Over 30 organisations, including AAA members Independent Age, Age UK Scotland, Ageing Without Children and The Civil Service Retirement Fellowship, have issued a Consensus Statement on an Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland.
Led by national older person’s financial hardship charity Independent Age, the group has launched its consensus statement (below). They set out the need for an independent commissioner to enable better representation for older people across government policy making, whilst providing a crucial independent voice for later life.
The creation of the role would bring Scotland in line with Wales and Northern Ireland, where older people have benefitted from a commissioner for more than 10 years. Independent Age is also calling for an English Commissioner for Older People and Ageing. Scotland is currently the only devolved nation without an Older People’s Commissioner.
The call is also backed by the Scottish public. In YouGov polling commissioned by Independent Age, around nine in ten (89%) people aged 65 and over in Scotland said they support the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner.
The role of a commissioner
Scotland’s population is rapidly ageing. There are currently around one million people over 65 living in Scotland, and this is predicted to rise to 1.4 million by 2040, which will mean older people make up 1 in 4 of the Scottish population. Despite this group being wide and varied, Independent Age says that for too long, older people have been unfairly stereotyped as one homogenous group and tarred with ageist stereotypes, which can stop people receiving the support they need.
To support the diverse needs of older people in Scotland, the statement calls on the Scottish Government to embrace the demographic shift by establishing a commissioner who will champion the rights of, and shine a light on the issues experienced by, people in later life.
According to the latest data, one in seven, or 150,000 older people, currently live in poverty in Scotland. This number has increased by 25% since 2012. Independent Age says that an Older People’s Commissioner would ensure the experiences of people in later life living in poverty are heard by decision makers.
Debbie Horne, Scotland Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Independent Age said: “At Independent Age, we often hear from older people who tell us they feel invisible, undervalued and ignored by wider society.
“The dangerous stereotype that all older people are financially secure is common, and too often older people are not given the opportunity to voice their experience about what they need, including better financial support. This is wrong.
“We all deserve to look forward to our later years and an Older People’s Commissioner could help. If introduced they will be an independent champion, standing up for everyone in later life. We urge the Scottish Government to establish an Older People’s Commissioner and bring Scotland into line with the other devolved nations to ensure no one feels left out of the conversation as they age.”
Issues impacting on older people
An Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland would ensure that older people in Scotland are no longer the only older people in a devolved nation who are not represented by a commissioner.
If created, a commissioner in Scotland would encourage collaboration and joined-up thinking to deliver long term policy solutions that benefit everyone as they age. They would make independent recommendations and have the power to launch inquiries to resolve issues for older people now and in the future. They would represent and amplify different views on the problems that older people say they are struggling with.
Currently these include:
- Poverty – Scottish pensioner poverty has increased over the last decade. There are now 150,000 pensioners in poverty – a 25% rise in the last decade. That’s one in seven pensioners living in poverty.
- The cost of living crisis – increasing prices are having a devastating impact on older people. When surveyed, 1 in 4 (26%) said that the cost of living had made their physical health worse. The same number said it had made their mental health worse. The charity’s YouGov polling also found that over half (55%) of low-income older households are worried they won’t be able to pay for food in the next six months.
- Health and social care – many older people frequently suffer from diminishing health and mobility. Yet the delivery of health and social care services to older people so often fails to adequately meet the needs of older people.
- Inclusion – digital, social and economic. Many older people still cannot access the internet – either due to cost or simply through lack of knowledge or confidence. At the same time, older people are seeing local transport services being reduced. This is leading to increased feelings of isolation.
- Housing – Recent research by Independent Age revealed issues older people across Scotland, in both owned and rented accommodation, are experiencing with property upkeep, fear of unexpected costs and energy efficiency. Statistics show that for older people in the private and social rented sector the poverty rate after housing costs is significantly higher (39% and 32% respectively).
We call on the Scottish Government to establish an Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland to act as an independent champion for older people and ensure that policy and practice across government considers the long-term needs of people in later life.
Our society is ageing, and policymakers should embrace this demographic shift. Currently in Scotland, over 1 million people are aged 65 or over. By 2030, 1 in 5 people in Scotland will be over 65. Growing older is a privilege, but an ageing population will require collaboration and joined-up thinking to deliver innovative policy solutions and meet the needs of the future.
The support people need in later life from institutions like the NHS, social care and social security systems are critical, but no single government department can respond to these issues alone. A commissioner would facilitate the long-term planning that is needed to ensure our economy and public services are adapting to demographic shifts, while also enabling more people to age well. This would not just benefit older people, but the nation as a whole.
A sharper focus on the range of experiences in later life is required. Not everyone enjoys a financially secure retirement – indeed an alarming proportion are struggling to make ends meet – and too often, older people’s rights and interests are forgotten by decision-makers, particularly as we face unprecedented crises.
But there is an opportunity to fix this. Older people want to be part of the nation’s vision, now, and in the future. As our older population becomes increasingly diverse, we believe that older people urgently need a champion to help make Scotland the best place in the world to grow old.