Is it time for a Minister for the Elderly?

In writing a book about financial abuse of the elderly it has been clear that the issue is not being given the attention and priority in Government that should be expected. At present there are some 10 million people in the UK over the age of 65 and by 2030 this is expected to have risen by 5 ½ million. The elderly command a large proportion of the population’s wealth and increasingly a seemingly the victims of an unstoppable wave of financial abuse.

According to the Office of National Statistics since mid-2005, the UK population aged 65 and over has increased by 21%, and the population aged 85 and over has increased by 31%. The number of males aged 85 and over has increased by 54% since mid-2005, compared to a 21% increase for females.The present arrangements whereby the Government minister responsible for our older population is based in the Department of Health. However, it begs the question as to how can a minister surrounded by health officials set policy, deal with legislation and take an overview of what the elderly population require when there is so much more to the role than simply health alone.

The minister responsible is titled the Minister of State for Community and Social Care. They have the following responsibilities:

  • Adult social care
  • Autism
  • Integration
  • Local government
  • Mental health
  • Older people
  • Physical and learning disabilities
  • Allied health professions
  • Primary care, including dentistry and ophthalmic services:
    • GP contract
    • out of hours care
    • pharmacy
    • primary care commissioning policy

According to his own website the announcements made by the minister since February 2015 have no mention of the elderly. You would be hard pressed to find anything about the elderly at all. There are policies for carers’ health, dementia and end of life care and that is it. The elderly are also invisible on the Ministry of Justice’s website.

We also have commissioners for the police & crime, an information commissioner, and now a victims commissioner. At the very least we should have a Commissioner for the Elderly speaking up for the elderly and overseeing policy. There is no voice at present and no one taking an overview on what the different agencies are doing and what they should be doing.

By way of comparison in New Zealand there is a Minister for Seniors. Her office is an information source for the elderly and their carers but also has a role in helping "government and communities keep up to date with the needs of seniors". Her work includes the following:

  • Positive Ageing
  • Age friendly communities
  • Social isolation
  • The Business of Ageing
  • Elder Abuse and Neglect
  • Protecting your future with an Enduring Power of Attorney

This looks like a good starting point. In the US there is the Administration on Ageing which is an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services designed to carry out the provisions of the Older Americans Act 1965. It also states that it “promotes the well-being of older individuals by providing services and programs designed to help them live independently in their homes and communities. The Act also empowers the federal government to distribute funds to the states for supportive services for individuals over the age of 60.”

Many other countries have now recognised the economic and cultural value of their elderly populations. It seems so short sighted that this and earlier governments again miss the opportunity to co-ordinate policy and provide a voice in Government for such a key part of the population. By comparison we have a minister responsible for children and families in the Department for Education. Their responsibilities include:

  • Adoption, fostering and residential care home reform
  • Child protection
  • Special educational needs and disability
  • Family law and justice
  • Children’s and young people’s services
  • School sport
  • Cafcass
  • Office of Children’s Commissioner

In respect of financial abuse generally two major charities have been calling for such a voice. AgeUK in a press release from September 2013 called “more collaboration between health, social services and financial sectors to recognise and report signs of financial abuse”. They said:” Tens of thousands of older people are at risk of financial abuse, with those with dementia or reduced cognitive function the most vulnerable.

The warning comes as the latest figures show that at least 130,000 older people have suffered some form of financial abuse from someone known to them since turning 65. The figures also show that women are twice as likely as men to be victims of financial abuse in later life, with the majority being women aged 80 to 89 and living on their own, single or widowed. Disability and cognitive decline are also factors that increase the risk of financial abuse.”

In 2013 AgeUK said "The ageing population is a challenge for any government, and what we need is someone who will draw attention to the issues that affect older people and work to find the best way to make later life better for all." The charity Action on Elder Abuse has called for a crime of elder abuse to be enacted. If there was a Minister with responsibility for the elderly then they could promote this.

It is clear that there is real need to address this problem and create a voice for the elderly. A voice for the elderly would enable them to be heard and their specific needs addressed. Their contribution and experience to the wider society could also be championed.

Ann Stanyer is the author of Financial Abuse of Older Clients: Law, Practice and Prevention, which publishes in May 2017 and will also be part of our Family Law Service.

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