England Needs a Commissioner for the Rights of Older People

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2018 National Retired Members Conference
13 June 2018
Carried as Amended

The vast and important role older people have to play in supporting the economy and social wellbeing of family life in British society in today’s world is widely recognised. However, pensioners are often portrayed by politicians and some of the media as a burden on the NHS, the economy and society in general. Apart from the support provided by National Pensioners Convention, age related charities and trades unions, older people in England, do not have a voice speaking on their behalf at the highest level, and they are powerless to bring about change which matters to them.

In the parliamentary session of 2003-04, the Older People’s Commissioners Bill was a private members bill introduced by Ian Lucas, had its first reading on 7 January, 2004, and was due to have its second reading on 23 April, 2004, but this never happened. We in England still do not have a Commissioner to speak for us and yet the Welsh and Northern Irish Commissioners were created in 2008 and 2011 respectively.

Paul Burstow, former Care Minister wrote in the thinktank Centre Forum’s 2013 report ‘Giving Older People a Voice’, ‘Every day older people in England face a number of challenges around vulnerability, abuse, poverty, housing, health and transport which remain inadequately addressed by policymakers. Equally, older people’s contribution to society, including an estimated £4 billion in unpaid voluntary care and up to £34 billion in unpaid social care, is frequently undervalued or overlooked. In the context of an ageing society, there is an urgent need to address these issues, to challenge negative stereotypes, support older people and maximise their contribution to society. Following the examples set by Wales and Northern Ireland, this report calls for the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner for England. The Commissioner would be free from party politics, able to act as a strong advocate for older people, fighting their corner in policymaking circles, challenging discrimination, championing their contribution to society and the economy, and spearheading the future proofing of English policy development across government to prepare for the challenges posed by an ageing society.’ This was 2013 and we are no closer to the creation of an older person’s champion now than we were then.

Baroness Bakewell wrote ‘Plenty of people have ideas about caring for the old. But who is representing what the old themselves think and want? That’s the job of an Older People’s Commissioner; that’s why we need one now.’ Esther Rantzen also added ‘. ‘Every survey of older people reflects the fact that they are not consulted even when decisions are made that vitally affect them. They are not valued and treated with respect. And yet our nation, our families, charities, cities and villages could not function without their contribution. It is time they are appropriately, adequately represented with an Older People’s Commissioner. They deserve no less.”

This conference urges the UNISON National Retired Members’ Committee and the National Executive Council to campaign vigorously in partnership with the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Ageing and Older People, the Labour Party and other organisations, requesting the government create an English Commissioner for Older People, to give those people in later life a voice at the highest level.