Agenda for Later Life – conference roundup

Last week Age UK welcomed over 300 delegates to our Agenda for Later Life conference. Our flagship policy conference has become a key date in the calendar for people who are passionate about improving later life.

Andrew Dilnot at Agenda for Later Life conference

As many readers will be aware, Iain Duncan Smith’s speech received significant coverage.  Whilst the media widely reported a possible universal pension set at £140 a week, in reality, the Secretary of State’s speech was more about setting out the direction of travel and the principles driving this – rather than announcing concrete policy proposals. IDS appears to have taken a bold step in persuading the Treasury of the needs for a much simpler system. This is welcomed and much needed. His speech also highlighted his aspirational goals for tomorrow’s pensioners. Age UK now looks forward to hearing what plans the Government have for helping lift 1.8 million of today’s pensioners who live in poverty.

Our ‘changing hearts and minds’ session offered important perspectives on challenging ageism. Camilla Parker (the solicitor who supported Miriam O’Reilly‘s successful ageism challenge against the BBC) kicked off the session with an upbeat message. I hope, as Camilla discussed, that the public response to Miriam’s case indicates that maybe the tide is turning in media attitudes to older presenters. Focus on the experiences of real people, show how a change in attitudes can benefit everyone and be pragmatic about the types of ageism which can be tackled were the lessons offered by renowned campaigner, Ben Summerskill. Advertising specialist, Kate Waters, used her experience of running public information campaigns to highlight that campaigns are only successful when they reflect experiences people can relate to and we were pleased to hear business leader Jacki Connor of Sainsbury’s explain the business sense in employing older workers: customers are happier being served by staff that mirror their own age and social mix.

A highlight of the day was the thought provoking speech by Andrew Dilnot, the Care Funding Commissioner. It was great that he used our conference as an opportunity to share his Commission’s preliminary conclusions. He made clear that the Commission believe that more state resources will be needed for care –  but that this is only part of a solution where everyone pays more: individuals, families and the state.  In such a complex social policyarea, he reassuringly confirmed that the proposals the Commission makes will be as clear and easy to understand as possible.

Alongside the conference, we also launched our Agenda for Later Life report. Earlier blogs have discussed the indicators the report uses to track public policy on later life and our 12 key policy challenges. This year’s conference was timely. It came a year after Age UK launched and well into the Coalition Government’s first year in office. Plans are already afoot for next year’s conference. We look forward to reviewing our indicators in 2012 – hopefully tracking lots of improvements – and seeing how the Government are stepping up to those 12 challenges.

Read more about the Agenda for Later Life 2011 conference

A new age for older people?

This post was originally published on the Guardian’s Joe Public blog.

We could soon see the beginning of a new age for older people, as the government launches a consultation on how to bring age discrimination legislation into force.

This is a long-awaited move. The true test of its success will be the extent to which these new laws result in a change in public attitudes so that stereotypes of ageing become as unacceptable as those of race or gender.

To some readers, perhaps, that last sentence will read as politically-correct nonsense. Surely, they may argue, ageing is universal and affects our skills and abilities, so is an absolutely valid way of making decisions about someone?

But take a step back in time and revisit the arguments that supported types of discrimination that now are, to most right-thinking people, consigned to a murky past. Wasn’t the idea of giving women free access to the workplace supposed to drive men out of work, and didn’t the argument run that women were only working for pocket money anyway? Weren’t certain jobs supposed to be better suited to one or other gender?

We have seen the same arguments with a different gloss repeated over the last few months with regard to the scrapping of the default retirement age. Older people, opponents argue, would clog up the system and stop younger people getting work. Not having a cut-off point to a working life would lead to employers having to soldier on employing older people who, it was suggested, would clearly be less capable of doing the job than a younger person.

Now read that paragraph again. The argument already seems outdated. Following the outlawing of age discrimination in employment in 2006, today’s consultation covers ageism affecting consumers in the private and public sectors. One area of particular concern to us is ageism in health and social care. Research suggests that health complaints from older people are routinely under-investigated and under-treated.

The National Review of Age Discrimination in Health and Social Care commissioned by the Department of Health in 2009 examined poor outcomes for older people and concluded that ageist attitudes were affecting investigation and treatment levels. In too many care situations the care itself is substandard and too often older people are having to struggle to access even basic care. The figures are frightening – for example, nearly 400,000 older people living in care homes have real trouble accessing even a GP. Continue reading “A new age for older people?”

Poor treatment of older people in the NHS is an attitude problem

This post was originally published on the Guardian’s Comment is Free.

Mrs H was an independent woman who lived on her own until the age of 88 and loved literature and crosswords. This picture of this strong, dignified woman contrasts with the appalling treatment she suffered at the hands of the NHS. After a spell in hospital following a fall, she arrived at a care home with numerous injuries, soaked with urine and dressed in clothing that did not belong to her held up with paper clips. She had several bags of dirty clothing with her, much of which did not belong to her and just a few possessions left of her own. She was highly distressed, dishevelled and confused and had lost 5kg (11lb) since her admission to hospital. She died in August 2010.

This is just one of 10 shocking stories of people aged over 65 documented in a new report by the health service ombudsman. It highlights a range of clinical and operational failures; people at the end of life being discharged from hospital without correct pain relief, failure to deal with infection properly, malnutrition and dehydration. These are by no means isolated cases – 18% of complaints to the ombudsman last year were about care of older people and they investigated more than twice as many as for all other age groups put together.

Yet, as the ombudsman, Ann Abraham, reflects, this report reveals that at the heart of the problem is an attitude – both personal and institutional – which fails to treat older patients compassionately or respond to their individual emotional and social needs. One family was not informed when their father’s life support machine was switched off; a husband was left in a waiting room, forgotten about while his wife lay dying in the ward next door; a man with advanced stomach cancer was left behind a drawn curtains desperate to go to the toilet and unable to ask for help because he was so dehydrated he could not speak properly or swallow.
Continue reading “Poor treatment of older people in the NHS is an attitude problem”

Delivering better healthcare?

After months of political wrangling, the Health and Social Care Bill has finally made it to parliament. There has rightly been fierce scrutiny of this important piece of legislation – its implications will affect all of us at some time in our lives. For older people it is particularly important because they’re already the largest cohort of patients in the NHS and with the number of people aged 65 and over set to rise by 65 per cent in the next 25 years to almost 16.4 million, there will be a higher prevalence of people living with multiple long-term conditions and physical frailty. So, will the reforms deliver better healthcare for older people?

NHS ribbon lanyard
Photo: comedy_nose via Creative Commons

The overall vision for healthcare reform set out in the Health and Social Care Bill is one Age UK supports. Developing a much clearer focus on the outcomes the NHS achieves in terms of treatment and patient experience is a positive step. Increased emphasis on public health and prevention is equally welcome. Continue reading “Delivering better healthcare?”

Winter fuel payments – a necessity for millions

Winter radiator - Photo: HarlanH via Flickr
Photo: HarlanH via Flickr

With the recent Comprehensive Spending Review protecting universal benefits for older people for example the Winter Fuel Payment, there has been lots of debate about whether better-off older people really need these payments. Opinion is divided on the issue – including among older people.  Peter Preston in the Guardian argued that those older people who could afford it should donate their Winter Fuel Payments to charities – one such scheme has now opened in SomersetContinue reading “Winter fuel payments – a necessity for millions”

Big Cuts, Big Society, Big Changes

Age UK and 71 local partner organisations met this week in the Royal Mint near the Tower of London.  It was an apt location given that we met to discuss, among other things, the impact of the spending cuts. Public spending, the Big Society and health and social care reform are some of the many challenges and opportunities third-sector organisations like Age UK face.

Who would have predicted two years ago that we would have a coalition government, £81 billion cuts package, the most radical reform of the NHS since its inception and far-reaching reforms to the welfare system?  I certainly don’t remember any of the popular pundits painting this picture of the future. The ‘shock and awe’ tactics of the coalition government has provoked two challenges – what does the change mean for us and how do we seize the opportunities that it presents?  Continue reading “Big Cuts, Big Society, Big Changes”

Invisible but Invaluable

Christine and her mother Margaret. Photo: Sam MellishThis is Christine and her mother Margaret. Christine has been her mother’s carer for the past 14 years. She is one of nearly a million people in England over the age of 65 who provide unpaid care to a husband, wife or partner, an adult child with disabilities or even a parent.

Christine and Margaret’s story is a powerful one. It’s a story about huge responsibilities, emotions and life-changes. Margaret moved in with Christine when her husband died. Christine continued to work, but after Margaret contracted an infection and needed a leg amputation, life changed ‘dramatically’. Christine was ‘forced’ into early retirement and full-time caring. Ending work meant that the family’s finances ‘nosedived’ and Christine’s pride was dented when they had to claim benefits. Christine said she then ‘understood what a carer is’ and recognised that carers ‘are entitled to a life of their own’. She now gets 4 hours a week support. It took Christine hitting crisis point to get that support.

Age UK has listened to the experiences of hundreds of older carers like Christine, and despite the fact that many of them find caring rewarding, and an expression of their relationship with the cared-for person, they also talk about how they feel invisible and undervalued. Many are stressed and exhausted.

This week a new exhibition opens at St Martin-in-the-Fields church on Trafalgar Square. It’s called Invisible but Invaluable.  Working with photographer Sam Mellish the exhibition aims to make the invaluable work of older carers visible.

The stories illustrated in the exhibition are personal and deeply moving. Every situation is different. But there are common threads. Many people become carers in later life almost without realising it. At a time when their own health may be deteriorating, they find they are having to prioritise the needs of someone else. Then they must navigate their way around the ‘system’ to get the support and help that they need.

Age UK’s call to policy makers is to prioritise the needs of older carers, and to ensure that they receive the financial, practical and emotional help they need. In the current financial environment, the Government needs to be thankful for the unpaid care which older carers contribute – a whopping £15billion in care each year.

A new report by Age UK, Invisible but Invaluable, tells the experiences of hundreds of older carers. It outlines measures which the Government, local authorities and health providers could take to improve the lives of older carers. Simplifying the application for Carer’s Allowance and other benefits, for example, could have a massive impact. As would a drive targeting carers to register as carers with their GPs and receive regular health checks.

If you are in London, go and have a look at the exhibition – it’s open daily from 10am to 5pm, until Saturday 20 November. If you can’t make it, you can view the photographs on the Age UK website