On Sunday last week, the National Pensioners Convention held their Northern Conference, with the subject of Dignity in Action, here in Hartlepool.
This is a considerable coup for the town and so thanks to the NPC as well as Hartlepool Borough Council for agreeing to do this.
There is some considerable change going on in the age profile of our country.
If you’ve been watching Wolf Hall, the drama about Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, the average life expectancy in Tudor times was about 35 years.
That didn’t really change much until the start of the Victorian period.
This week, my brother Neil and his wife Karoline had their first child, a girl named Gabriella. Being a girl born in 2015, Gabriella has a one in three chance of living to a hundred.
That is astonishing.
In addition, we now have a dramatic change in terms of more people living for longer.
For the first time in British history, more people over the age of 65 are living in this country than there are people aged below 18.
About one in six of the population – about 11 million people – is over the age of 65, and this is expected to double to about 20 million by 2050.
This means that public services – indeed, all services, should be shaped with the needs of an older population in mind.
It also means that discrimination on the grounds of age should be stopped.
I don’t think it is right that an elderly person, who has managed their household budget in cash and has never been in debt, should be penalised for paying their electricity and gas bill in cash rather than via direct debit.
I don’t think an older couple applying for a mortgage should pay an exorbitant fee or additional interest rate simply because they are older.
The purpose of the Dignity day on Sunday was to highlight the importance of older people and their carers in society, and how every part of life, particularly the provision of public service, should be geared according to their needs.
This means obvious things like stopping being abusive of disrespectful in any way, or ignoring people.
It was mentioned by Christopher Akers-Belcher, Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, that when he was caring for his dad in Peterlee, the consultant spoke to Christopher rather than his father, as if his dad somehow couldn’t understand.
That sort of thing needs to stop.
The day also highlighted the need to provide dignity and respect to people who work in the care sector and who provide help and support to often the most vulnerable and frail people in society.
I do think we need to end the scandal of zero-hours contracts in the care sector, where people who look after the old are often on less than minimum wage and who are distressed at being told to provide 15 minute care sessions in order to ensure that firms can maximise profits.
The conference also heard from Hartlepool Carers, and was particularly blown away by Sammie, a young carer, who described the difficulties and obstacles she has had to deal with to care for her family.
I enjoyed speaking to the conference on Sunday.
I hope it will go some way to ensure that all services throughout the town recognise the importance of older people and how dignity and respect should play a key part in the provision of those services.