An interview with Michelle Mitchell

Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director, Age UK
In the run up to Agenda for Later Life 2011, we caught up with Michelle Mitchell, Charity Director of Age UK.

Michelle Mitchell spoke at the Agenda for Later Life 2010 conference in March this year on ‘For later life’. To coincide with the launch of the Agenda for Later 2011 conference we asked Michelle to reflect on the extent to which these challenges have been met, and to consider the issues that are now at the forefront of public policy for older people.

What are the main challenges and opportunities presented by the shift in the external environment since last years conference?

The new government is the most obvious change since last year’s conference but the change with the most direct impact is the unfolding of public spending decisions. The economic climate presents challenges such as the likelihood of reduced support for older people from statutory services and a major restructure of the benefits system. But, this also brings with it the positive potential for some thoughtful reshaping of services and trialling of new service models to try and deliver the best for older people in a difficult climate.

The change in government means that in policy terms we need to make sure that we are presenting our ideas in a clear and grounded way to demonstrate that we can promote solutions that work for older people. We need to make sure that a new group of politicians and policy makers hear about the needs and aspirations of people in later life. Agenda for Later Life 2011 is one way in which we can do this. The conference is attended by representatives from hundreds of organisations, senior politicians and older people themselves; it is an ideal platform for this kind of discussion.

At the beginning of this year you highlighted social care as a key area for Age UK.  Has any progress been made in order for health and social care to deliver for older people?

The debate on the funding of care is currently where we were with pensions 10 years ago – the current system is at crisis point and fundamental reform of the system is needed in order for people in later life to receive quality care in the future. Over the past year we have the political parties at loggerheads in arguments about funding, a pledge in the coalition government’s agreement to make care reform a priority and a Care Commission launched – due to report next summer.

We're hoping for a White Paper on care sometime next year and are keeping the pressure on for this to materialise. This, combined with unprecedented funding pressures, will mean the most radical change to the system for 60 years. We need solid action to reform the system.

We were pleased to see that the Government responded to our calls to protect social care funding, announcing £2 billion of earmarked spending to protect social care services from cuts. We are watching this closely, as we have concerns that some of this money may be spent elsewhere. The additional money is great but even with this social care remains under funded and older people are at risk of not receiving vital services.

What are the issues that are now at the forefront of public policy?

Our ageing nation presents us with many opportunities, such as extended working lives and continued engagement of older people in society, but also challenges that public policy makers will have to consider. There are significant changes underway in many of our keys areas from health services to pension and welfare reform through to localism and the implication of the Big Society.

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