Recent research for Age UK showed that more than half of people over the age of 60 say they have never had contact with their local councillor. Yet despite this lack of contact, nearly twice as many over 60s can name their councillor as can younger people, and when they do have contact, older people are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.
Councillors have a vital role to play in local life, and can make a big difference. That’s why Age UK is working with LGiU and CCLA to sponsor the Age UK Pride of Place award as part of the 2012 LGiU and CCLA C’llr Achievement Awards. The award will be given to a councillor who champions the voices of older people in their ward or division and makes a real commitment to improving neighbourhoods for them.
Broken pavements, street lights which don’t work, the need for more seating, the perennial problem of poor public transport, these are all ‘bread and butter’ issues for most councillors. They are also key issues for older people.
Age UK’s Pride of Place report, shows how relatively low cost improvements to neighbourhoods can enable older people to go on getting out and about and being active for longer.
Simple things – like lack of public toilets for example – can make older people think twice about going out. And for some people, that will result in social isolation and loneliness.
Councillors are in a unique position to make a difference on these neighbourhood issues. They are the only people with both the local knowledge and the democratic accountability. Through the Pride of Place campaign we are calling on councillors to take a lead in improving neighbourhoods for older people. And through the Age UK Pride of Place award we want to recognise and reward councillors who are already doing it.
Here are some responses we received recently from elected members in a range of authorities across England:
‘During my term of office, I have managed to have a number of additional bus shelters installed around the ward, seating on the local park with more to come! Constantly tackling the problems of vehicles being parked indiscriminately, the stopping of anti social behaviour and making sure, where possible, elderly people are looked after by neighbours.’
‘With my highways project money I am having a waste area changed by having it resurfaced and a seat, bus shelter, parish notice board and some garden area, to brighten up the area for the residents.’
‘I believe we have won our fight to maintain the public toilets around us, at present, and dealing with overgrown shrubbery and other obstructions is a constant battle.’
‘I have been a borough and parish councillor now for 35 years and well know the frustrations of trying to get things done. Maintenance of pavements, I have to say, is one of the biggest headaches to get sorted. None of us has a ‘magic wand’, although this would be darned useful on occasions, but most work hard to ensure all members of the community, particularly the elderly and infirm, are listened to and helped to the best of our ability.’
None of these councillors would suggest that they are doing anything more special than the job they were elected to do – and they may not think they deserve special recognition. But in doing so they underestimate the importance of these basic issues to people in later life.
We want every older person to live in a neighbourhood where they feel safe and confident to go out. And we think that councillors who do their best to bring such neighbourhoods about deserve our praise.
So if you know a councillor who has improved the local neighbourhood for older people, please nominate them for the Age UK Pride of Place award now.
And if you are a councillor yourself, please don’t be shy – ask someone to nominate you!