I was upset to hear that two elderly constituents have been found dead in their own homes, particularly as I received the news shortly after the horrific story about an elderly, south London woman who lay dead in her flat for over two years.
It’s horrible to think of anyone dying in such circumstances but that kind of isolation is just one aspect of ageing which should concern us.
This week in Parliament four leading charities came together to argue for a government appointed Commissioner for Older People in England, like that of the Children’s Commissioner or those which already exist in Wales and Northern Ireland.
We know that a financially secure and healthy old age is increasingly beyond the reach of many people. There’s a real risk that neglecting today’s elderly will lead to more horror stories in the future. A Commissioner for Older People would act as an independent champion and ensure more focus on the needs of an ageing population.
In Wales, the Commissioner successfully intervened to address the consequences of a planned increase in the age for a concessionary bus pass. A Commissioner for England might have prevented the abolition of free TV licences.
There are now more than 15.5 million people over the age of 60 in the UK, almost 208,000 of them in Birmingham. The number aged over 55 living in privately rented accommodation has more than doubled since 2003, and 1 in 4 older renters live in long term poverty. The gap between the richest and poorest is growing, with those in more affluent areas expected to live 16-18 years longer, and without a disabling condition, than those in the poorest areas. During Covid we saw just how easily government overlooked the needs of elderly person’s homes.
A Commissioner could address issues like safe and accessible homes, improve access to health and support services, and promote the right to a decent standard of living in old age.
We can’t solve every problem or prevent future tragedies, but we should give a much higher priority to the needs of our older citizens.