As we celebrate the UN International Day of the Older Person (1 October 2017) and Age Positive Week during the first week of October, now is as good as time as any to reflect the progress that has been made for older people in recent years as we make our journey towards an Age Friendly Wales. We also want to celebrate the many ways older people contribute to society.
Significant reductions in pensioner poverty, older people living longer, and warmer homes are all achievements that need to be celebrated alongside developments such as the Strategy for Older People in Wales, the Ageing Well in Wales Programme and the establishment of the Older People’s Commissioner.
These developments might well explain why Wales is often ahead of the game compared to the other UK nations with the introduction of much lauded schemes such as free bus travel and free access to leisure centres that have been hugely important for older people.
While the introduction of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 will help place older people at the very centre of decisions about their care needs, so they should get the support they need, where they need it, and when they need it.
There are fantastic examples of organisations and communities working to share ideas and spread practice to improve life for older people. The Ageing Well in Wales Arts and Culture Network recently brought people together to find the best ways to engage and support older people in creative, sporting and cultural activities. Age Cymru was able to share its experiences from the Gwanwyn Festival of Arts and Creativity for Older People programme.
But let’s not get complacent……
With such a track record and positive intent, it would be easy to get carried away and think that all is well for older people in Wales. Sadly you only need to scratch the surface to find a different story. One that shows older people living in extreme poverty and who have to choose between heating and eating. Some 2,600 older people in Wales die each year due to the cold conditions – the so called excess winter deaths.
This makes it all the more worrying that four in ten older people could be missing out on claiming pension credit worth on average £2,000 for each pensioner household. A staggering £168m goes unclaimed in Wales each year despite the fact that some 18% of pensioner households here are living in poverty.
There are several reasons behind the relatively low take up in Wales. Some feel too embarrassed to claim benefits of any kind while others are simply unaware of their availability. Some find the claims procedures too difficult to complete, particularly those with sight impairment or limited literary skills.
We hear all too often that older people find it difficult to get a social services needs assessment or that trying to claim the disability benefits they need to maintain independence, feels impossible in a system many feel has been designed to reject them at the first stage. This is made worse when the cost of a GP letter to support an appeal can cost £120 and takes months to arrive.
It is definitely a harsh world for some older people.
Undoubtedly, there has been improvements in the quality of life for older people during the last twenty years. However, that may be at risk as communities are now having to cope with cut backs in local services. Libraries, public toilets, educational classes, bus services and even street lighting are often sacrificed to help balance budgets.
So while it is fantastic that we are able to celebrate the UN International Day of the Older Person and also our annual Age Positive week highlighting the many positive aspects of ageing, it is important not to lose sight of our mission. There is a long way to go before Wales feels Age Friendly for all older people. Our job is to make this happen.
For more information about the work and support available from Age Cymru please contact our free information and advice line on 08000 223 444