 per pensioner for around 890,000 pensioners in Scotland. That is not making things worse for Scottish pensioners; it is making things a lot better.
Increasing the retirement age for Scottish pensioners is not making things better for them; it is making things worse for them. Every independent observer of UK strategy on supporting pensioners says that things have got worse under the Con-Dem coalition. I think that it is reasonable to put that on the record.
What does the increase in the UK retirement age mean for my constituents? We have heard that women reaching 65 will, under current pension plans, be likely to receive £11,000 less over the course of their retirement because of poorer life expectancy in Scotland.
As a Glasgow MSP, it is reasonable for me to put on the record the fact that males in Glasgow—on average; as we have heard, some males in Glasgow live to a ripe old age and are hale and hearty for a long time—will receive £29,000 less in their old age compared with people elsewhere in the UK. If we could have the power to stop that inequality, why would we not take that power and deliver for Scotland’s pensioners? We can have that power with a yes vote in the independence referendum. For goodness’ sake, can we just deliver for my constituents, those males in Glasgow who get £29,000 less during their retirement because of their life expectancy?
I would like to have the nice problem of having to review all this in a few years because life expectancy in Scotland dramatically improves. That is the agenda that we all share. I am not celebrating the fact that life expectancy is poorer here than it is in the rest of UK; I want to improve it. I would like to be in the difficult situation that the UK Government is in because of the increase in life expectancy, but that is not the case in Scotland. I say to the Labour Party that we can fix it for the working-class males of Scotland, particularly those in Glasgow, who work hard all their lives and pay into a pension that they will never receive because of poor life expectancy, and we should fix it.
I want to say a couple of positive things about the NHS in Scotland, which our older people use more than any other group. Mr Findlay’s call for a fundamental root-and-branch review of the NHS misses the point completely because of the way in which the NHS operates. I do not often compliment the Conservatives, but they have a rather well-balanced idea that the NHS is under constant review. That is the consistent approach across Scotland’s national health service.
That is like saying that if I put my hand in the fire, it will get burnt. The Scottish NHS is doing more operations than ever before, and demand in the Scottish NHS is increasing like never before. That is why the Scottish NHS is evolving.
In the time that I have left, I will talk about one positive thing that Mr Findlay does not wish to recognise, which is Scotland’s patient safety programme. Since 2008, we have seen patient mortality fall by 12.4 per cent in Scotland’s NHS. That is a good thing: 8,500 people—I point out to Mr Findlay that they are predominantly older people—are alive today because of Scotland’s world-leading patient safety programme.
I apologise, Presiding Officer. I seem to have got sidelined into a tangential situation—not for the first time, I have to say.
From personal experience of friends and family who are in their late 60s and 70s, I see what local authorities and Scotland’s NHS are trying to do for them, and, by and large, the quality of care is exceptional and second to none. Yes, there are problems and they have to be fixed. Health and social care integration and the change fund for older people are two major levers in that regard. Frankly, however, the lever that we need is the power of independence. That is a good point on which to end.
We can hardly say that the debate has been consensual, but it has been welcome. Stewart Stevenson enriched it with his personal family experiences, which is a new tactic for him, I am sure. Christine Grahame enriched it with visions of her attire in the 60s. Fiona McLeod enriched it by going on about carping Opposition MSPs and then carping on about other Governments.
The Government and Parliament are quite right to celebrate older people’s contribution to our society. It is absolutely correct that we should highlight concessionary bus travel and free personal care as ways of recognising the contribution that older people have made throughout their lives and will make into the future. As mentioned, both those policies were introduced by the Lib Dem coalition that was in place before the current Government. However, now concessionary fares are funded more by the bus operators than by the Government.
I am glad that Nanette Milne took the opportunity to highlight in her amendment the disparity in Scotland that community buses are not included in the concessionary fares scheme. That was the subject of one of my members’ business debates not so long ago. Many rural parts of Scotland do not have the privilege of standard bus routes. How can it be fair that older people in those areas have to pay the full amount for their travel? Working across the chamber, we need to find a solution to that unfairness.
Labour has again raised its wish for a review of the NHS in Scotland. I recognise that our NHS staff are hard working and are appreciated for what they do, day in and day out. I do not agree that we need to put improvements on hold while there is a full review. Instead, we should focus on improving the health service where we know that there are problems. We need to focus on A and E waiting times and getting the balance right between the number of beds that are available for geriatric patients and the level of emergency geriatric admissions. Importantly, we need to address health inequalities in Scotland. We need to address the fact that 90 per cent of those who experience delayed discharge are over 65, and we need to address the Mental Welfare Commission’s concerns about the treatment of dementia patients. That is hardly a record of celebrating our older people.
I agree with the member that there is no need for the so-called root-and-branch review as outlined by the Labour Party, which I think is tokenistic.
On accident and emergency units, does the member accept, as I do, that the Scottish Government’s £50 million unscheduled care action plan is a concrete example of an NHS that is under constant review and which is developing to meet the demands that are placed on it?
I welcome that investment. Unfortunately, as we all know, it was from an underspend of money and was not new money. We all know that it will take a lot more than just a few extra consultants. As Alex Neil knows, I am happy to work with him on that.
It is hardly celebrating our older people to use the lower life expectancy in Scotland compared with that in the rest of the UK as a campaign weapon to promote independence. The Government would do better to focus its efforts not only on reducing the health inequalities in Scotland in comparison with those in the rest of the UK but on reducing health inequalities between areas within Scotland. According to the Office for National Statistics, not one area in Scotland featured in the top fifth of areas with the highest life expectancy at birth. Only three quarters of Glaswegian boys born today are expected to reach their 65th birthday and, in some areas of Dundee, life expectancy for a male is 10 years worse than that in that city’s west end. That is an echo from Dickensian times that has no place in a modern Scotland.
I apologise—I must make progress.
My amendment highlights many of the areas in which the Government can do better, but it also highlights what Lib Dems have done in coalition. For example, 890,000 pensioners in Scotland have benefited from the recently introduced triple-lock guarantee. For the first time ever, pensions shall increase with earnings or inflation or by 2.5 per cent, whichever is the highest. That means that 890,000 pensioners will be around £800 each better off per year—in the past year in Scotland alone, £712 million has been put back into the pockets of our pensioners. That is what I call celebrating our older people.
We have also tackled age discrimination in the workplace, which will allow those who want to do so to work past their 65th birthday. That is valuing people with a life’s experience, and that is the way to celebrate our older people. Although we have had one of our mildest winters for some time, the coalition has almost tripled the cold weather payments from £8.50 to £25 per week, which is a significant rise when money is short. Last year, that resulted in £146 million going to older people to tackle winter cold.
The Government motion mentions its expert group on welfare and the recommendation to increase the carers allowance by £575 per annum. That is welcome and can be done with or without independence, but the Scottish people are still in the dark regarding set-up costs, including in relation to the welfare recommendations. Therefore, I repeat the calls for the Government to be as open and transparent as possible and to publish its independence costs, including the set-up and transition costs and the costs of its welfare recommendations.
The debate has not been consensual, but it is welcome. We should and do celebrate our older people, and why not? We are all going that way anyway, so we have a vested interest.
Other members have mentioned that we have a growing ageing population. That is true, but, as I said, we are not ageing well in all areas of Scotland. Health inequalities need to belong to our past, not our future. The Scottish Government would do well to concentrate its efforts on addressing that issue. The number of geriatric beds is at a 10-year low and there is a damning report from the Mental Welfare Commission. We can contrast that with the extra £712 million that, despite what Bob Doris asserts, has been delivered into the pockets of pensioners in Scotland already. None of the Administration’s MSPs has recognised the biggest-ever increase in our state pension, which means that 890,000 pensioners are already better off in Scotland. That was delivered in a Scotland that is within the United Kingdom and is a positive case for voting no and staying in the UK in 99 days’ time.
I have to say that I came to Parliament today with a heavy heart, anticipating that this debate would be one of the most ghastly that I had ever participated in. I have to say that my fears were largely well founded. I would not apply these adjectives to the cabinet secretary but to her motion, which is tawdry, sour, full of rancid SNP polemic and thoroughly depressing, as has been much of the debate, notwithstanding contributions that I much appreciated from Nanette Milne, Ken Macintosh, Aileen McLeod—until the polemic at the end—Fiona McLeod and Hugh Henry.
We have commented first on the fact that we celebrate old people, which is referred to at the beginning of the motion and is something on which we can all agree. We have had various pensioner contributions during the debate. As I pointed out in a previous debate, when the Parliament first assembled in 1999 only eight members were aged 60 or over but at the present time over 45 members are aged 60 or over. The Parliament is a reflection of the wider society in its ageing.
I listened to Shona Robison’s rebuttal of Neil Findlay, but as I understood it the logic of her point seemed to be that if Scotland had been independent there would have been, uniquely in the western world, no deindustrialisation in Scotland—it would not have happened. Nor, when I hear Bob Doris and others go on about the new pension commitment, do I ever remember the SNP talking about reducing the pensionable age in Scotland because we had a different life expectancy. No, the great idea that we are going to have a variable pension age has popped into the public lexicon only because we have a referendum in prospect and the SNP sees it as something that it can dangle before the electorate in an illusive, bribery way.
When I was born, people expected to live about 11 years in retirement, but today it is about half as much again. I think that most people understand that, if we are going to have a much larger and wider base of people surviving into old age, we need to place that on a sustainable financial footing and, however much we might wish it to be otherwise, that requires the pension age to be reviewed.
Does the member accept that the modelling that led to the increase in the pension age being accelerated was based on life expectancy in the south of England and not on life expectancy in Scotland? Surely what we need is a model that suits Scottish circumstances.
As I said to the cabinet secretary, she could have been arguing that for the past 30 years as a reason for reducing the pension age in Scotland, but she has not done so.
Surely the point in all of this is whether people are going to live well and be healthy in old age and live in appropriate housing. Those two points have been touched on in the debate, and I will touch on them in my own way.
First, in relation to living well, that means that we must ensure that the healthcare that is going to keep people fit and independent into old age is readily available. In that regard, let us talk about atrial fibrillation, which I think Margaret McCulloch has asked the Government questions on. Atrial fibrillation is an arrhythmia that is present in around 1 per cent of the population and characterised by an irregular heartbeat and associated with symptoms such as palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness and dizziness. Its prevalence is strongly associated with age, with more than 8 per cent of people aged 65 or over having it and 85 per cent of people who have it being aged 65 or over.
The condition is becoming more common, it is associated with an elderly population, and, if not properly treated, it compromises the standard of living and ability to act independently of those old people, and yet the drug that is now available—despite having been approved by the Scottish Medicines Consortium—is only being prescribed on a variable ratio across Scotland. As Margaret McCulloch established, on average, only 0.05 per cent of the Scottish population is being prescribed that drug.
That all suggests that if we are going to have a health service that is appropriate and competent for elderly people, one thing that we have to look at is providing something that is more streamlined, appropriate, rapid and free-thinking. We currently have too many health boards and too many health medical prescribing committees.
The second point is on housing, which Hugh Henry touched on. Mr Macintosh contributed to the debate. He represents the constituency of Eastwood, which is sometimes known as Eastwood twinned with McCarthy and Stone, because it has such a high concentration of McCarthy and Stone facilities. Indeed, when I first stood for election there, I established that there were 63 residential homes for old people in the constituency. I went round them all and I have to say that there were some that I did not want to find myself in and others that I very much hoped I might find myself in. I did notice that very few of the homes had men, full stop. It does seem that men do not live as long as women—indeed, Carlaw men are not long lived at all, so I am completely altruistic about all this because I do not expect to be the beneficiary of anything about which I speak.
We need to think about the accommodation that we are going to provide for older people in this next great age of life. I have touched on that point in previous debates and Hugh Henry talked about it earlier. Of course, not everybody will be able to go into a McCarthy and Stone facility—they seem to be inordinately expensive to me. We will have to ensure that people are able to live within their communities.
In East Renfrewshire at the moment, there is a proposal to build a huge retirement village on the outskirts of Newton Mearns. I am not altogether sure whether it is for the benefit of those who will live there or for the benefit of those who will manage, run and profit from it, but that is a separate issue. The question is: do we want to create communities into which old people are put, or do we want to ensure that older people are able to stay within the communities in which they have lived?
If we accept that people are going to live longer and will want to stay within their community and have an independent lifestyle, we must ensure not only that we have a health service that is capable of allowing them to stay independent and healthy but that we start planning now so that the residential accommodation that we build in the future will provide both the sheltered housing that Mr Henry talked about and appropriate accommodation within the community that will enable elderly people to live independently.
Unfortunately, this ended up as yet another debate that referenced everything to the referendum. Frankly, I am bored with that. After 18 September, we will still have all this ahead of us, whether we are independent or not. We really have to start discussing these matters with a bit more imagination than we have managed this afternoon.
We should also pay tribute to the many older people who take on caring roles all the time—the people whom Fiona McLeod talked about, who are looking after parents, children and grandchildren. They contribute the equivalent of around £34 billion to our country. This is carers week, and it is really important that we take the opportunity to celebrate their contribution and thank them for it.
The debate should have been about the contribution of older people. At the weekend, we commemorated the D day landings, which reminded us all of the sacrifices that that generation made for the rest of us. Post-war, they faced a period of huge austerity, but what did they do in the face of that? They set up the welfare state and the NHS, selflessly determined to make the collective lot better. Hugh Henry talked about that and said that we owe them a debt of gratitude, which indeed we do. The labour and trade union movements have worked together to improve people’s lot and we benefit from that today. The debate should have been about their contribution, but many speeches have not touched on that at all, which is disappointing.
Labour has delivered and will continue to deliver for older people. Only a few of the things that we have achieved are mentioned in the Government motion. All that the SNP does is accuse us of having set up a cuts commission—that is a figment of its imagination—while it implements cuts here and now. It makes unfunded promises to older people while cutting services here and now. It is the elderly and the disabled who face a postcode lottery when it comes to the services that they receive and those that they must pay for. They are the new council tax payers, as a result of the stealth cuts that the Government has imposed. It does not have a commission; it is implementing those cuts right here and right now.
Did we imagine the statement about a something-for-nothing culture that Johann Lamont made when she was elected leader of the Labour Party in Scotland? Is the cuts commission not under way? It was certainly the subject of one of Johann Lamont’s big announcements at the time. I think that we should know where that is at and when it is to report.
The cuts commission is a figment of the minister’s and, indeed, her party’s imagination. The SNP is the only party that seems to believe that it is possible to deliver Nordic-style services with American-style tax rates. We need to take on the challenge of how we pay for those services and not make the least well-off in our society pay for them, as the SNP is doing here and now. People are waiting on trolleys, getting seven-minute care visits and not being looked after as they should be, and that should be a source of shame to this Government.
I turn to the issue of free bus passes, which was mentioned by Nanette Milne, Ken Macintosh and Jim Hume, to name but a few. The point was made that people are less able to use them in rural areas, where there is no public transport, but that is not the case. A form of public transport is available in rural areas through the community transport schemes. Those schemes are not free, but they provide access to public transport and they are valued by older people.
The schemes are under threat right here and right now because of the Government’s stealth cuts, which are having an impact on our older people. Older people are being kept at home and prevented from socialising and getting out to do very basic things such as going to the doctor and doing their shopping. It is extremely important that the Government tackles the issue and funds those things, instead of implementing stealth cuts.
Other members talked about the health service and A and E. Jim Hume and Neil Findlay mentioned people lying on trolleys for hours on end without knowing when they will be seen, which is a disgrace, and issues such as bedblocking, which means that people are being boarded in wards and the like. Surely that is unacceptable in this day and age.
That is why we need a Beveridge-style review. NHS workers are telling me that they have never seen the NHS in such a bad state as the one that it is in now. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has admitted that there are huge problems with the NHS, but all that he has said is that a review is not necessary, because he knows what the issues are. Let us see him start to address them, because people are confronting them now.
People accuse us of seeking to put the NHS on hold—that is not what we intend—but it is not on hold; it is actually in decline. The Labour Party appears to be the only party in the Parliament that can see that and which wants to address it. Tinkering at the edges is not enough; we need a Beveridge-style review to deal with the situation.
The debate should have been about the action plan, but not many members mentioned it. Those who did welcomed it. I think that we would all agree that it is a welcome document to have, but Ken Macintosh identified that something was missing from it—any mention of the role of kinship carers. We have a duty to ensure that older people who act as kinship carers are supported emotionally and financially in providing care for children and young people.
Neil Findlay pointed out that the Labour Party attempted to address the postcode lottery of financial support for kinship carers during consideration of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill, but the Government voted down our proposal. In this country, some kinship carers are paid £40 a week, some are paid £200 a week, and some are paid nothing at all, which is an absolute disgrace. We need to support older people who perform that role. Because they are living off their pension and have no ability to increase their means, they are bringing up children in poverty, which has an impact on both children and carers.
Margaret McCulloch mentioned the need for young people to have access to older people. Because of generational change and families moving away, such access can be difficult to provide. She talked about initiatives in Germany that are helping younger people to have access to and learn from older people. It is important that that happens.
We need to plan to deal with the challenges of demographic change, but I do not see the Government doing that. We celebrate people living longer, but we must also plan for that, to ensure that people are able to lead worthwhile lives and are not left feeling afraid and excluded from society in old age, as happens to many, many people.
On the pension age and people living longer, I find it quite disgraceful that the Government seems to be saying that our early mortality rates are a cost-saving exercise about which we should be pleased, instead of apologising for its failure. That is not to do with independence; mortality rates in other parts of the UK are much better than ours. Why are we not doing more with the devolved powers that we have, instead of bleating from the sidelines and accepting mortality rates that are a disgrace in this day and age?
I understand that I need to close.
I am disappointed that in the debate we did not talk more about the contribution that older people make as they live longer and enjoy good health into old age, which is a good thing. Our aspiration should be for all people to live longer and enjoy good health. We owe them that.
I thank everyone for their contributions to the debate. I pay tribute to the Scottish older people’s assembly, which I meet regularly and which has its pensioners meeting here in October. The event is large and very worth while.
On “Somewhere to go and something to do—Active and Healthy Ageing: An Action Plan for Scotland 2014-2016”, Sandra White asked whether there will be an opportunity to engage with the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing, so that it can feed into the action plan. I am very happy to say yes to that, and I am sure that we can arrange for that to happen in short order.
I will try to cover as many as possible of the points that were made in the debate. I will pick up on a couple of things that Neil Findlay said. The social care budgets for older people have increased, not decreased. They increased by 2.6 per cent between 2013-14 and 2014-15—that is an increase of £34 million.
Neil Findlay mentioned fuel poverty. As I said in my opening speech, we have invested more money in tackling fuel poverty. What we have done is in marked contrast with Ed Miliband’s promise to review the winter fuel allowance and question its universality. I hope that Neil Findlay does not support such an approach.
Throughout the debate we heard about the challenges that the NHS faces. The NHS does indeed face challenges, and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has brought forward plans to deal with some of them. However, we constantly hear from the Labour Party that the answer to every challenge in the NHS is a review, which strikes me as demonstrating the party’s absence of anything else to say about the NHS. We do not want to put the NHS on pause; we want to get on and solve some of the challenging issues that it faces. I should say that the health service provides a fantastic service to hundreds and thousands of people every day of every week.
On Nanette Milne’s speech, I join members in paying tribute to Mr Milne and I hope that Nanette will share with him the Official Report of the debate. She talked about the importance of volunteering in the area that she represents, as did many other members.
Jim Hume mentioned the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland’s report. We have accepted in full its recommendations for the Government and the NHS, and next month the Minister for Public Health will present in response to the report an integrated action plan that outlines how we will implement its recommendations.
Jim Hume also said that we could get on and increase carers allowance now, but it is reserved to Westminster, being a Department for Work and Pensions allowance and not one that we have here.
Anyway, as I was saying—[Laughter.] I will move on to some important points that were made during the debate, unlike that last, rather silly one.
Sandra White made a number of important points and talked about older people absolutely being an asset and not a burden. That view was common to many people’s speeches. Margaret McCulloch said the same. I thought that she made a very interesting speech, during which she talked about an innovative project in Germany. We have a number of examples here in Scotland of services being brought together under one roof, but without a doubt the project that she mentioned in Germany seems to have gone one step further, and I am sure that we would always want to look at such things in more detail.
Stewart Stevenson reminded us that social protection is more affordable in Scotland, which is an important point.
Ken Macintosh made a very thoughtful speech in which he mentioned the issue of 15-minute visits. The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing has charged Health Improvement Scotland and the Care Inspectorate to develop a new inspections methodology to ensure that people get the level of support that they have been assessed as needing and that the quality is no less than people should expect. New inspections will include the commissioning processes by councils that determine the volume and length of visits that are needed to deliver safe, compassionate care services for Scotland’s older people. I hope that that reassures Ken Macintosh.
Hugh Henry made a very interesting speech and I could agree with much of it, but not his conclusions. He said that the challenge for our generation is to ensure that there are adequate resources and social protections for those who require them, but his conclusion seemed to be that we have to make choices to take away from one protection in order to give to another within the confines of the fixed budget. How much better would it be to have control over all the powers—to be able to grow our working-age population, for example, and increase the tax take to enable us to fund those social protections? Would that not be more sensible than robbing Peter to pay Paul? I say to Hugh Henry that I think that we can agree with the narrative, but we absolutely disagree with the conclusions.
I thank Jackson Carlaw for his kind words. I am not sure that I have ever been described as tawdry and depressing, but I will always aim to try better not to be those things. The rest of his speech was, as ever, quite entertaining and humorous, and it was quite self-deprecating—unnecessarily so, I have to say. He made some good points about housing, and of course that is why the integration of health and social care is so important. We have to look at things in the round and bring together the key pillars of service delivery, and that is exactly what we are doing.
Rhoda Grant asked why we are not doing things to tackle life expectancy now, but of course we are. A number of the social and public health policies that the Government has introduced are intended to do just that, not least by tackling Scotland’s relationship with alcohol, which is one of the key causes of life expectancy reductions in too many of our communities. However, we have to ask why the Labour Party opposes that policy. When we try to bring in policies to improve life expectancy, Labour opposes them. That is disappointing, but maybe not unexpected.
I am just concluding.
The debate was robust, but overall it was interesting, with many interesting suggestions and issues to follow up. We can all agree that we want the best for Scotland’s older people, but we have very different routes to achieve that.