Being heard by those in power is important at any time for a charity like Age UK. And our efforts to make life better for older people are even more important during a crisis, as Senior Public Affairs Manager Rob Henderson explains.
Both nationally and locally, the Age UK network is working tirelessly to help older people get through this pandemic, and it is our job to ensure politicians know about the particular problems facing older people, and that they do what they can to support us as we respond.
It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago we were working on the General Election. Our focus then was ensuring every local Age UK had the materials necessary to engage with political candidates locally, while we influenced party manifestoes nationally. Back then we were concentrating on a variety of issues, from pensions to social care to TV licences. In the New Year we started to get in touch with the new ministers about our priorities and set up meetings with MPs new to Parliament.
Of course, you know what happened next. Just as the meetings with new Conservative MPs were being arranged, the Labour leadership election was underway, and the legislative agenda was being set, coronavirus hit. Everything about the way we worked as a team had to change.
The power of information
During a crisis, making sure people have access to accurate, clear and timely information when they need it has never been more important. Amid the uncertainty and confusion brought about by coronavirus, we needed to ensure MPs had the right information to not only help their older constituents, but to influence the Government to support Age UK and the rest of the charity sector in responding to the crisis.
We are doing this by:
- helping MPs help their older and vulnerable constituents
- providing information to Government about Age UK’s emergency response
- supporting local Age UK’s to lobby their MPs for emergency funding for the voluntary sector.
Of course, we still have to ensure that any legislation going through Parliament is working for older people too, and that MPs have up to date briefings ahead of non-coronavirus related topics.
Supporting local Age UKs
There is little doubt that local Age UKs have been a lifeline to older people during the pandemic. At the same time our immediate financial viability and long-term future are both at risk as our income streams have been heavily affected by the pandemic. If local Age UK charities are unable to weather the storm and have to close for good, it will be at a time when they are needed more than ever. Politicians need to hear this message loud and clear and we are working to ensure they do.
We have already helped more than 70 local Age UKs contact their respective local MP and ask them to make representations on their behalf to Government to ensure local Age UKs receive the funding they need to respond to the crisis. Some MPs have visited their local Age UK to help with volunteering and response. We know that more than 60 MPs made representations of their local Age UK and asked Government to ensure they receive funding to keep their services open. For more information about our work with partners, keep an eye out for our Local Influencing Partner Pack, which will be coming out soon.
Helping MPs help their constituents
Outside of Westminster, many MPs are busier than ever, with increased casework loads. We’ve tried our best to recognise this new normal and provide MPs with the most useful, up-to-date information for their constituents on a weekly basis. This has included the latest safeguarding advice and concerns, information on volunteering and the latest advice on health and wellbeing. We even provided a list of 10 things MPs can do for their older constituents during the Coronavirus crisis.
Not only does this mean older people are receiving the information they need, but it shows MPs how much work Age UK is doing to support vulnerable older people during this crisis.
Getting the right information to Government
Ensuring Government has the full picture is key to our response. The Public Affairs team has been working closely with colleagues from across the organisation to submit written evidence to relevant Select Committee inquiries. Select Committees consist of MPs from different political parties who work together to hold the Government to account. Their role has never been more important as they are tasked with scrutinising the Government’s response to the coronavirus.
Age UK is unique in that we have local experts for nearly every constituency in England. Our local CEOs and service providers now provide vital information being used to influence national decisions through these written evidence submissions.
So far we have submitted evidence to more than 10 separate inquiries, on subjects from human rights and coronavirus to the economic impact of coronavirus on local Age UKs. We’ve worked with our experts on the ground to ensure this information is relevant, timely and clear.
Not forgetting the other challenges facing older people
Last month Parliament began to sit again, albeit ‘virtually’. This means laws continue to be made and debates continue to happen, and we still seek to influence these and ensure the needs of older people are best represented.
Most recently, we’ve been working to influence the Domestic Abuse Bill so domestic abuse data about people over the age of 74 is collected and used to improve services for older victims of domestic abuse.
Coronavirus has had an impact on all areas of our work, and as a team our main focus for the time being will be to make sure the needs of older people are front and centre in the Government’s response to the crisis. Along the way, we are building relationships with MPs that we hope will last well beyond this period and ensure we can continue to do best represent older people.
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