Older people in England feel there is a lack of understanding and representation in Government and wider society, according to new data from Independent Age.
The polling from YouGov was commissioned by the charity alongside their new report ‘Who wants to listen to me? Why England needs a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing’.
The survey of 1139 people over 65 in England found:
• 78 per cent of those surveyed think older people are badly understood by the government
• 78 per cent of those surveyed think the issues facing older people are badly represented in government
• 75 per cent do not believe that society understands the issues facing older people.
With more than 2 million older people in the UK living in poverty, and millions more hovering precariously close to it, the charity is calling on the government to establish a Commissioner for Older and People and Ageing to ensure the often hidden voices of people in later life are heard by decision makers. Independent Age has previously calculated that the cost of a Commissioner for Older People and Ageing in England could represent just 7p per taxpayer per year when compared to the budgets of other Commissioners in Westminster.
A spotlight on older voices
To shine a light on the issues older people are facing, Independent Age conducted a series of regional roadshows in Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle and London.
Older people who took part in the roadshows shared their struggles and frustrations with spikes in bills such as energy, food, water and council tax. For those on low income, the stress and uncertainty that they face is compounded by speculation that the Government is considering ending the State Pension triple lock. For the millions of older people living in financial hardship, and whose only source of income is the State Pension, the Triple Lock is vital in protecting the value of their often dangerously low income, helping them cope with the elevated cost of living as they approach another scary winter.
The charity discovered key themes across their conversations with older people, including money worries, not having access to the services they need in their community, and ageism and discrimination.
One participant in the Leeds roadshow said: “They’ve put the energy bills up so high. How do they expect us to pay? I live on my own and my family is abroad. There are lots of things I need help with to keep healthy, but I don’t have any.”
A participant in the Manchester roadshow explained: “I’m making cutbacks, just to survive. Even the things I need, I need to count the pennies.”
Marion, who took part in the Independent Age roadshow in Newcastle, said: “There are so many different experiences of ageing, and we need a Commissioner that’s independent and has that authority to get things done. Too much of what we hear about ageing is shaped by people who have what they need, but it’s not the case for everyone. I know so many people who aren’t having the retirement they planned, even if like me you’ve always worked.
“For me, I have to be prudent, and I’ve not used the heating for several years now. I just wrap up in blankets. You become acclimatised to the fact you can’t just bang the heating on and have hot water running out the tap. There is a cost to it and sometimes you can’t afford that. Hot water in my world is a luxury.
“An independent commissioner would make sure that people who don’t have what they need in later life, particularly where I am in the North East, are heard.”
Morgan Vine, Head of Policy and Influencing at Independent Age, said: “Through polling and our direct conversations with older people across England, it is clear that people in later life feel overlooked, unheard and invisible.
“Too often, decisions are being made in Westminster that impact them, yet their individual needs are not considered. Every day, older people deal with money worries, inadequate services and ageist attitudes, and decision-makers across England could do more to understand these issues and look for ways to address them.
“With the cost of living continuing to squeeze budgets to breaking point, people told us they are washing less to reduce water bills, cutting back to one meal a day and some said they can’t afford to travel to see friends and family. This is completely unacceptable and is having a severe impact on people’s mental and physical health.
“Older people need an independent champion to fight their corner, and the corner of all of us we age. A Commissioner for Older People and Ageing would amplify the diverse voices of those in later life and convene, collaborate and hold to account decision makers to ensure improvement to policy and practice become a reality.”
More on the campaign
Currently 11 million people in England are aged 65 or over. In less than 20 years, over 17 million (1 in 4) people will be over 65.
If created, a Commissioner would ensure that the long-term needs of people in later life and the challenges faced by the population as they age are considered in policy and practice across all government departments. The role would work alongside the Older People’s Commissioners for Wales and Northern Ireland, to help make the UK the best place in the world to grow old.
The campaign in England has the backing of more than 70 organisations who signed up to a consensus statement which launched in March this year. It is also backed by the public. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Independent Age, nine in ten (89%) of people aged 65 and over said they would support the creation of a commissioner.