We need to improve the services available for different people with different needs as they age. I am vice-chair of the all-party group on dementia, but I decided not to talk specifically about dementia today because I am hoping for a future opportunity to do so. There are, however, some very good services. They are very localised, but often people do not know about them. For example, the wife of a constituent of mine who happens to be a good friend, has just been diagnosed with dementia. He found out about the excellent Admiral Nurses service by word of mouth; there was no one there to signpost him to it. He could have been provided with a hugely valuable service at the outset of his wife’s diagnosis. We need fundamentally to improve services across the country.
The Centre for Social Justice has produced a report, which I highly commend and which is entitled “Age of Opportunity: Transforming the lives of older people in poverty”. The report states that more than 1 million people aged 65 and over feel lonely, and a similar number feel trapped in their home. Charities can do so much but, as the CSJ says, there is a fundamental role for the state in preventing such isolation. So many older people are already known to statutory bodies, so providing the link to charities is essential. The CSJ recommends a greater role for neighbourhood policing teams, in engaging with extremely isolated older people, and the extended use of the increasing number of health visitors. Those are sound recommendations, which would help to deliver a new relationship between the voluntary and public sectors, and also reduce social isolation.
The authorities and partnership organisations to which I speak are desperate to provide good services, but they are hampered by finances. Although we have to be realistic about the need to make efficiency savings across various services in the short term, that needs to be balanced by an understanding that good-quality services can benefit public finances in the long term. Keeping retired people active, for example, keeps them healthy and less in need of acute primary care. Helping those nearing retirement to plan financially prevents them from draining their assets before falling back on the state. Providing company for people in social isolation not only enriches their lives but improves mental and physical well-being. Good-quality housing designed for the older generation provides greater choice for people wishing to remain in their communities. All those areas are interlinked, and better delivery could save the state a significant amount of money in the long term, but for the people who need care we must ensure that it is of good quality and sustainable for our ageing population, but also fairly funded.
If we are to improve the standard and delivery of care and services for older people we need to deal with this issue today, and I urge the Minister not to let it get kicked into the medium or long grass, and to consult on and implement reform of the system as soon as possible, for the benefit of this and future generations of pensioners.