Charities call for new Scottish Government 'champion' for older people

Campaigners say the move would bring Scotland in line with Northern Ireland and Wales.

Charities call for new Scottish Government ‘champion’ for older people iStock

More than 30 charities are calling on ministers to appoint a new commissioner to be an “independent champion” for older Scots.

Independent Age, the charity which focuses on financial hardship amongst the elderly, said such a move would bring Scotland into line with Northern Ireland and Wales – where such posts have been in place for more than a decade.

They, together with more than 30 organisations which are backing the call, published a statement setting out the reasons for creating the new post for Scotland.

It comes as Labour MSP Colin Smyth confirmed he is bringing forward a member’s Bill at Holyrood that would, if passed, establish a dedicated commissioner for older people.

Smyth said he was bringing forward legislation after having “a sense of shame at the way so many older people were let down” during the “dark period” of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Labour MSP said: “I kept asking myself that when all the big decisions were being made, who, independent of Government but with the ear of ministers, was championing the human rights of older people and making sure their voice, their views were being listened to.

“Frankly, the answer was no-one and, for me, changing that is reason enough to bring forward this proposal.”

He added: “We have Older People’s Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland now doing a great job, and a big campaign for one in England. Why should older people in Scotland be any different?

“It’s not just about standing up for the rights, services and care of older people, it’s about challenging the negative stereotypes of ageing and celebrating the immense positive contribution of those in later life, such as older workers.”

Smyth plans to hold a public consultation into his proposals for three months from the end of May, with plans for a member’s Bill to be brought forward before the end of the year.

Polling for Independent Age showed 89% of people aged 65 and over backed the creation of an Older People’s Commissioner.

It comes as the number of senior citizens living in poverty in Scotland has increased over the last decade to 150,000, according to the charity.

At the same time, Independent Age said health and social care services were failing to meet the needs of some elderly people, while others are left isolated because of either a lack of transport services or a lack of access to the internet.

Debbie Horne, Scotland policy and public affairs manager at Independent Age, said it would “often hear from older people who tell us they feel invisible, undervalued and ignored by wider society”.

She said: “The dangerous stereotype that all older people are financially secure is common and, too often, older people are not given the opportunity to voice their experience about what they need, including better financial support. This is wrong.

“We all deserve to look forward to our later years and an Older People’s Commissioner could help.

“If introduced they will be an independent champion standing up for everyone in later life.

“We urge the Scottish Government to establish an Older People’s Commissioner and bring Scotland into line with the other devolved nations to ensure no one feels left out of the conversation as they age.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Although we do not have plans to create a Commissioner for Older People, we work hard to support older people through a range of actions to improve age equality.

“We will consider the details of this Bill when published.”