The House of Lords COVID-19 Committee met with older people from across the UK to look at the long-term implications of the pandemic on society and wellbeing.
“In 2-5 years’ time, what do you think will be different because of the pandemic, in terms of our daily lives and our society?”. That was the question posed to a group of older people by the House of Lords COVID-19 Committee recently. The Committee has been established to look at the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economic and broad societal wellbeing of the UK.
To ensure the voices of older people across the country were heard by the Committee, Age UK’s External Affairs team worked with local Age UKs, nations and regions to find a wide ranging group of older people to speak about their experiences.
One size does not fit all
The Committee was particularly interested in hearing about the different wants, needs, and hopes that older people across the country have for a future beyond the pandemic. But older people are not one homogenous group, and have just as varied lives as any other age group. David from Northern Ireland stressed this to the Committee, and was agreed with by the other participants throughout the discussion. In their view, policy makers should better understand this.
Dorothy from Scotland felt that the country as a whole needed to reflect on how the pandemic had changed society for older people. The group also felt that social inclusion was important, and that older people are often forgotten about. Steve from Manchester said the way older people are portrayed in the media and viewed by wider society could be improved, and that there should be better representations of different older people in public life. James from London felt this would help improve intergenerational relationships and broaden understanding of older people’s needs.
Members of the House of Lords responded, saying that improved social relationships could help with conversations about end of life and dispel the myths that some people have about death and dying. One Peer told the group how she had had difficult conversations around death because of the pandemic and the participants agreed that an unknown trauma was building across the country for those who have not been able to grieve properly. To help with this, Ian from Scotland felt that third sector organisations in communities across the country need Government support so they can continue to help those who are grieving or suffering with poor mental health to help them stay connected.
Tracey from Lewisham told the Committee that digital exclusion had been a barrier for many older people before the pandemic, and this is something that coronavirus had made worse. Ian from Scotland felt that with the move to much of life now taking place online – paying bills, food shopping, GP appointments, and keeping in contact with loved ones – some older people are feeling left behind.
Bridgit from Lewisham agreed and felt that older people were losing their confidence with daily life and having to rely on others to support them. Previously these people would have had much more independence and the group agreed that this having a big impact on people’s mental health.
Mental health and social care
Steve from Manchester told the Committee that along with the increased digitalisation of their lives, the long months of social distancing has had an untold impact on older people’s mental health. Bridgit felt that people have become too scared to go out because of the virus, and the lack of physical contact has made many desperately lonely and had a serious effect on their wellbeing.
Alongside mental health, Steve from Wales stressed the importance of social care reform. In his community, and across the country, Steve said he had seen how the social care system does not work for so many people. The pandemic has highlighted just how hard it is to get real mental health or social care support. This is something the group felt that the Government must urgently address.
How Age UK works with older people to campaign
At Age UK we know that this year has been a tough one for so many people, and we are working hard to make sure older people’s voices are heard by those in Government and politicians from across the political spectrum. The House of Lords COVID-19 Committee was a great opportunity to do just that.
The number of over 65s in the UK is nearing 12 million. This is a cause for celebration, but it also presents challenges for individuals, our communities and the Government to make sure we can all live well, independently and with dignity as we age.
Currently, illness, isolation and fear mean millions of older people aren’t taking their usual places in society and could risk being forgotten. The External Affairs Team at Age UK has continued to work with older people throughout the pandemic to make the needs of older people are heard by decision makers.
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