“Older people need a voice”: call on Scottish Government to appoint Commissioner for later life

A new report from Independent Age highlights just under three-quarters (72%) of those aged 65 and over in Scotland think the issues they face are badly understood by society and almost 9 in 10 (89%) people aged 65 or over in Scotland support appointing a Commissioner.

Despite wider scrutiny of the number of Commissioners in Scotland, the growing over 65s population shows that an Older People’s Commissioner is desperately needed.
The Scottish Government must appoint an Older People’s Commissioner (OPC) or risk people in later life in Scotland being ‘left behind’ according to a new report from national charity Independent Age. 

The charity that supports people experiencing poverty in older age is calling on the Scottish Government to bring the nation in line with Wales and Northern Ireland, where older people have been represented by a commissioner since 2008 and 2011 respectively. 

In the new report ‘We need a champion: Why Scotland should have an Older People’s Commissioner’ launched today (13 March 2024), Independent Age outlines how the role could help older people across the nation and especially those on a low income. One in seven people – 150,000 individuals – in later life in Scotland are now in poverty, a figure that has risen in the past decade by a quarter.

The report was compiled through interviews with older people and organisations that work with them alongside Scottish nationally representative polling. The call for an OPC has also been backed by over 30 organisations across Scotland. 

Recent polling commissioned by the charity shows that almost three in four (72%) of those aged 65 and over in Scotland think the issues they face are badly understood by society1. OPCs already exist in Wales and Northern Ireland and have taken the lead on campaigning about cross cutting issues that affect older people from all walks of life, from bus passes and care during COVID to the uptake of social security entitlements. An OPC would be an independent voice for older people in Scotland, bridging the gap between the issues and needs of older people and the institutions that impact their lives, including the Scottish Government, local councils, the NHS, civil servants and businesses. They would ensure older people’s voices are heard, by advocating on their behalf and working alongside community groups to listen to the experience of those in later life.

The population of Scotland is ageing. Currently over one million people, or one in five, are over 65 and by 2040, this will rise to one in four people across the nation. The charity says that an OPC will help society prepare for this change, giving people in later life an independent voice and work across Government departments to ensure a joined-up approach to policy making. Polling from Independent Age shows that almost 9 in 10 (89%) people aged 65 or over in Scotland support appointing a Commissioner2 and polling from Age Scotland found that 7 in 10 (71%) of respondents of all age groups were in favour.

As well as ensuring everyone’s voices are heard as we age, the new report looked into three key problems affecting people in later life living in financial insecurity, and how a Commissioner could help resolve them.

An OPC could help lift more older people out of poverty

Polling commissioned by Independent Age found that one third (33%) of over 65s living on an annual household income of less than £15,000 can only just afford their essentials and often struggle to make ends meet3.Almost half (43%) of older people living on an annual household income of less than £15,000 are worried about not being able to afford food and drink when considering their financial situation over the next 6 months4.

Independent Age says that without a long-term Government strategy to combat pensioner poverty, it will continue to rise. Research from the charity found that if Pension Credit, the top-up for older people on a low income, was received by everyone who is eligible in Scotland, an estimated 38,000 older people would immediately be lifted out of poverty. Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland have led the way in driving Pension Credit uptake, campaigning to improve take-up by raising awareness and connecting older people with social security advisors. An OPC for Scotland could ensure advice and information about finances effectively reaches older people or bring together government departments to focus on increasing uptake of financial entitlements.

An OPC could help prevent fuel poverty for older people 

Polling commissioned by Independent Age found that over half (59%) of older people living in Scotland on less than £15,000 a year reduced heating usage in their home over the last winter to help manage the cost of living5 [5] and the latest Scottish Government statistics show that a staggering 36% of older households live in fuel poverty. The charity says that rising costs across the board, including energy and food are squeezing people from every angle, there is often no room in older people’s fixed budgets to absorb these extra costs.

An OPC could advise the Scottish Government on how older people in financial insecurity can be helped to make their homes energy efficient, ensuring the Scottish Government also reaches its Net Zero targets. An OPC could also work with energy companies to ensure they are identifying and targeting financial support at older people on a low income who may not be aware they qualify for help. 

An OPC could help with inadequate housing

Older people often have specific needs for their homes, such as a shower or a ground-floor flat. However, older people are often excluded from the planning and development of homes, and it can be difficult to find an appropriate home, especially on a low income, and this is sometimes keeping those in later life in unsafe, unsuitable or unaffordable homes. The charity has heard from older people who are terrified of complaining to their landlord about necessary repairs and others who say their homes are freezing, damp and mouldy. One interviewee said that “I know if I complain to my landlord, it will get me nowhere but homeless”.

An OPC could ensure policy makers are informed about the housing requirements of older people now and in the future, making sure they build the right homes for an ageing population. They could also help support the elimination of discrimination against older people in housing issues.

Debbie Horne, Scotland Policy and Public Affairs Manager at Independent Age said: “Older people in Scotland have spoken: they need a champion. For too long, people in later life have felt like their issues don’t matter. The time for an Older People’s Commissioner is now.

“Problems for people in later life who are in poverty, such as being priced out of basic needs, including food and fuel, and living in insecure or inappropriate housing are going to get worse, not better, without someone who can listen to the needs of those affected and campaign for change. As well as being a voice for all older people, a Commissioner could ensure those who are seldom heard, like those in financial hardship, are considered when making policy decisions.

“We need an independent Older People’s Commissioner who can work with Government, engage with community groups and give older people a voice. Scotland’s population is ageing. And pensioner poverty is rising. Our society needs to change so we can all look forward to living well in later life. An Older People’s Commissioner can help.”

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