MP - Let’s have a minister for older people

Sir Paul McCartney
Sir Paul McCartney

Sir Paul McCartney was 69 last Saturday.

As somebody who grew up with The Beatles’ music, although I hadn’t even been born when they split up, the fact that Sir Paul is entering his seventh decade seems astonishing.

It also only seems five minutes, rather than five years ago, that he was 64, which inevitably led to lots of headlines about When I’m 64.

This does seem to indicate to me that time is speeding up in a frightening way.

It also reinforces the fact that we are as a country getting older. Indeed, we are, in the nicest possible way, becoming very much an old nation.

Due to medical advances and ongoing improvements to quality of life, we now have many more pensioners living in Britain than at any point in our country’s history.

For the first time ever, there are more people aged over 60 than are aged under 16. This will have a big impact upon the future shape of employment and how young people get onto the property and job ladders.

This trend will only increase, as people continue to live longer. This seems truly remarkable to me. But it is forecast that there are 10 million people living today (one in six of people in our country) in Britain who can expect to live beyond the age of 100. A telegram from the Queen used to be an unusual event. Now, you can buy a large range of happy 100th birthday cards in every card shop and supermarket in town.

Life expectancy has risen rapidly in the past 30 years. A girl being born in Britain in 1982 could expect to live until she was 73. Now, a similar girl would have a life expectancy of almost 82.

This is naturally cause for celebration. We should all be thankful that we don’t live in an earlier period in our country’s history, when people were old and expecting a call from the Grim Reaper when they weren’t much out of their 30s.

Despite the cause for optimism, the fact that Britain is ageing comes with some consequences.

We have seen in the past few weeks the scandalous squalor and lack of dignity that some older people have to live in.

The ticking age time bomb and limited financial resources will put enormous strain on local councils’ budgets. I can see, in a short space of time, councils doing little else but being social care agencies. The difficult task of financing retirement for many millions of people is still to be addressed in a fair way.

We had on Monday the Pensions Bill, where 300,000 women in their 50s will have to work even longer than they had planned, but haven’t been given the time to plan alternative pension provision.

These huge social and economic challenges mean that I think we need a dedicated Minister for Older People, who acts in the interests of older people and co-ordinates Government policy across important areas like pensions, housing, employment and health and social care. Sandra Belcher put the idea in my head. Sandra is Manager of Lynton Court and the mother of Cllr Stephen Akers-Belcher and had asked me who had responsibility in government for older people.

I had asked a Parliamentary question to the Prime Minister and received a really unsatisfactory answer. That is why I then tabled a motion in Parliament calling for a dedicated minister for older people.

I would like to see older people living in Hartlepool and elsewhere represented at the highest political level in Government and enjoy dignity and respect in their later years.

People who had served in our armed forces started having a much stronger voice when the Labour Government created a dedicated Minister for Veterans, and I can see the same thing working for older people.