2010 - 2020: a decade of opportunity, challenge and kindness for older people in Wales
Published on 16 January 2020 02:32 PM
The last decade has seen some significant milestones for older people in Wales, as well as some substantial challenges. Our Chief Executive, Victoria Lloyd, looks back as we enter a new decade of the 2020s and reflects on the issues that lie ahead.
The last decade has certainly been one of opportunity and challenge for social care. The Social Services and Well-Being (Wales) Act 2014 was a significant opportunity to provide a comprehensive and wide-ranging framework for support to help older people retain voice, control and independence in later life. However, squeezes on public sector funding have provided real challenges in terms of making sure that the needs of older people are being met.
Every week Age Cymru hears about the frustrations and barriers people encounter when trying to get the care they need for themselves or for those they care for. Delays in arranging assessments, the lack of care workers and services in rural areas, unexpected top-up fees, and delays that individuals experience in hospital discharges back into the community continue to impact on the lives of many older people and their families.
There have also been economic challenges.
According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the poverty rate amongst pensioners in Wales fell from 26% in 1994/97 to 14% in 2010/13. However, it has increased again, rising to 18% in 2013/16.
The reasons behind such levels of pensioner poverty are many and complex, including rising fuel and food bills alongside static incomes. However, one of the biggest issues is that millions of pounds of entitlements go unclaimed each year in Wales, money that could be used to lift older people out of poverty. Pension Credit, Attendance Allowance, council tax rebates and even pensions amongst our armed forces veterans are all examples of potential financial support that remain unclaimed because people don’t know about them or don’t apply as they believe they won’t qualify.
Pensioner poverty is one of the main reasons why we're currently fighting so hard to keep free TV licences for the over 75s. This is why Age Cymru Advice is so important; we respond to thousands of calls each year providing free and confidential advice in both English and Welsh. Last year the Age Cymru Partnership supported more than 20,000 older people in Wales and helped claim more than £6.5 million in unclaimed benefits.
Loneliness and isolation
Whilst most of us spend Christmas with family and friends, sadly this is not the case for everyone. In Wales, more than 70,000 older people ate their Christmas dinner alone in 2019, while up to 10,000 older people faced their first Christmas without their spouse.
Of course, loneliness and isolation is a year-round issue for many older people. The charity’s research shows that 220,000 older people in Wales claim to have felt lonely during later life; 100,000 people aged 65 and over in Wales speak to three or fewer people they know each week; and 330,000 older people in Wales claim a few minutes of conversation would make a huge difference to their week.
Cuts to local authority budgets have made matters worse, with community facilities such as libraries, day centres and public toilets closing, while reductions in bus services make it difficult for older people without a car to get out and about. The changing face of our high street has also meant that older people have fewer personal interactions as banks and building societies have disappeared as services move online – which not all older people are able to access.
The community ‘cwtch’
One of the more hopeful developments that we have witnessed over the decade has been the response of our communities in Wales in helping to make life better for older people.
During the run up to Christmas in 2019, the general public donated more than 1,000 gift boxes for our charity to distribute in care homes. We also worked with community groups across the length and breadth of Wales to provide winter celebrations for more than 1,000 older people in 27 locations.
Throughout the year, thousands of people responded to our calls to include older people in their celebrations. As we have already said, for many older people a few minutes of conversation would make a huge difference to their week.
As we look ahead to the next decade, there are further opportunities and challenges on the horizon. We're looking forward to Welsh Government bringing forward its strategy on Loneliness and Isolation and a new strategy for an Ageing Society - both of which we hope will provide impetus for positive change.
Clearly we all have a part to play to help make our communities kinder and more age friendly during the next decade. Perhaps we can consider this as we make our New Year resolutions for 2020.