House of Lords
Friday, 14 December 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
That Standing Order 40 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Monday 17 December to allow the Motion that this House takes note of recent developments in the European Union standing in the name of Baroness Warsi to be taken before the Second Reading of the European Union (Croatian Accession and Irish Protocol) Bill.
Arrangement of BusinessAnnouncement
Older People: Their Place and Contribution in Society
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am most grateful for the opportunity afforded to raise the pressing and still largely ignored question of the well-being of older citizens in our country. I doubt very much whether, in your Lordships’ House, I need to underline the fact that those over, say, 62 are readily capable of making a contribution to society. I think that we may take as read declarations of personal interest in this regard; though I must also declare a specific interest as a patron or vice-president of practically all the voluntary agencies I shall be mentioning in the course of these remarks. Yet the fundamental issue which has prompted this debate is the undoubted fact that we are becoming dangerously used to speaking and thinking of an ageing population as a problem, a burden on public purse and private resources alike. My hope for this debate is not so much to strengthen support for particular initiatives, although I shall be mentioning some, as to plead for a change in attitude that will appropriately recognise the dignity of older citizens, whatever their condition.
As things stand, more than half the over-60 population are involved in some sort of formal and structured voluntary work; over half the population in general believe that this is part of what they should aspire to in later life; and a third of the population declare themselves willing to take part in informal volunteering. These facts are of basic importance. They mean, quite simply, that a majority of the older population are ready to do what they can, unpaid, to support the fabric of society; in other words, people are doing exactly what we expect responsible citizens to do. And a majority of us see this as a goal for our own later years. A conservative estimate of the value of the voluntary work already done in caring and family maintenance alone by the over-60s is in the region of £50 billion.
The first question we must address, therefore, is what can be done by government and other agencies to harness most effectively this resource, not just as a way of solving problems that require such resources, but as an affirmation of positive models of living for older citizens. If we live in a society that expects its older citizens to continue to support the fabric of their society and values them for doing so, we shall at least put to rest the damaging stereotype of older people as being essentially passive in relation to society at large. And that means in turn that we may stop seeing the older population as primarily “dependants” on the goodwill of family or neighbourhood or state. As we have seen, a majority of the population expect that there will be positive opportunities in their later years; we need to work with that perception and reinforce it strongly. The Equality Act 2010 has laid clear foundations in this respect, but more needs doing to build some solid embodiments of the principle. For example, we need to ask how businesses not only prepare employees for such a future, but how they foster a continuing relationship with older citizens in their own exercise of corporate responsibility. A vigorous dialogue between business and local advocacy groups is essential here.
It is only against such a background that we can usefully address the questions that do arise in relation to dependency, because it is of course a fact that advancing age is likely to decrease physical independence in various ways. But rather than taking this as the core issue, we should see questions of dependency as basically about how our public policy and resourcing seek to preserve both dignity and capacity among those who may be increasingly physically challenged, but who remain citizens capable of contributing vital things to the social fabric. There is a lot to learn in this regard from the work done by disability rights and advocacy groups. We must recognise that it is assumptions about the basically passive character of the older population that foster attitudes of contempt and exasperation, and ultimately create a climate in which abuse occurs. Shockingly, Ruth Marks, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, estimates that one in four older people report one or another form of “elder abuse” ranging from patronising and impatient behaviour to actual physical mistreatment. In passing, it is worth considering whether the model of an older people’s commissioner is one that Wales might helpfully lend to other parts of the United Kingdom.
Delivering Dignity, the February 2012 report of the Commission on Dignity in Care for Older People, sets out a comprehensive picture of what older citizens have a right to expect in terms of care and respect, with far-reaching implications as to the training of professional carers and care managers in and out of the NHS. It recommends, for example, that the Government’s Nursing and Care Quality Forum should expand to include healthcare assistants and those working in care homes, and significantly, that the status of such care workers should be promoted by means of a “college of care”.
One of the less recognised results of a dismissive attitude to the needs of older citizens receiving care is a view of carers for the elderly as a sort of proletariat among health and care professionals. There is a vicious circle at work here that needs dismantling. It is worth mentioning that some hospices, such as the pioneering St Christopher’s, have blazed a trail in defining first-rate care standards. Needless to say, the same applies where we are talking about more than merely physical incapacity. Dementia and depression are painfully familiar challenges —I would guess that a good many in this Chamber have experience at first hand of caring for family members living with such conditions. The Alzheimer’s Society, in co-operation with the Prime Minister’s challenge on dementia, has an initiative aimed at creating dementia-friendly communities, and more needs to be done once again in challenging those attitudes that lead to stigma and increased isolation.
This returns us to the challenge of the commission’s report, which flags up the need for integrated care, drawing together home, hospital and care home. The commission recommends that hospitals perform a full assessment of older people’s care needs before they are discharged, with a named staff member taking ongoing responsibility for liaison with patient and family. Once again, many hospices have developed increasingly extensive and sophisticated ways of involving the wider community in their work, in a way that impacts constructively on general attitudes towards the older population.
All this also underlines the importance of the intergenerational relationship. As family structures become looser and more scattered geographically, it is vital that there be regular opportunities for interaction between younger and older people, not least between children and older citizens, whether through schools arranging visiting and befriending or through formal and informal oral history projects, which have been a very significant aspect of the life of some schools in creating and developing liaison with older members of the community. It is here, too, that the contribution of churches and faith communities may be particularly significant. In a good many contexts, these are simply the most robust and effective promoters of intergenerational contact and formal or informal volunteering opportunities for older people.
Much more could be said about specific questions and proposals. We have had two extremely important contributions in recent years to the overall policy landscape in the shape of the Dilnot report and the Delivering Dignity document, to which I have already referred more than once.
In conclusion, I return to the matter of attitudes to the elderly. A great deal of our culture is frenetically oriented towards youth—notably in entertainment and marketing. Up to a point, this is perfectly understandable: people want to put down markers for the future as they see it and to capture the attention of a rising generation. However, the effect of all this can be to ignore the present reality of responsible, active people in older life, who are still participants in society, not passengers. Its effect can also be to encourage younger people to forget that they are ageing themselves. To speak of an “ageing population” is, in one sense, simply to utter the most banal of all cliches, because ageing is something that we are all doing whether we like it or not. Younger people may forget that they are ageing themselves and will be in need of positive and hopeful models for their own later years. We tolerate a very eccentric view of the good life, or the ideal life, as one that can be lived only for a few years, say, between18 and 40. The “extremes” of human life—childhood and age, when we are not defined just by our productive capacity and so have time to absorb the reality around us in a different way—are often hard for our society to come to terms with. Too often, at the one end of the spectrum, we want to rush children into pseudo-adulthood; too often we want older citizens either to go on as part of the productive machine as long as possible or to accept a marginal and humiliating status, tolerated but not valued, while we look impatiently at our watches waiting for them to be “off our hands”.
The recovery of a full and rich sense of human dignity at every age and in every condition is an imperative if we are serious about the respect we universally owe each other—that respect which, for Christians, is grounded in the divine image discernible in old and young alike. I beg to move.
My Lords, the most reverend Primate is 20 years younger than I am. This fact provoked me to speak in his debate. There can be very few people left alive who, like me, were there in Canterbury Cathedral for matins on the day war was declared in 1939. The sun’s rays shone through that wonderful building’s stained glass and the dean, the very reverend Hewlett Johnson—wrongfully known as the “Red Dean”—had just emerged in the pulpit; then the air raid sirens rang out, very loud and menacing. The dean shepherded the congregation down to the crypt, where matins proceeded as usual and as though our lives had not fundamentally changed. In later years, my son and two grandchildren attended the King’s School, Canterbury, which is one of the reasons why I am speaking here today.
It has been my privilege during some of those years to listen to the most reverend Primate’s sermons. Lucky are the children who have heard the archbishop—and lucky me to have remembered some of what he said. My granddaughter, Virginia, was confirmed by the archbishop during his inaugural year. When we asked for copies of the new archbishop’s words, we were told that there were no copies because he had spoken extempore. Jealousy will get me nowhere.
Now the most reverend Primate moves to Cambridge, indeed to lovely and historic Magdalen College. In the time that I was mayor of that great city, I remember Magdalen as being full of Etonians and at the same time one of the poorer colleges. I wish the most reverend Primate and his wife great happiness in their new life—and not too much fundraising.
My Lords, I rise after a speech like that and can only add to the mediocrity that I am capable of. A 62 year-old—for he has confessed his age—is moving into semi-retirement at Magdalen College, giving himself the opportunity to write and regale us with the riches of his mind, which he will go on doing for a very long time.
Half the reason I am here on a Friday morning when I have a thousand other things to do is of course to pay my tribute to the most reverend Primate for all that he has been for the nation at large. I doubt that there are many people who, like him, speak around the country and can command an audience that fills every hall where he speaks. Politicians would die for an ability to command such audiences. I know I embarrass him by going on in this way but it is tough—he will have to deal with that. He is younger than I am and made of stouter stuff. He has endured a great deal more than that in the past 10 years. I simply say that his capacity to engage with disciplines other than his own makes him a man apart. The speech he made today was an illustration of that. I just wish that his own church had been as generous to him as the British public at large feel towards him. I pray that one day soon the church may wake up and become more generous.
Let me move to the point. This business of the contribution of older people preoccupies all of us. The most reverend Primate has laid his thinking out before us in publications over the years. One that I prize a great deal is a little book called Lost Icons. It has about five chapters and each could furnish a debate of this kind. In the last chapter, “Lost Souls”, the most reverend Primate tries very hard to identify what it is that makes each individual essentially human and says that it is in some way to retain a sense of selfhood. He argues, very potently, that two things allow a person to maintain contact with their essential self. He goes on later to develop the theological dimension of that and is prepared to call it a soul but perhaps for this debate we may call it the self so that those without religion feel that they can identify with the argument, too.
The most reverend Primate argues that we maintain contact with ourselves as long as people do not take from us the right to face the ambiguities of life with a certain amount of freedom to see the nasty as well as the good, or the way that we resolve such tensions into our story. That is one of the ways in which we maintain ourselves. The other is love. That is not love in a Mills and Boon sense—that is fun but it is not quite that. It is really the idea that someone else is interested in me, someone who has had the opportunity to know me with all my faults and maintains that interest and gladness in my presence despite all that life throws at us. That is love: disinterested and directed towards me, maintaining my sense of selfhood.
I have done bare justice to a rich chapter in that particular book, but if there is truth in these arguments and that line of analysis, it seems to behove us all to remember it when people move into the last stages of their lives and we meet people with declining powers and fading faculties. It is at that stage that we need always to remember that the person in front of us has a self and to deal seriously with the material that we put in front of them—not to save them from the difficulties they are in but to help them to weather a storm or retain contact with their basic humanity. Love will certainly go on being interested in people in their last phase, right to the end.
The most reverend Primate and I share a pastoral ministry. A great proportion of my life has taken me to geriatric wards—as we used to call them—or other places where long-term care is offered. It is the very dickens of a job in such circumstances to be with a person who has a self but has been institutionalised out of having contact with it. If only we could activate the British public, ourselves included, to go on believing that the people we visit, who are sometimes going through dreadful times, are still human beings in the fullest sense—and, as the most reverend Primate and I would say, still have the image of God in them.
When I was a young man, I worked for a while as a male nurse in a mental hospital. For long periods of the day, when we had administered the drugs, I had washed and shaved the men and done all those sorts of things, I was left alone with my charges. I would talk to them. Generally, the mere fact that I had time to talk to them brought from some very disturbed people some very human responses. That was a mental hospital in the days when people were kept locked up in such places for extremely long periods. That is no longer the case but it makes the point that we remain capable of receiving love, care and attention even when, to the observer at a superficial level, it simply seems as if the lights have gone out. If we could develop a culture where we perhaps practically respond to human beings in that caring way, we would be a better society for it.
I say to the most reverend Primate and my friend—I dare to call him that across the Chamber—that, as he moves into fresh fields and pastures new, we wish him well. We wish, too, that he will continue to regale the country with his wisdom and not deprive us by disappearing into an ivory tower of all the goodness of heart and generosity of spirit that he has shown so lavishly over these past 10 years.
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate for this debate. We from this side of the House wish him a happy and active retirement. Prominent persons are often remembered for their failures but in this case history will judge him as a kind, caring and compassionate individual.
I wish to bring a different strand to this particular debate, about the contribution and place of black and ethnic minority elders in our society. We now know more about the aging process of our population and that a large number of older people need assistance of one form or another. Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics released its second report on the analysis of the 2011 census. We know that 16% of the population in England and Wales are 65 or over and that the population is predominantly white at 86%, while Asians make up 6.8% compared to 4.4% in 2001, black people 3.4% compared to 2.2% in 2001, Chinese people 0.7% compared to 0.4% in 2001 and so on.
We also know that we are living much longer. In short, our society is diverse in age and in ethnicity. A substantial number of the migrants who came here in the early 1950s and 1960s were of the economically active age group and the women were of child-bearing age. We took little note that large-scale economic migration in such a short time span would result in a substantial increase in the number of older people in years to come. That time is almost now. They have contributed to the British economy and now, in old age, many are involved in care and caring.
My contribution is built on my involvement and experience of initiatives during the past 30 years, for instance in ethnic minority elder housing and, for more than a decade, my position as the vice-chair of a specialist international charitable institute in ageing and ethnicity called PRIAE, the Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity. I prefer to illustrate elders’ contribution through highlighting our society’s black and minority ethnic elders, whose numbers are many and their endeavours even greater. First and foremost, many recognise that migrants have particular attributes, as the process of migration is in itself challenging.
The migrants of yesterday are the minorities of today, and they have offered Britain much even as they have endured difficult experiences. They have worked productive lives, built their homes, raised their families successfully and entered old age. Being enterprising is something that we value in our society; minorities show this enterprising zeal in a great many ways. Many individuals in their earlier adult life will have pioneered initiatives in education, rights, housing, business and more, which we benefit from today and which strengthen our society. Many individuals in their old age continue to lead initiatives that provide information, support and care to older members of minority and majority communities.
PRIAE, the Policy Research Institute on Ageing and Ethnicity, began in 1998 with zero-based funding. The objective was to produce clear, focused studies with targeted developments to stimulate and increase the rate of progress in the area of ageing and ethnicity, thereby contributing to an improved quality of life for all black and minority ethnic elders. At the onset, this is what we observed. On access to services, they felt the barrier of, “It’s the hush-hush system, you know. Don’t know, don’t hear, don’t get”. On paying for care, elders felt unequal treatment, saying, “In paying taxes, I’m treated as English; in getting services, I’m treated as an immigrant”. In producing research and consultation, elders felt inaction, saying, “We have had too much discussion, action is overdue”.
Let me cite a few examples. In health, we found that BME elders experience higher levels of poor health and limiting long-term illness, after allowing for income differences. Although there are variations in the prevalence of certain conditions within BME elder groups, as a whole, they show very high levels of stroke and heart disease, diabetes, renal disease and an earlier onset of disability and prostate cancer compared to the indigenous community.
Too often, the subject of ethnic elders in health and social care is shrouded in the limited terms of culture, language and faith. Although these factors are important to all of us, they are not sufficient, as the findings of the widest research in the area of care and services across Europe show that minority ethnic elders experience a range of health conditions, service and professional barriers, and remain largely invisible in care policy and practice agendas.
The reason is that health and social care services are underused due to a range of factors, including lack of knowledge, language difficulties, income and inappropriateness of services. However, when they are accessed and used, minority ethnic elders show clarity in their expectations, proving that services must be quality-based and not just culturally appropriate.
This is an important finding, as for far too long, the issue of ageing among minorities has been limited to a focus on cultural and linguistic adjustments. Do BME elders simply put their feet up as they approach old age? Is it true that they are concerned only with care issues? In 1999, we produced a film called “Playing our Part after 50”, launched at BAFTA. This film captures five elders’ work in the community, who inform us otherwise—and they are not exceptions.
Although some BME groups have higher home occupancy than white groups, they tend to occupy poorer stocks of housing. BME groups in social housing and shared accommodation live in the most deprived areas and, in London, Bangladeshis and black Caribbeans, in particular, live in the most deprived wards. BME elders today are less likely to live in multi-generational households, accentuating the pressure on appropriate sheltered and residential care, which is already in short supply.
The institute, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, has done considerable work in this area to support elders as well as planners and developers to provide appropriate housing solutions. In the process, debates about separate housing have been presented through successful working multicultural models of housing in the UK and the Netherlands.
Minority and voluntary organisations from various ethnic backgrounds have long supplied various supporting services, such as home care, day care, lunch clubs, social support—and housing, in a few cases. In this sense, they are acting as primary providers of specialist care, rather than complementing mainstream services. What prevents their growth is finance and infrastructure. Collaboration with the mainstream is often problematic.
BME organisations are characterised by their poor and short-term funding, inadequate infrastructure and inability to develop much, due to the size and scale of their operation. We have long argued with funders and policymakers for due recognition to be given to the critical work that they undertake. An impact has been made but often the pace of change is too slow to meet the unmet needs. BME elders and organisations have been pioneers, change agents and major contributors to the care and welfare of elders. We say thank you to them all.
I have been a witness as well as an active participant in seeing how we can grow the focus on the area of ageing and ethnicity. Because of our endeavours where working with BME elders was normal, and then through their focus and investment, the area is richer in knowledge and development.
Let me conclude. The austerity measures have not helped this well run policy-orientated organisation, which has done so much to assist our ageing population. Let us hope that the next decade benefits from much of the work that has been pioneered. I have deliberately identified issues affecting minorities, because that gives me a further opportunity to pay tribute to the most reverend Primate for his contribution to faith and community relations, which has helped to strengthen our diverse, multicultural society.
My Lords, I start by thanking the most reverend Primate for choosing this issue for this debate and say what an immense privilege it is to take part.
I declare an interest as heading up a think-tank, the ILC, which looks at helping societies to plan for the future in the light of demographic change. I start by emphasising that. This is the first time in the history of mankind on the planet that we can hope to live a long time, to a great age, and that is something to celebrate. It also means that we have to change the perception of older people. We have to work towards what I would call an age-neutral society, because there will be 25% of us aged over 65 by 2035. People who retire will face about 20 years in retirement. There are great discrepancies because of where people live, their income levels and other advantages or disadvantages in life, but those are the average figures.
That all makes an enormous difference to the way we view each other when we must get used to the fact that a huge number of people around us are going to be older. It will not be something strange to look at and we will not be able to say, “Isn’t he or she old to be doing this job?”. We will just have to get used to it because life and society have changed. We also have to try hard to reduce the dreadful discrepancies. In the north-east, the average number of disability-free years for men and women is 45.3, while for those in the south it is 51.5. That is quite despicable and cannot go on.
I shall start by looking at employment. We know that there is some good news and of course the equality legislation is beginning to help, although not enough at the moment. However, 12% of older people now work, compared with 7.6% in 1993. The changes are very quick. The number of people working beyond the state retirement age has risen by 85% to nearly 1.4 million.
Many older people are self-employed. Contrary to many attitudes, those self-employed older people are much more successful, especially in setting up new businesses, than younger people. They are more reliable in coping with the finances involved and more successful in the work that they do. Some employers are now beginning to consider their older workers to be a valuable asset, but it is still very difficult for older people to get into work. It is hard, for example, to get a job when they are above 60. That is a bit illogical because research has shown that if an older worker at the age of 60 says, “I will give you five years”, he or she will do so, whereas a young person joining a workplace for the first time will probably be gone in a year or two. Given the cost of replacing and retraining people, that is a huge amount for an employer to find, so it is good to hang on to those older workers because they will repay the employer very reliably.
Because the nature of work is changing so fast, as is the whole system of how we work, it is worth training people—though this is what tends not happen in the workplace—right through their careers, even at 60-plus, because they can, contrary to many opinions, retain new knowledge and adapt their work patterns to suit the new society that we live in. That society is very conducive to older workers because much of the sort of employment that we are talking about relates to IT and does not involve a huge amount of physical hard labour. Financially, socially and economically, it makes sense to work with older people.
The most reverend Primate mentioned volunteering. We know that older people are the bedrock of many of our social community endeavours, including political parties, which could not manage without their older volunteers—no one would fill the envelopes or go around campaigning if we did not have them. Aviva recently did some work showing that today’s volunteer army provides about 104 million unpaid hours of work each week. That would be worth about £643.8 million a week at national minimum wage so that contribution, as the most reverend Primate said, is worth a huge amount to all of us and is not always recognised. A huge number of 65-plus people, 10.4 million, give up more than 10 hours a week to volunteer. This is an important part of our economy, including of course the huge contribution of older carers, very often caring for young people but also caring for people older than themselves as well as their own families.
Educational establishments have to change their attitudes towards older workers. There is the University of the Third Age and there are some wonderful progressive universities, but many colleges and universities make it quite difficult for older people to enrol, to retrain, to be involved in courses and to pay for them. We have to change our attitudes towards this and ensure that, again, we are age-neutral.
I want to mention another change of attitude that is necessary. We have to take a citizen approach to ageing. We tend to patronise older people by saying that they have contributed a lot during their working lives so now we must support them in retirement. However, it is important to have a reason for getting up in the morning, however old you are, and one of the reasons is to go on contributing and to go on being recognised as being able to contribute. We have a duty to do that for as long as we can, not always to be passive recipients of nice thoughts and kindness but to be a person, an adult, in our own right and to say that, however old we are, we must recognise our duties as citizens in society. We have a lot of entitlements but we also have duties. Perhaps we have a responsibility now to remain in the labour market for as long as we can, and older people therefore have a right to support from employers to make that possible.
We must not infantilise our older population. An age-neutral society means recognising the skills that people have and making sure that they can use them. Age should not be the reason why we stop being active in society; chronological age really tends to be irrelevant these days. Look at people’s capacity and their fitness, ability and willingness to do things. We would all benefit from this because older people are adults with a great deal to contribute and they need to be encouraged, not stigmatised, when they try to be full citizens in society. None of us wants to be patronised; that leads to infantilisation. One of the problems with saying in care systems, “Adult care plans are like this while older people’s care plans are like that”, is that we differentiate between older people and other adults. We do not stop being an adult when we reach 65; we are still adults and we go on being adults. We may not be physically fit and we may be mentally unfit, but we remain adults until we die. That is terribly important.
We need to ensure that our older population are recognised as equal contributors to society and are a mainstream part of it, and to recognise that if people are going to live for 20 years in retirement we all have to have things to do. Are those of us who are here not fortunate? We have interesting things to do, to think about and to work on every day. Let us make sure that all our older citizens have the same advantages by being recognised as serious contributors to our society.
My Lords, as so many have said, I am grateful to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for securing this take note debate. In this, his last appearance in your Lordships’ House as Archbishop, it is right that I express before your Lordships from these Benches the very highest appreciation of his ministry over these past 10 years. We in the House of Bishops have been blessed—a word that I use very deliberately—by a person of extraordinary intellect and ability but with a rare ability to combine that with a warmth of character and to lead by example in the depth of his spirituality. Our debt to him is immeasurable.
The Archbishop has invited a wide-ranging debate, and indeed the subject can only invite that. I am glad that he attempted to give some definition of what we mean by “older”. I was looking forward to referring to him in this debate as my elder and better but, much to my chagrin, I can refer to him only as my better—he is younger than me by six months.
Over 36 years of ministry in the Anglican church—like the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, in his church ministry—I have seen some extraordinary changes in the attitude to the place of older people in society and in the support of the elderly. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, said, human beings are not machines and through many factors the ability to function in society in later years is never uniform. As your Lordships have already heard, there are increasing numbers of people able to have a good quality of life at a later age than previous generations have known.
This fact has been signalled for a good many years now. In my diocese, we are very fortunate to have as a lay canon emeritus the author and man of letters Ronald Blythe. He celebrated his 90th birthday this year. He is still writing, still promoting literary giants of previous generations who he fears might be forgotten and still producing a lyrical weekly column for the Church Times. I mention him not only as an example of a distinguished contribution made by an older person to society, but because of an extraordinarily prophetic essay he wrote about old age, which is perhaps all the more remarkable because he wrote it when he was in his 50s. In that essay, he drew attention to the phenomenon of a much larger population of older people and how that was a more recent development than perhaps we allowed.
What has always stuck in my mind from that work was a quotation he used from Paul Tournier, a Swiss medical practitioner, philosopher and theologian who wrote:
“I have come to the conclusion that there is one essential, profound, underlying problem, and it is that the old are unloved. They do not feel themselves to be loved, and too many people treat them with indifference and seek no contact with them ... I think of the multitudes of retired people who hold aloof, who do know that people are concerned that they should have, as we say, decent living conditions, but who know that no personal interest is being taken in them”.
I think that remark reflects what the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said earlier about that respect, knowledge of self, care and network of history that we have with other people that make you feel that you are still part of life and society. Of course, when you hear something like that, you say, “Can it be true?”. You can immediately think of plenty of examples where it is not. I imagine that for most noble Lords it is not true, but those involved in the pastoral ministry of clergy know only too often of where it is the case.
Times have changed, I am relieved to say, and standards in the care of the frail elderly have improved out of all recognition in my lifetime. Pastoral ministry in parishes takes you into many such establishments. I ministered in one populous north-east parish near the coast at Tyneside. At least 10 care homes were established there. I watched the change from places which sat people all day in a large circle in a day room to the introduction of a state-of-the-art new care home, which specialised in dementia care. The quality of care rose, as did the desire to show that compassion which has been the subject of concern recently for the nursing profession. Standards are rising, but there is still a big gap between the best and the worst, and there is still an issue that the more personal financial resources you have, the better the quality of care you can access. It remains true that there is something of a postcode lottery about the availability of places of care with high standards.
The churches, too, have to look to themselves as to exactly what they are willing to provide and can do at a time when we know that there will be falling numbers of available full-time clergy. For a time, I worked with a person who owned some very good care homes. He was determined to try to improve the quality of spiritual care in them and recognised that there was so much more to do. It was surprising how difficult it was to find wider support, although I am glad that eventually a church institute took up his offer of funding research into the subject.
A systematic approach to thinking about the implications by statutory agencies does happen, I acknowledge, but it can be patchy. Some years ago, I went to an excellent conference which took on board all the implications for our society of an ageing population: the infrastructure that would be needed, the pension question and the ability of a smaller working population to provide the necessary resources. The point was made that we were rapidly approaching the point where 50% of our society would be over 50. It was a forward-looking conference that talked of many things we now grapple with: the need to raise the retirement age and the very positive approach to encouraging significant contributions, paid and unpaid, from people later in life. The trouble is that all that was organised by a regional development agency that no longer exists, and there is no trace from the websites that I can see that that sort of joined-up thinking has been carried on.
The churches can do bits that help bring that together. I think of one initiative by local churches that invited numerous agencies that provided support or opportunities for volunteering for older people to meet in one place. They then invited everyone they knew over a certain age to meet them and to go around in groups—speed dating, so to speak. It was amazing that there was no joined-up thinking between those groups. Some of the offers were being duplicated where they could have provided a more efficient service in different areas. There is much to be done.
Accessing healthcare increases in later years, of course, but the multidisciplinary approach to people who develop a series of needs can be patchy. I do not want to fall into the trap, already referred to, of thinking of older people as a group with problems or as a problem. Of all institutions, as we have heard, the church should know best about the extraordinarily valuable contribution that older people make.
Let me tell the House of one in my diocese. A group of Christians got together to try to provide a therapeutic community for young women who had become addicted to drugs, which frequently led to sexual exploitation. The young women can access a certain amount of care and be provided with a certain amount of rehabilitation, but that can be maintained only if they are given support following the end of that course of rehabilitation. Frequently, that does not happen. They go back to their old haunts and contacts and fall back into that vicious cycle of addiction that leads to exploitation. The vision is to provide a therapeutic community that helps them back into society.
The main person behind this vision is a retired person who is giving countless hours. The place that the group is hoping to turn into the community needs a lot of physical labour and refurbishment, and most of that is being provided by retired people with the necessary skills. It is an extraordinary example of the older generation providing care for the younger. That is being repeated time and again throughout this country, and I hope this debate helps to raise it above the radar. It has not been mentioned yet, but this year we have had the finest example of all of an older person serving this nation: Her Majesty the Queen. If she is not an example to inspire, who is?
I hope that the tenor of this debate helps to make the gloomy prognostication made by Tournier in the late 1970s lack a certain currency and that we can find the way to offer love and opportunity to older people. I thank the most reverend Primate for introducing this debate.
My Lords, I declare my interests listed in the register, which include being a board member of BUPA. I shall follow the right reverend Prelate by adding the warmest appreciation to the most reverend Primate for his service to us all. In my experience he is a man of deep faith, intellect, wisdom, virtue and modesty. I speak as a lay canon of one of our cathedrals. How delighted I am that he is embarking on a new career.
I am one of the upbeat rather than downbeat speakers today because the most reverend Primate is now going to a new job to head a college at a university where this year one college appointed a new principal aged 72. Newnham had to change its articles to admit her as a principal. This is a new job and a new start. The other day I came into a debate when the legal mafia were here discussing the retirement age for Supreme Court judges. They were all saying that it should be 75, because this would give women a chance to catch up. You could have equality at 75 and the women could catch up with the men.
I want to talk about some of the most serious problems that we face. In the corporate world, I notice that 10 of the FTSE 100 chairmen are in their 70s: the chairmen of Rolls-Royce, Barclays, Lloyds, and the Bank of England are all in their mid-70s. Both Barclays and Lloyds had a little bit of local difficulty earlier in the year. So why would they in such difficult circumstances have looked for a chairman in their 70s? I think it is self-evident. I remember that long ago when I did my health job, if I had a totally insoluble equation, it was always someone in their 70s—Cecil Clothier, Bernard Tomlinson, Sir Donald Wilson—who solved it. So I am with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. There are wonderful models of people leading fulfilled and active lives.
The fact that so many jobs now are about brain not brawn enables people to continue working ever longer—and of course, this is the model place. How lucky are we? Right until the end, Lord Ferrers, Lord Newton and Lord Marshall—with us not so long ago—were making energetic, involved and engaged contributions. Many older people also have the blessing of spending time with their grandchildren. Most of us wish we had never had children—only grandchildren. It is preferable; I think Gore Vidal said that. The ability to combine different parts of one’s life is absolutely remarkable.
Her Majesty the Queen was mentioned. The point is most simply made. When the Queen came to the throne, she used to send out fewer than 3,000 congratulatory messages. Last year she sent out 10,000, and 30,000 messages for diamond weddings. The world has changed. When this building was constructed, life expectancy was 29. Life expectancy is now 82 for women, 78 for men. There has been a transformation. At the beginning of the century in 1911, six out of 10 people died before they were 60. Now only one in 10 dies before 60. Obviously and evidently, we need to use older people to good effect.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned employment. B&Q has set a wonderful example. It opened a store in Macclesfield staffed entirely by people over 50. Of course, to me that is childhood, but noble Lords will understand the point. Following this, it produced 18% higher profits. More and more employers are looking at how they can encourage people of an older age to join the workforce, because they are very good even with people pilfering and shoplifting. They look at the youngsters and say, “Watch what you’re doing; I’ve got my eye on you”. As has been said, they are reliable, stable, and loyal in the long term. There are huge opportunities there for employers.
I endorse the most reverend Primate’s comments about culture change. I first learned this in my constituency where there are quite a lot of grown-up people. There was a culture change for children: playgroups, small chairs in hospital waiting rooms and all sorts of facilities to make us child friendly. How do we become more older-people friendly? Perhaps with park benches, handrails and steps to stop them falling over. In my area, long before day centres for the elderly were established, a group of people decided that they would take over the scout hut, take in deck chairs and create their own centre for the elderly. I am a patron of the Clockhouse. It has been transformed now with a bit of public money. I have no idea what the difference in age is between those being helped and those helping. Those helping are lonely and isolated and want something interesting to do and those being helped have bodies that are falling to bits; otherwise there is very little to tell between them. That is what I call a culture change of communities working with each other and for each other.
I would also like to mention the Abbeyfield Society. I was its president for many years and handed on to the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger. Now I am delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, has taken over. Abbeyfield’s 800 houses—homes that are closely integrated in their communities—are like student accommodation. You are allowed to drink. There are no curfews. They demand internet access. The consumer generation is now in Abbeyfield homes. These are not sweet little old ladies. They all go shopping at Next and look as glamorous as their granddaughters. They want a life. They want to go out drinking and dancing and having fun. It is about understanding that transformation in expectations, abilities and contributions.
I could not say that there is not a dark side; there is. Only recently, we heard about the situation at Mid-Staffs; about the man with Parkinson’s at East Surrey Hospital; about Winterbourne View; and about Ash Court care home. In our midst, we have the most disgraceful examples of older people being treated in a disgraceful fashion. Noble Lords who, like me, many years ago used to study the long-stay geriatric hospitals—the “sans-everything” climate—may have thought that with modern facilities, services, resources and investments, it was a thing of the past. It is not. I welcome my successor—not only in my former constituency but in my former role—Jeremy Hunt saying that he wants to transform the way health and social care systems look after older people, not only in dementia but much more profoundly. I welcome him putting pressure on the department, on the Care Quality Commission and on others to give this priority. A recent worrying report from the Royal College of Physicians stated that the system continued to treat older patients at best as a surprise and at worst as unwelcome.
In my excitement and enthusiasm to have reached such an old age myself, I still think that there is so much to do, and I meet many other people in their 70s, 80s and 90s who think the same. When the most reverend Primate moves to Cambridge, he will find my father-in-law looking out of one of the flats opposite. He is 93 and a retired ambassador. If anyone in the family does not know the answer to a club quiz or a crossword, they ring him. He always used to go to the University Library and give the reply the following day. He has been persuaded now to have access to a computer. That is the model we all want in our 90s.
There is also a dark side. I appreciate that the Government have made clear the priority that they will give to tackling these shortcomings.
My Lords, I, too, will join my noble friend in embarrassing the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I thank him for securing this debate, but more than that I thank him for his outstanding contribution to our Parliament, and indeed our country.
I, too, think that we have been blessed in having our established church led for the past decade by someone who is at once both a theologian of astonishing virtuosity and an individual of humanity who speaks and engages people with warmth, compassion and wit. His interest in, and determination to stand up for, the most marginalised in our society is an example to us all. It is possible that he might think that unoriginal; he may have got it from someone a couple of thousand years ago. Nevertheless, it is a tradition he carries on impressively.
That focus on both transcendence and immanence has been a source of inspiration to many people. I am much shallower than that. My admiration is grounded primarily in the fact that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury remains the only Member of this House who has persuaded me of a point in conversation by quoting in some detail a scene from an episode of “The Simpsons”. I stood impressed and astounded.
I am delighted to have the chance to make a small contribution to this debate today, but having heard many noble Lords, not least the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, I realise in my respects I am rather ill qualified to contribute. However, I do not normally allow a lack of knowledge to get in the way of sharing my opinions with the House and see no reason why today should be an exception.
In the two and a half years that I have been in the House, one thing I discovered very early on was a streak of ageism in me that I did not realise was there. I began to realise that I had got into the habit of not listening properly to older people. When I arrived here that was quickly knocked out of me, as people got up and made speeches of astonishing erudition and wisdom. In every debate in this House to which I have contributed I learned something—and often a huge amount. That is something I appreciate about being in this place: not only that we get to hear a range of views and voices that we would otherwise not get in politics, but that this is a space where we have learnt to value the wisdom of elders in a way that our wider society too often has forgotten. Perhaps all of us could think about what that means when we take it into the outside world. How do we learn to listen again to every member of our society, and to hear from them in a way in which I am afraid we have got out of the habit of doing in the “busyness” that the most reverend Primate described earlier?
We are increasingly expecting people to work longer and later, and the case was made compellingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. People will be working at least until the age of 66, and probably later; that age will no doubt recede from them, as middle age is doing to me at the moment. I grew up seeing life as being in phases: there was childhood and education, then working life and then retirement. My noble friend Lady Hollis, who would very much like to have been here today but is detained on business outside the House, talks of there now being four ages: as well as the first two, we now have early retirement and late retirement. As she points out, more and more people who retire in their late 60s or 70s will be active, will still have much to contribute and may still be working. She has made the point that that should make us think afresh about pensions planning. It is not simply about the transfer of money from working age to retirement but also, perhaps, from early retirement to later retirement. She has advocated powerfully the case, for example, for removing higher-rate tax relief on pension contributions, because the £7 billion that would be released, if ring-fenced, would pay for Dilnot twice over. I would be interested in the Minister’s view on that.
This attitude to work in later life raises some important questions for public policy, as has been mentioned. Some people do jobs that can easily be done later in life, but what happens to those who are in poor health, or who do jobs that are too tough for most people to manage later on? The Library pack for this debate, for which I am very grateful, cited research showing that productivity does not usually decline in older workers, at least until the age of 70. Given my own experience, I am astonished by that but am happy to accept it as true. I wonder if we have understood the caveat in that research; it is true provided that older people get the same training as younger workers. Can the Government tell us what they are doing to make sure that employers are encouraged to train workers at all ages and, in particular, to encourage big companies to look at members of their workforce in their 50s and think, “Could you still usefully be doing that job in 10 or 15 years’ time and, if not, can we work together to train you for other roles in the organisation which you might rather take on, so that we can retain your experience, knowledge and wisdom but think about different ways of deploying it?”?
We need also to be aware of what we will lose by pushing the retirement age so far up the scale. Many noble Lords have commented on the wonderful contribution that older people are making to our communities. They volunteer in our churches and charities and provide free childcare to their grandchildren. However, our social security system does not recognise this properly. If someone is below retirement age but does not have a job, they are required to make themselves available for work in order to receive support from the social security system. I know many active people in their early 60s who are looking after their grandchildren for two or three days a week to enable their own children to go to work. In future, if those people do not have another income, how will they still be able to do that? They will not be able to claim their state old age pension, and if they are below the official retirement age and do not have a job, the only thing open to them will be to claim what is now jobseeker’s allowance. However, to get jobseeker’s allowance you have to be available for work. Increasingly, you have to demonstrate that you are spending many of your waking hours searching for jobs if you are not actually doing one. If you are doing regular volunteering or childcare two or three days a week, I am not sure how you could demonstrate that you have met those conditions. What will then happen to volunteering, childcare and the wider contributions that we so much appreciate? One consequence of pushing older people into the labour market will be that if they are not in it we will cease properly to value the other things that they do.
Perhaps that is a problem for our social security system generally. We struggle to place an appropriate level of appreciation on something for which we cannot find a hard economic value. Perhaps that is an important lesson for all of society. It is certainly the lesson that I took from the opening contribution of the most reverend Primate. So often in society, we judge people primarily by what they do rather than by what they are. When I think of all the relationships that I have had, my beginning to learn to listen more to older people is in no way an act of charity on my part. It is a recognition that the only way that I grow is by listening to others. Every person I fail to listen to represents a lost opportunity for me, as well as a lost opportunity for them.
My Lords, I thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for giving us an opportunity to consider the place of older people today. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Walton of Detchant. In his 90s, he contributes so much to your Lordships’ House and has done over the years. He has a wealth of experience having practised medicine since before the NHS. He knows so well the vital need for expert medical people specialising in the many conditions which so often afflict elderly people. The noble Lord is a retired neurologist, and so many neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, are associated with the ageing population.
I will highlight some of the added problems that people with disabilities have when they grow older. If you are a paraplegic and have used your arms for years to get into or on to the bed, car, bath or lavatory, your shoulders take a toll in the end. The skin gets thinner and weaker, and there are more risks of pressure areas breaking down. The bladders get less efficient. Older people who have had these problems can pass on information to others about new technologies such as electric beds, special mattresses, bath lifts and so many other devices coming on the market.
I declare a non-monetary interest, as I am president of the Spinal Injuries Association. There is a great need for suitable housing for people using wheelchairs. Some people who have broken their necks after leaving hospital are placed in nursing or care homes which are unsuitable, uncaring and unbearable for people who want to live as normal a life as possible in suitable accommodation. Housing can become a problem for people as they grow older and have changing needs. A letter was sent to me from two members of the Spinal Injuries Association, Mr and Mrs Bate of Birmingham:
“I, aged 65, was paralysed and use a wheelchair since a road accident in 1962. My wife aged 71 had polio as a girl and now suffers from severe Post Polio Syndrome, which has left her in an electric chair and virtually quadriplegic.
We are getting older and find coping with everyday tasks harder. We live alone in our co-ownership bungalow, we own 25% and the Bourneville Trust 75%. It is much too small for two wheelchairs. We are also very lonely, as getting out is difficult and we feel the ceiling is falling in on us. The ideal solution for us would be to move into an Extra Care village in Birmingham. Everyone at Extra Care in Birmingham is very kind, but is not able to help as we do not have enough money to purchase a property and the size of flat we need is for sale only”.
It seems there is a need for more wheelchair-suitable rented housing with extra help.
Elderly people who are seriously disabled can have real problems in hospital. What has gone wrong? Florence Nightingale wrote notes on nursing, and would turn in her grave if she knew what happens in the hospitals nowadays. Patients who are elderly, if they come out of hospital alive, are often malnourished and confused.
It is rightly said that there is no justification for describing older people’s care today as just basic. In the Mid-Staffordshire Foundation Trust, the care of some patients was not even basic. Desperate patients had to drink out of flower vases to quench their thirst. Over 300 died, in a culture of fear and cover-up. Many people are now waiting for the Francis report on that desperate situation. But Parliament was alerted last week to the uncaring treatment of the husband of Ann Clwyd MP when he was ill and dying in a hospital in Wales. She described his situation as being treated like a “battery hen”. He was cold, in a bed that was too small for him and with an ill fitting oxygen mask. He had multiple sclerosis. I assure your Lordships that disabled people feel the cold so much that it can become unbearable. My heart went out to Ann Clwyd.
Compassion and a caring approach should replace this cold and callous attitude to elderly, ill and disabled patients that seems to have penetrated the nursing profession in some quarters. The staffing levels do not take into account patient dependency, merely patient numbers. I quote from the Royal College of Nursing, which has said:
“Sometimes there are just not enough staff to complete daily tasks”,
such as helping patients to wash and eat. It is all a rush; patients can feel undervalued.
I bring this most worrying situation up in this debate because I think that there should be a culture of openness, honesty and kindness to one another. Is it not time that more trained and willing volunteers were recruited to help overcome this most urgent need? There were such wonderful volunteers who helped during the Olympic Games and the Paralympics. Surely, if there is a will there is a way to find and use them.
I ask the most reverend Primate if he thinks that hospital chaplains of all faiths might become leaders and help to recruit volunteers to work in hospitals. One would need networks throughout the country. The Sue Ryder organisation, which runs hospices and looks after very disabled people, has an excellent scheme which uses ex-prisoners as volunteers, both men and women, to help in their shops and raise money. This is good for rehabilitation and valuable help for the shops.
It is splendid that the WRVS decided to help older people. Loneliness can be a problem of old age. More than 40,000 volunteers help older people all over the country to stay as independent as possible at home and active in their communities. It is that practical little bit of help that can make all the difference, and in giving the volunteers get satisfaction, having helped others in need.
I end by saying how useful some grandparents are. They should feel valued. They provide hours of childcare which relieves their children to work. There is a Grandparents Association, where grandparents meet their grandchildren once a week and have a playgroup. It is a way of making friends as well as providing childcare.
I hope that the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury will keep campaigning for older people in society, remembering that being disabled and elderly is a double whammy. I wish his Lordship a very happy Christmas.
My Lords, I beg your Lordships’ pardon, but I was enjoying the speeches so very much that I absolutely missed that it was my turn.
First, I add my voice to all of those who have rightly thanked the most reverend Primate for instigating this important debate and for his loving stewardship of the Church of England for the past decade. I was particularly delighted that my noble friend Lord Griffiths raised the issue of love and its importance in recognising and celebrating our humanity. I hope that the most reverend Primate is aware, notwithstanding his clear embarrassment, how much he is loved—not just by those of his own denomination of faith but by many denominations and other faiths, too.
As the most reverend Primate made plain, I, like virtually every other Member of this House, should declare an interest. In this House, those of us who are below the age of 75 are, of course, young. Those of us who are around 85 are but stretching towards maturity but ripening nicely. Those who have reached the sunny uplands towards 100 are in hopeful expectation of finally grasping sagacity. But along the way, the miracle of modern science will help many of us to reach those sunny uplands with greater ease. Hip, knee, even heart or other organ transplants or replacements are all there to ease the burden of our advancing years, enabling us to continue to make the contribution that is needed and, thankfully, still most warmly welcomed.
The opportunity given to this House to review on behalf of the people of this country that which is done by the younger House, seems to be warmly welcomed, irrespective of the political complexion of the Government. It is an important contribution. I mention it not to flatter but to be able to highlight those in this House who are an example of what can be done by people of the same age throughout our society, if they are given the opportunity and are listened to, as we are listened to, even if sometimes to the irritation of the younger other place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, has said, we in this House are fortunate, because we are listened to sometimes by those who are younger than us at times when they would rather not listen. We remember the brave contributions made by Lord Newton of Braintree or Lord Ashley, just to mention two, who continued to contribute almost literally to their last breath and made a significant contribution to this country as a whole. This House is also an example of something else—the respect that exists between those who share difference but are set on a joint endeavour and are willing to learn, change and contribute.
This is the European Year for Active Ageing, and it is proper that we should recognise the important roles played and contributions made by older people in our society. Research from the voluntary association WRVS is a first attempt to quantify the role of older generations. Taking together the tax payments, spending power, caring responsibilities and volunteering efforts of people aged 65 plus, it calculates that the contribution is almost £40 billion more to the UK economy than they receive in state pensions, welfare and the health service. The research suggests that this benefit to the country will increase in coming years. By 2030, it is projected that the net contribution of older people will be worth some £75 billion. However, that contribution should not be seen simply in monetary terms because the contribution made by older people has the capacity to change, enrich and better inform lives.
As so many others have already said in this debate, older people make up the biggest proportion of care givers and care receivers in the United Kingdom. Most older people play one or both of those roles at different times. Many older adults care for their frail parents, disabled spouses and children and young grandchildren. This is the first age when we may have four generations in one household. While many engage in paid work, many others move from career jobs into paid activities that contribute to the public good. The most reverend Primate is but one example of that. Many volunteer through formal or informal channels, providing help to neighbours and friends that is often not registered or remarked on but is invaluable. Many older people have a wealth of skills that could benefit their community. However, they face barriers to employment or volunteering because of their age and perceived deficits. I hope that noble Lords have read the work of Professor Michael Marmot on the social determinants of health, which demonstrates that we should move away from systems and policies which reflect or focus on the deficits people have in their lives and replace them with policy approaches which focus on the individual assets people have which they can use to help themselves.
In addition, this increased understanding of personal assets and the importance of communities and voluntary sector organisations in encouraging a concentration on asset development can lead to greater empowerment of individuals and stronger communities. Work is often central to life, providing not only an income and a structure to the day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, made clear, but also a sense of purpose, status, and often a social network. Employers can benefit from an age diverse workforce. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for making that point so powerfully. These benefits could include a reduction in recruitment and training costs and increased productivity. Over the next decade, the ageing workforce will be dominated by those over 50—so, the young ones. Many older workers have acquired very specific human capital, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, made clear. They have knowledge and experience that may be invaluable in a particular job but is not easily transferred to a new job. They may be less able to move easily and quickly to another job or industry. As we all know, the age at which people retire is changing.
I give a powerful example of an older workforce employed by BMW in Germany. That company recently opened a factory in Bavaria that is tailored to the older employee. It has special non-slip floors, better lighting and tools that are designed for hands that have lost their strength. Importantly, BMW understands the value of the contribution that older people can make. However, we also have to understand that there is a health gap between the lowest and the highest paid in occupational groups. That widens in retirement. There is also a strong correlation between gender and poverty. The retirement income gender gap highlights that men are expected to receive up to 50% more than women. According to UN Women, women perform 66% of the work in the world, produce 50% of the food, yet earn only 10% of the income and own 1% of the land.
In the United Kingdom and globally, domestic violence remains an alarming phenomenon, irrespective of socio-economic status. It is the most consistent and pervasive human rights violation across continents. With one in four women affected in their lifetime, many survivors of domestic violence find entering or remaining in work challenging. As they get older, the difficulties they face do not diminish.
So there is much for us to do, but I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to remain in this House, where for the foreseeable future I will be seen as a young thing. I thank the most reverend Primate for giving us the opportunity to debate these issues and warmly thank him for everything he has done to contribute to the quality of our lives. We hope that his increasing age and wisdom will be to the benefit of us all.
My Lords, I am here as a result of an invitation from the most reverend Primate. I confess that I chaired the commission that recommended his appointment 10 years ago and I rather sense that the House approves of the decision of that commission. As so many have said, the most reverend Primate has given us a wonderful 10 years. I endorse what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said: we love him. We all—me in particular—wish him not a happy retirement but a happy new job in Cambridge. He certainly deserves it.
This House has spent months looking at welfare reform, particularly the need to help the vulnerable elderly. Therefore, it is timely that the most reverend Primate should bring us back to the fact that the elderly have a great deal to contribute. It is important that younger people outside this House recognise that contribution as well as the cost that the vulnerable elderly inevitably impose on younger members of society through their tax. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, may like to rewrite Shakespeare as regards her four suggested parts of a person’s life. However, older people, not only those in this House, make an invaluable contribution to communities at both national and local level. The vote of older people is becoming significantly more important, which means that the Government of the day have to look at what older people need and want. It is very important that government recognise that most of us are computer literate and work through the net. We have already had this morning a significant contribution from someone who is over 90.
I want to make two specific points in relation to two very important sets of contributors. The first was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, and raises an ageism issue. She talked about the Supreme Court. The age at which the Supreme Court judges and other senior judges, including myself, used to be required to retire was 75. However, the Government of the day—this Government—are requiring people to work for longer. Oddly, however, the previous Government —and, so far, the present Government—required Supreme Court judges and other senior judges to retire at 70. It is extremely interesting that we have in this House a number of former members of the Judicial Committee of the House of Lords and of the Supreme Court who retired at 75 but are continuing to make a significant contribution to this House. Why on earth can they not continue to make a contribution to the Supreme Court? It really is quite extraordinary. It is a backward step and I was very sad when the previous Government took it.
I, in fact, retired at 71 because it suited me to, and I started a new career in this House at 72. It has not been a retirement, I am glad to say. However, the top judges who are having to go at the age of 70, at least one of whom had to go after 18 months in the Supreme Court, are a real loss to the nation. He would have been valuable for another five years. Therefore, I ask this Government to look again at the issue of retirement at 70 or 75, at least for the Supreme Court. If those judges are not fit, their colleagues will quietly tell them and they will go earlier. There cannot be any reason not to do this. I ask the Government to reconsider.
I want to raise a specific issue that has already been raised to some extent by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland. I am president of the Grandparents’ Association and I should like to spend a moment or two talking about the enormous contribution made by grandparents, other kinship carers and godparents. They save local authorities a vast amount of money. Again and again, a grandparent is asked to take care of a grandchild in order that the state does not take that child into care. This is in addition to voluntary arrangements made through the family. This requires older people to have a complete change of life and to stop having ordinary pleasures because they cannot go out in the evening. They often have to give up their jobs and can descend from well paid jobs into a form of poverty. It is a scandal that we are actually relying upon grandparents, kinship carers and godparents to do this.
Perhaps I may raise a case that is close to me—that of my secretary, who has given me permission to tell noble Lords about it. In her 50s, she was asked by social services to take over the care of her eight year-old goddaughter, which she willingly did. She has managed to continue to work, unlike a large number of other people. Her goddaughter, Annie, is now 14 and is a most lovely girl. She is devoted to her godmother, who hopes, in due course, to be allowed to adopt her—at Annie’s request. However, my secretary’s life has totally changed. She cannot do the things that she would otherwise have done, and Annie is acutely conscious of that. My secretary was asked by social services to do this and she willingly took it on, for the love of the girl. That love is reciprocated. However, my secretary received from social services a very modest amount of money for a maximum period of three months. She is managing but she would be grateful for a small amount of money, just to help with the things that she would like to give her goddaughter.
However, for grandparents and other kinship carers who give up work and descend into the poverty to which I have referred, it is possible for local authorities to give them money, but the local authorities, because there is no requirement to do it, do not do it. It is not fair. I speak as the president of the Grandparents’ Association and hear many cases of people in extremely dire straits. When the financial situation of this country improves, I urge the Government seriously to consider requiring local authorities to make some modest contribution—means-tested, obviously—to grandparents and kinship carers to help them in the job they do, which is relieving society and local government of the huge burden of a vast number of children. I repeat, we are talking about a vast number of children, most of whom would otherwise be in care. This issue really must be tackled at some stage.
I apologise to the House as I probably will be unable to stay until the end of the debate because I have an unavoidable medical appointment that I must attend this afternoon. I think that the most reverend Primate knows that.
My Lords, it is typical of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury that in his last debate in this House as archbishop he chose to move that we take note of the place and contribution of older people in society. It is a mark of the huge compassion that he has shown us for the past 10 years and we will certainly miss all his contributions, I hope only temporarily. He also knows that by making this debate his last as archbishop in this House he will get a lot of media attention, which means that he will be drawing the subject to the attention of a much wider audience than any of us could have done and bringing the subject of older people to a much higher level. I thank him.
I am probably not alone in denying that I am elderly, although by the accepted definition, through receiving a state pension, I should by now have had 14 years of learning how to knit, which I cannot do, and looking after cats, to which I am allergic. This ageism is typical of the stereotypes we apply to older people. If I seem to be taking too light-hearted an approach, I do not apologise. The elderly should, can and do have a great deal of interesting, productive, entertaining and stimulating activities. Indeed, they make me laugh quite a lot, too—sometimes not necessarily intentionally.
They have one seriously valued advantage over the majority of the population—namely, time. By mentioning that word, I realise that I open myself to all sorts of ridicule. There are many people for whom time hangs unwelcome and undervalued. Why is this? There is a multitude of reasons and most of them are recognised by most of us who have experience of involvement with people even older than we are.
Since early childhood, we have been aware and respecting of those with the experience of many years before we were born. The stories of grandmothers and great-aunts—even, in my case, a great-grandfather who was born in, I think, 1847—were spellbinding. They may be even better than those of the brothers Grimm—what an apt surname—whose anniversary is marked today. Those who told such stories must have felt wanted and we certainly valued them. They were also a safe haven for the naughty child, a facility I was in danger of overusing. This is just one area of totally mutual appreciation and, indeed, respect between the very young and the very old. Somewhere in the middle, it seems to die out a bit. It can be done; I hope it is being done; and more of it should be done.
Of course, I know that many young people live far away from the original location of their family. Sadly, many families have lost touch with one side of their family of origin and some, alas, have frequently lost touch with both sides. What an opportunity for localism! Why cannot a local town, or even parish, council organise voluntary groups of retired people who would be prepared to engage with youth and make the past live for them—in other words, doing what my great-grandfather and my grandmothers did for me? I do not want any overall process of bureaucratic nonsense entering into this. District and county councils should not be involved; they are too bureaucratic and process-driven. I am in danger of giving myself another job because the idea came to me just while I was preparing for this debate. I am not so sure that I am going to thank the archbishop for some time. While examining what could be done to make the lives of the elderly more worth while for them and valued by other generations, we should engage in activities or actions that would be of benefit to all. It could be the ultimate win-win situation.
The demographics have already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, but they are pretty bleak from an economic point of view—not only from the point of demands on budgets for care and health but from the point of financial planning for one’s future. There are so many experts here on these subjects, particularly on care and health, that I will not venture down that route, but I think that from time to time we ought to remind ourselves of the case for financial planning for retirement.
I am a bit of a “muddled economist” at the moment—muddled because I still cannot fathom how we allowed ourselves to get into this mess in everything dealing with finance. I know that I often shrug my shoulders and say, “Well, we’re financially all very illiterate”, but people do not realise that they are probably going to live longer than they think. However, there are some glaring facts that do not bode well for any massive improvement in financial planning for one’s future.
Last month, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the IFS, issued a report entitled Expectations and Experience of Retirement in Defined Contribution Pensions: A Study of Older People in England, but the point about “expectations and experience of retirement” is the one that I want to deal with. I am not going to refer to the substance of the report—I am sure that this will crop up in the debate—but I want to highlight two points. First, the report states:
“A surprisingly large proportion of people move towards retirement having thought very little about some of the most basic issues they will face, not least how long a period they are likely to need to support themselves for. Over half (58.5%) of individuals aged 50-64 (who are not yet retired) have never thought how many years of retirement they will have to fund”.
I repeat: they have never thought about that. Secondly, the report says:
“Even those who have given the matter some thought underestimate life expectancy on average. Although people appear to underestimate the chance that they will die young, too few expect to live until very old age—for example, only 9% of men and 10% of women expect to live until at least age 90”,
when in fact the official estimates are double the percentage in each case—namely, that 18% of men and 29% of women will live beyond 90.
Those are really quite scary statistics. As I said, on average, individuals will have a longer retirement to finance than they anticipate. This is potentially very serious, not just for the state, on which most of the burden could fall, but, even more importantly, for the individual, who lives through part of their retirement at a reasonable standard of living and then suddenly finds themselves in deep trouble.
Yesterday, another report was issued. The Social Market Foundation launched a report entitled, A Future State of Mind: Facing up to the Dementia Challenge. One fact is chilling: it is estimated that only 41% of people with dementia have been diagnosed as such. That means that 59% of the population have dementia that has not been diagnosed. In fact, this can cause many misunderstandings, and the lack of care can really endanger their standard of living, their health and their safety.
I am told that there is increasing evidence that older people can be vulnerable to elder abuse. I am afraid I have not had the time to chase up the evidence but my information comes from a very reliable source and needs to be researched. It is likely that many of these undiagnosed dementia sufferers are vulnerable. All of us need to be very careful in our attitude to older people; I have a hunch that there is probably a strong correlation between increasing age and growing sensitivity. It is too easy for those of us when, for example, interrupted in the middle of a task to be a bit hasty and say, “Oh, wait a minute, I must finish this”, not realising that this can so easily be taken as a reprimand, a slur or a sign of total exasperation. I admit that I have been culpable of this and have subsequently felt very guilty. The problem, of course, is that we are working on different agendas, one side being action-focused, the other needing love and affection. It can lead to ghastly problems.
However, even more ghastly is the likelihood of the older person feeling that he or she is a complete burden, and the consequences of that are quite terrible. Today, another relevant report is published, this time by Living and Dying Well. The report deals with research into the operation of physician-assisted suicide in Oregon and Washington. As noble Lords know, a law relating to this has been in existence for quite some time. Two-thirds of the legalised assisted suicide in Oregon has been among the elderly and a horrifying 42% of the total number of people who received prescriptions for lethal drugs expressed a feeling of being a burden on their families. If the lack of sensitivity in dealing with older people makes them feel that they are being a burden, and if physician-assisted suicide were to become law in this country, what would be the inevitable outcome? It really does not bear thinking about but we must think about it.
This debate has shown that the leader of the established Church, our very much loved, respected and admired most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, truly cares about older people and how they are respected. What an even greater legacy he will leave us if we take determined action and take a long, hard look at how we can all help each other, as ordered in the second great commandment of Christ, by loving our neighbour as ourselves and by doing something about it.
My Lords, I echo the sentiments of the House in honouring the most reverend Primate for the grace, intelligence and complexity that he has brought to public life. I certainly express my personal, very great debt for the concept of paradox that he brought to me—that tradition is necessary for modernity, that faith will play a central role in the fulfilment of citizenship and, above all, that we find individual fulfilment through our relationships. These are absolutely necessary aspects of the changes that we need to make in the way that we understand the world.
In terms of this debate, I know that the most reverend Primate is now going to re-enter academic life, so I shall gently remind him what it is like. I want to talk about the slight concern that I have with the thinness of the concept of resource. When we think of human beings in terms of human resources, we diminish them in almost every case. When we think of older people, we think of an inheritance. We think of something that constitutes us that is not simply a resource to be used but something that is part of us. In that spirit, I should like to talk about one very practical aspect of how we have to change our conceptualisation of older people, and that is by renewing the idea of vocation. We have an imminent problem, which could be viewed as a resource problem. When we have a resource problem, what do we do? We import people and try to do some training.
I should like to introduce a new concept to the House. We talk about lifelong learning; I would say, in honour of what the most reverend Primate has taught me, that we have to talk about lifelong teaching. It is the partner to lifelong learning, and the greatest degree of neglect that we show older people is when we cut them off from their teaching role in society. A tragedy that is yet to be redeemed in our society is the abandonment of the wisdom, the skills and, above all, the experience of old people and the virtues which they still have and which we desperately need. It may be the case that my generation and generations younger than mine have neglected skill, virtue, honour, tenacity and fidelity in the workplace, but older people still have an echo of that, and it is a virtue that young people have to relearn. Therefore, when we think of vocation and of renewing skills, it is absolutely essential that we bring older people back into teaching and passing on the skills that need to be renewed.
Two very good ideas have been raised today. One was put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and concerned the chaplaincy. This is a much neglected area. The University of Cambridge is a very effective, modern institution, and one reason that it is a modern institution is that it has preserved its traditions, its institutions and its relationality. One of the key ways it has done that is through the chaplaincies. The chaplaincies within the colleges are not an irrelevant luxury; they are not to be subsumed within the human resource diktats of student retention and progression. They are a way in which the colleges have retained humanity and a set of relationships.
The hospital idea—that the chaplaincy should honour humanity and always oppose neglect and abuse—is fantastic. This is a classic way in which tradition and modernity meet. However, to go further, we have to reconceptualise our skills so that we view the old as a resource, certainly, but also as a constitutive part of the way that we shape the future. On progression, while you hear of a professional foul, you never hear of a vocational foul. It is an important addition that old people should be put in positions of status and power.
When I first came into this House I was amused by the concept of elevation and my children made a lot of jokes about it. However, I have been truly elevated by the company here; by older people having status, power and authority. It is very rare in the whole realm to have institutions where older people are heard, but this is one of them. In this very important debate, I urge that we take practical steps to reintegrate older people into the training of the young. The primary contribution that faith makes to citizenship at the moment is that, unlike in many secular institutions, there is still an honouring of the elder in the faith tradition. We can learn from that and return it into the way we train people in vocation so that the abandoned workers of the past three decades, such as shipbuilders, can finally be given status and honour in reconstituting the common good, not the least part of which is intergenerational.
One of the great problems that we have is the segmentation of ages. We know that Christmas is coming; I do not want to rehearse the data about the older people with children and family who will be alone. This is heartbreaking in itself but, as the most reverend Primate said earlier, it is really about marketing being segmented according to age. However, genuine goodness always brings people of different ages together in relationship—not through a sense of moral obligation but through learning and growing. That is not only through prayer and eating together, it is through the other practices of the working life.
In considering that beautiful phrase of calling our attention to the place and contribution of older people, we must look at how the older generation are going to constitute the flourishing of the young. We cannot deal with the issues of the young without honouring the old and bringing them into relationship with the young to pass on the traditions which they hold.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the most reverend Primate on his welcome, timely, wide-ranging and clear speech. I want to echo one particular point on the importance of public policy being geared towards maintaining dignity and capacity. This is really a definition of what I think of as healthy ageing. I am very glad to know that old age does not start until 62. In the light of the ageing population, I would like it confirmed that it will be going up one year for every year from now on. The figures are extraordinary. Our life expectancy has gone up by 30 years in the past century—that is three years a decade or about eight hours a day. It is a remarkable change that we are going through and that is why healthy ageing is so important.
I want to say three things. The first two are very positive and celebratory; the third is not, but together they are important and can contribute to a healthily ageing society. I am going to use health examples but they have wider relevance.
First, I learnt something very interesting about decision-making when I was a hospital chief executive. I used to attend ward rounds, which concern decision-making about individual patients. It is interesting to look at the dynamic. There is the contribution of the patients and their families and the contribution of the nurses. However, when you turn to the doctors you see the hierarchy in action. The students and the SHOs—the younger people—set out their ideas, which may sometimes be wildly off the mark. Then there are the registrars. In the days when I was chief executive, the senior registrar would be the person who knew absolutely the latest evidence on everything, drew their own conclusion and set it out for others. It almost always rested there. However, in about one in every 10 cases the consultant came in, perhaps because they had seen some pattern or recognised something that they may have seen 15 years previously. They provided another insight about not the latest research but history and knowledge. Perhaps in some ways it was about pattern recognition; occasionally, it was even about wisdom.
I learnt then what an excellent pattern of decision-making that is and what a good metaphor it is. We need the three sorts of knowledge and the different perspectives: the questing hungry sort of the young people, the central authoritative sort of the up-to-date people in the centre of their lives, and the different perspective of the experienced older people who have seen a lot. We need all those perspectives and we need to honour them all. We can too often miss out some parts of that collection.
Secondly, there is the valuable role that older people can play, as has been mentioned by many noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley, talked about B&Q setting up a store with older people and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, talked about BMW in Germany. I want to give a health example called Grand-Aides, a name which is drawn from grandparents. It is an American idea but it is now getting global impact in a number of countries. Very simply, it is about involving older people in the healthcare team, sometimes part-time, with them coming in—properly trained, of course—at the healthcare assistant level. They have a unique capacity to contribute. As we know, work contributes enormously to people’s self-worth and to the dignity that the most reverend Primate spoke about. Older people also have the time and experience. Sometimes they can understand the little clues in the patterns of people’s lives that maybe other people cannot.
I also note from the House of Lords briefing that, in our own country, the people who retire earliest are very often in healthcare, which is interesting when it is in healthcare that we are going to see more need, over time, for more time to be spent with people. The real scarcity is going to be in the time of professional staff; it is not just about money. There are lots of other examples where people can contribute but the health one could be important.
Alongside all this potential and my previous two points, there is the sadness of what so often happens in reality. Other noble Lords have talked about poverty and disability, both physical and mental. I want to touch on loneliness and isolation, something that the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, just talked about. The number of people who live alone is terrifying and astonishingly large. It can be debilitating, destroying and numbing and is linked to ill-health and poor survival rates. I am reminded of Dr Doug Eby, from the Southcentral Foundation in Alaska, who says that with older people in particular, as with most of us, the primary diagnosis is social. You may be treating an elderly man for Parkinson’s disease, for example, but the fact that he may be isolated, not eating, not warm or not washing properly are the issues that have to be addressed and which are seen so often in our health service. We know that this isolation has an appalling impact on health and survival.
Other noble Lords have not yet mentioned some of the research on healthy ageing. It has been talked about in an instinctive way—about people wanting a meaningful existence, for example. However, the research from Japan, America and elsewhere shows that three things are the key to healthy ageing. First, there is getting into your 60s while healthy; secondly, there is having some meaning in your life, with something to do and the ability to contribute; and thirdly, there is having some kind of social life. All the evidence shows that those three things, coming together, contribute to healthy ageing. It reminds me again how privileged I and all noble Lords are to be in this best club in town with access to all three things.
In public policy, we need to explore much further the dynamic of healthy ageing. We need to understand healthy ageing and bring the three parts of my argument together: using the wisdom of older people—or shall we call it experience?—developing ways of bringing people into careers, and getting into caring and combating isolation.
In doing so, we also need to recognise the equity gap, an issue which has been so clearly raised by at least three noble Lords who have spoken. There is the gap concerning people from minority ethnic communities in this country, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia; the gap in equity itself, raised by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland; and the differences in healthy life, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, who referred to 45 years of healthy life in the north of the country and 51 years of healthy life in the south. There is enough evidence here for us to start to create a sensible public policy about healthy ageing and bring together the research about getting into your 60s while being healthy, having a meaningful existence and having a social life.
This brings to me my last point, which is that this is also about political will, politics and power. I am agnostic on the need for a Minister for older people—or, indeed, a commissioner—but I was interested when an MP friend of mine told me the other day that, until very recently, older people were not of great interest politically because it was assumed that by the time you got into your 60s your political views were settled and, therefore, that you were going to be on one side or the other. However, she told me that that is now changing. It would be interesting to hear the views on this of the noble Lords on the Front Benches who will be summing up the debate: on how they see the future, how much they recognise the power of the grey vote and whether they see this having significant implications for policy in the future.
My Lords, it is a privilege to take part in such a profound debate which covers one of the great transformational changes of our time. It was introduced by the most reverend Primate on his last appearance. I hope that it is a temporary au revoir and that we will have the privilege of seeing him in another guise in another part of the House before too long because we would sorely miss his wisdom and his joy in the House itself. When I was a very junior Minister standing at the Dispatch Box, the most reverend Primate arrived for his first day in the House of Lords. I took it upon myself to welcome him on behalf of the entire House and said what a great gift Wales had given to the nation—and so it has proved over the past decade. This is a wonderful way for him to conclude this part of his great adventure in the House.
Three hundred years ago Jonathan Swift wrote that,
“every man desires to live long; but no man would be old”.
That reflection is the more poignant because he would not have recognised a society in which a third of life is lived after 50 or where pensioners outnumber children. But then, neither would our grandparents. I grew up in the famously matriarchal society of South Wales, much like my noble friend Lord Griffiths and perhaps the most reverend Primate himself. My grandmothers and my aunties, like Bertie Wooster’s aunties, ruled imperiously. If anyone had questioned their contribution to society they would have been told in no uncertain terms, “Well, we just keep the place going”. How right they were.
It is interesting that since the 1960s and the changes in demography, public health and health care, we seem to have been overwhelmed by the negative. I do not quite know the answer as to why there has been this loss of confidence. It is an interesting cultural question as well as a demographic issue. It took until 2005 for any Government to face up to this in any strategic sense. The policy document Opportunity Age challenged what by then was the stereotype and called for action to explode the myth that,
“ageing is a barrier to positive contribution to the economy and society through work and through active engagement in the community”.
We are seven years on and, despite the overwhelming evidence of the productivity, wealth and contribution of older people catalogued in this House today—and also, for example, in the WRVS report on “gold age”—the argument is still on the defensive.
I completely agree with the most reverend Primate that there is not a coherent picture. We seem to have, at last, a definition of where old age starts but we do not have a coherent language around the concept of ageing, the transfer between the third and the fourth age and so on. Paradoxically, it is undisputable that the contribution of older people to our economy and society has never been greater. I am not surprised by that because the generation that is now growing old and living through this revolution in demographics is used to having its own way. We have been a lucky generation. We had free education, jobs, cheap housing, generous pensions, investment in research and medicine and the National Health Service, and that has brought us the extraordinary gift of longer life. Now we are approaching the biblical definition of “time’s up” we are not ready to sign off.
That is just as well because we have fewer choices. We are being asked to work longer—and the next generation will work even longer. We have heard powerfully about the role of grandparents and older people. When they are not doing those kinds of key services they are providing the unpaid voluntary force which keeps our civic and civil society going. Putting on my English Heritage hat and declaring an interest, 50% of our volunteers are in retirement. They keep our gardens looking lovely and keep our rare books clean—we could not do without them. They find it as fulfilling as we do useful, as does the National Trust.
However, we are a lucky generation, too. We have the power of the internet in our hands; we can plague our children to death wherever they are in the world. We can broadcast our opinions; we can mobilise our friends and our causes; and we can influence the market in a way that no generation has been able to do before. Older people can be the change makers, as we heard from my noble friend Lord Glasman.
Under the previous Government, the new deal for communities was so successful so often in many of the most deprived parts of the community because older people—often women—provided the vision, leadership and the confidence to tackle the most stubborn and difficult of problems in their neighbourhood. Now they man the barricades against horrible local development and they demand better services.
It is an inspiring story that should be celebrated but it is only half—perhaps not even half—of the story. The inequalities of opportunities, health and life chances which that generation also suffered are now deepening. This is predictable, too. When economic and social policy is driven by a crippling programme of austerity, it is bound to bear down on those who use services most—those in poor health and those in need of care—and it is older people who will bear the brunt of cuts in capacity, services and skills.
The most reverend Primate asked how the Government can recognise and liberate the role of older people. Leadership takes many forms, not least in finding the right language for policy. I am not sure that leadership can be effectively vested or contained in a Minister for older people. I am not certain but I think a commissioner for older people might have something to offer by way of powerful advocacy—and, again, it would be another gift from Wales. When we had an identified Minister in the past, it merely revealed the fact that one Minister cannot speak for the entire diverse population of older people because they have an annoying habit of being affected by everything. Funny that, isn’t it? It could be that we are just ourselves growing older.
More useful would be to have a set of consistent and explicit principles built into the design and delivery of services based on values which reflect and impact upon older people. I refer to principles which confirm that prevention is better than improvisation or crisis management; that integration is more humane and cost effective than isolation and loneliness; that inclusion in a community keeps people active and healthy rather than dependent—principles which, in practice, remove the barriers that stop people being active, fully engaged and happy.
In conclusion, I want to talk briefly about housing, which often gets left out of the social equality equation. So much of what we are and can be is determined by whether we are living in the right place at the right time. There is nothing more important for the older person than to know that they can be independent and well cared for in their own home, which is where they want to be. That is why the smaller things matter; that is why handy-person services matter; that is why putting in insulation or a grab rail, which costs £80 as opposed to a hip operation once you have fallen over which costs £8,000, is part of the policy. The other policy is building those homes for the future which can last a lifetime, because they are flexible and adaptable. The other element is building homes which change as needs change. The previous Government had a policy for housing and ageing and this Government have continued with it. But this is where we need more than ever political will, because we are running out of time and working in the worst circumstances.
This has been a profound debate in many ways. It has revealed that, much more important than the quantification of economic benefit from older people, is, as my noble friend Lord Griffiths and the most reverend Primate himself said, the enduring sense we share of what is really important, not just in old age but throughout our lives—love, understanding, empathy, and respect.
Let us not underestimate the role of creativity. Verdi wrote Falstaff when he was over 80 and the great final self-portrait of Rembrandt in his eighties reveals the man behind the painter. I am sure that the most reverend Primate in his new academic career will go on writing the sort of things that change us and our society for as long as we live.
My Lords, I welcome this debate, and its sponsorship by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I do not think that the topic owes anything to his age, or indeed to his changing career pattern. It is a rather fine example of his continuing to do what he has always done with great insight and generosity of spirit: that is, reflect on the human condition. He is also doing what other great theologians have done, and what all wise churchmen must continue to do: recognise that some of the most relevant facts have changed.
We are still the human beings on whom Augustine reflected and Shakespeare mused—the same people whose psychological, social and moral extremities so preoccupied Dostoyevsky. That continues. None the less, there is one empirical fact which is at the centre of today’s debate which has raised the profound questions that we all nibble at.
We are all—or almost all—living longer. How have we come to this? It is not by accident. The numbers are well known and rising exponentially. A faded family photograph I came across the other day tells the story very well. My maternal grandparents had a hard but basically healthy life, but they both died within two years of my grandfather’s retirement age. There was a certain order—perhaps one might say an agreed balance—of birth, marriage, work and children, retirement and death. Life was much harder than in our society, but expectations were limited. None the less, political, social and economic realities gradually evolved over the first half of the last century, in which my grandparents were in their prime, and their continuing wish was that life would be better for “our children” and in due course grandchildren.
However, a change came about in our society. Not an unintended change, but one that came from a variety of sources. Human beings are a clever and resourceful species. We are ingenious and we have created the capacity and technology to extend human life and life expectancy dramatically. We have done that as human beings. Our skills include the capacity for dazzling surgical interventions in the human body in early, middle and late years. They include less showy but even more influential technologies such as the development of penicillin and all its related anti-bacterial comparators, vaccines and ways of boosting the immune system. The benefits of nanotechnology are advancing steadily over the horizon. All of this was accompanied in this country by the rolling out of a universal care system that we know as the National Health Service.
This is good news. As human beings we learnt to balance massive scientific and engineering skills with the compassion to spread the benefits to all members of our community. We found a practical balance in life between technology, economic development and compassion for others—a balance that had to do with the three score years and 10. However, are we now in danger of losing it?
We would be mistaken if we were to think that this was a matter simply of economics and technology. These are tremendously important and they have created possibilities. Beyond that, there is the key question of vision. What vision do we have of human beings and human nature? Perhaps today of all days I can say that it is also a matter of theology and philosophy. Our understanding of what Hannah Arendt called the “human condition” has depended on a set of empirical assumptions that, in general, governed the lives of my grandparents. We are born, we live our allotted span and we die. There was a general assumption that the allotted span was three score years and 10—what we used to call, in a very English way, “a good innings”. Now we do not know, nor do we have a consensus on, what a good innings is. This point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews. What is our language, what are our concepts and how do we think about this? This is a fundamental question and I am delighted that it has been raised in this debate. This is not just a matter of longevity and finance.
What are the questions beyond the scope of numbers and pound notes? They are questions for, among others, archbishops and former archbishops. They are questions for many more people than that: for poets, novelists, dramatists and artists, many of whom have risen to the challenge. The Gaelic poet Iain Crichton Smith wrote the most moving portrait of old age that I know. Rembrandt reminds us of the contours and colours of old age, and, descending from the sublime, “Last of the Summer Wine” produces many a wry smile, certainly in my sitting room.
This is culture with a small “c” and culture with a capital “C”. Both are involved if we are to tackle these questions properly. One thing that most of the cultural resources we have at our disposal share is, so far, the perception that longevity is the exception—that at the table the odd man out, or odd woman out, is the old one. This is no longer so; our conceptions have to change. What we have yet to achieve is a balance between youth and age. We have been warned that there would be a problem. I do not know how many of your Lordships recall the remarkable and disturbing story by Oscar Wilde, The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Noble Lords will recall that in this enticing story Dorian Gray lived as man young in appearance, energy and taste, while all the degradations that go with age translated themselves to the portrait in the attic. The portrait aged and the man remained vigorous, apparently living the life of Riley in his youth.
We must learn not to set the horizon of our conceptions as three score years and 10. Until we take the portrait out of the attic, there will be a dark space in our culture. That is how we think about age; it is pushed upstairs and hidden in the attic. Until we remove it from the attic, there will be a dark place in our culture that we cannot find words or thoughts to deal with. What must we do? As older people—and we have all confessed to that—we must not wait for things to be done to us. We must not assume that there is little or nothing for us to do. We must not assume that the only patterns of life are extensions of what we have always done but now do just a little more slowly.
We who are older, and who are experiencing this as a community for the first time in human history, must begin to define what the vision should be. I cannot give it to noble Lords now, although I wish I could, but we must begin to define a new vision of what older people are like and—to repeat a word that I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, use in his speech—what it is to flourish in old age. We need to think it through, and that will happen partly through what we do. As I indicated, I see it in the works of filmmakers, dramatists and novelists, and I see it in the connection I have with Alzheimer Scotland for which people volunteer, creating change in and adding value to the lives of others. It is a remarkable thing to see.
Old age is not 30-something lite; that is the Dorian Gray fallacy. Old age is much more than that. The fallacy, however, persists in much of the paradigmatic thinking of contemporary philosophy, and I call on those of us who are engaged in this area to rethink what we used to call our philosophy of human nature and—perhaps this is one for the theologians—to redefine what used to be known as the doctrine of man but is happily now the doctrine of man and woman, and should be the doctrine of older man and older woman.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in this debate. We have heard some extraordinary speeches that have been profound and moving, and they include the one just delivered. But if we want a cheerful antidote to Dorian Gray, I would commend to noble Lords over Christmas F Anstey’s wonderful book, Vice Versa, where Mr Paul Bultitude takes a magic potion and turns into a schoolboy. That will cheer many a Christmas evening. We are all here in common admiration of the most reverend Primate for his gentle leadership over a very difficult decade. It is typical of him that he should have chosen this subject, one that is profound, complex and difficult, as his—temporary, I trust—swansong in your Lordships’ House. In that context, I am at one with the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, and in this at least I believe fervently in reincarnation.
One thinks of the privilege that we all enjoy and which has been referred to several times in the debate. We are able to combine longevity with activity. As one who is three years beyond the allotted span and certainly not in the upper echelons of your Lordships’ House, I find it both a privilege and a challenge to be here. One recognises that we who are fortunate enough to be active have a real duty not to compartmentalise our society. It is the one reason that I have real reservations about any move towards a Minister or a commissioner for older people—it would tend to compartmentalise our society.
I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, but in a moving speech the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, talked about balance in society, a point echoed just now by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. The only truly balanced society is one in which those of all ages are able to play a constructive part and we all treat each other as human beings. If there is one thing I deplore about modern society, it is the way in which we speak patronisingly of the old, particularly when they are frail and ill. I shall never forget visiting a dear friend about 18 months ago, a clergyman of the Church of England, who was dying in hospital. He was a man steeped in learning, but he was being robbed of his dignity by being identified merely through an ill-written Christian name fixed above his bed. When as a constituency Member I used to visit old people’s homes, which I did regularly, I found the way of addressing old people by their Christian names—their first names, as we are supposed to say today—patronising. It does nothing either for the dignity of the person being addressed or for the professionalism of the one doing the addressing. Perhaps we can take an example from Dickens as his bicentenary year comes to an end. Many of us know and love Great Expectations. One of my favourite characters is Wemmick and his Aged P. If we could have that sort of attitude endemic in our society, it would do a lot to elevate it.
I want to make three points. First, the church can give a lead. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, talked about how Justices of the Supreme Court are obliged to retire at 70. What utter nonsense to bring the age down from 75. The most reverend Primate is going on to other things, and may the Cambridge years be full of richness and happiness. He will contribute to the national life from another place and I trust from this place as well. It is very wrong to oblige people to retire at a particular age. The most reverend Primate has chosen to move on at the age of 62, although he could have remained until he was 70 but not beyond. Why is that? All over the country there are clergymen in parishes who are obliged to retire at 70 although they could continue giving long beyond that age. It is true that the Church of England depends, to a large degree, on retired clergy filling in, but how much better it would be if they could carry on rather than merely fill in. As a parting legacy and gift to the church that he has led with such quiet authority over the past 10 years, can he—and I call him my noble friend in this context—not say to those who come after and those who are presently his colleagues on the Bench of Bishops that they should look again at this issue of retirement and the clergy? As the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said, three score years and ten is no longer the common mark. As people are vigorous through their seventies and into their eighties, as we so often see, and even their nineties, as we saw this morning in this very Chamber, should they not have the opportunity to continue to serve? I make that plea.
Experience and wisdom is very useful in many places. Why should ambassadors have to retire at 60? What a pity, when the leaders of our three political parties are all able, vigorous, young men that they do not perhaps occasionally take a little advice from those who are a bit older. I remind the holder of the highest office that a predecessor as Prime Minister said:
“Every Prime Minister needs a Willie”.
She was of course referring to the late, great Lord Whitelaw. The noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, depended very much on the advice, wisdom and experience of Lord Whitelaw. Perhaps there could be an active role for a consultative council of elders talking to Prime Ministers and others. This House, to some degree, fulfils that role but they could perhaps do something within the parties as well.
Secondly, we are moving towards the great Christian festival of Christmas, a time when families come together. We have been reminded that many will be lonely, something that we should all bear in mind. However, those of us who have the privilege of being members of families should take this as an opportunity to recognise the respective roles that the different generations can play and that, without a proper recognition of the position of the elders within the family, childhood itself is at risk. One of the most disturbing features of modern society is the erosion of childhood innocence, and one of the reasons for that is that far too many children have been deprived of the opportunity of grandparental influence. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, spoke movingly of the role of the grandparent.
Finally, I make a small but important point. In my constituency work, I came across so many people in their seventies and, indeed, in their eighties who were real lodestars in the local community. Can we not do something about recognising them? Yes, of course, the odd one gets an MBE or, perhaps now, a BEM. However, what people appreciate most of all is being recognised by their own community. I would like the church to play a role in identifying local heroes—I call them that—who have done so much for their local communities. I used to give some of them what I called the “Westminster Medal”. We used to be able to buy, in the House of Commons, a medal with the Palace of Westminster on it, and one would give it to them. It was much appreciated, and I would like to see that sort of thing rolled out in a much bigger and more national way that helps to bring communities together and show that the leadership, experience, wisdom and reliability of those elders are truly recognised and appreciated. What could be a better way of ending this Jubilee year, when we all look to a Queen who, as she goes through her ninth decade with a husband who is in his 10th decade, continues to give unparalleled, superb service to her nation?
My Lords, the most reverend Primate is sitting there basking in praise. I hope that he will not collapse under the weight of it if I offer a bit more and say how much I admire his work and his writings. I wish him a very happy transition to Cambridge. Someone spoke of Cambridge as an “ivory tower”. As someone who was a professor in Cambridge for many years, I fiercely reject that suggestion, as I reject it of all universities. I regard the remark as the moral equivalent of ageism for universities. I emphasise that universities are in-the-world institutions and I am sure that the most reverend Primate will find that to be the case when he comes to Cambridge.
Old age is a time, if I can use the word, for mordant, self-deprecating humour, and we have heard a good deal from noble Lords along those lines today. How do you know you are getting old? You keep in touch with your friends through the obituary column. How do you know you are getting old? You have a party and the neighbours do not even realise it. How do you know you are getting old? You enjoy hearing about other people’s operations. My experience in the House of Lords bears this out. One of the first things that I heard when I arrived in your Lordships’ House was someone saying to me, “We talk a lot about our operations in here”. I did indeed find that to be true.
Yet there is ageing and ageing. Last April, a marathon runner decided to make the London Marathon his last such race. He will now compete in what he called “short” runs of five or 10 kilometres. Fauja Singh is 101 and did not take up marathon running until he was 89.
We casually talk about the ageing society and regard it as a problem, yet in many respects we live in what I would call a “youthing” society. I mean that the lifestyle patterns of older people resemble those of younger groups today far more than they did a generation ago. I am not saying that that is all a good thing, but it is the case. There are dating sites for the over-70s, pop singers in their 60s and 70s continue to perform and draw large audiences, and people of these ages can sustain an active sex life—or so I believe.
As we know—other noble Lords have spoken on this—the frail elderly present major difficulties of care. It is important to see them not as a category just defined by age, as we can see from the example of Mr Singh. A high proportion of people over 60 are in relatively good health. Believe it or not, in terms of health statistics there is not much difference between those aged 60 to 70 and those aged 20 to 30.
How are we to make best use of their talents? For some reason, no one has asked the Minister questions but I take it that I can do so—and I propose to. I will briefly run through my questions. First, raising the pension age is a core economic necessity in all industrial countries, including this one. Does the Minister agree that the best way to defuse the pensions issue is affirming the right to work and therefore combating ageism? People of all ages should have the right to work.
Secondly, would she agree that combating ageism is especially important in the case of older women, who often face a double barrier of discrimination? Thirdly, would she agree that activist policies are needed to make lifelong learning a reality? Would she agree that neither the previous Labour Government nor the present Government have made much impact here? I have been working in this area for about 15 years. Lifelong learning has been talked about during all that time, but not many policies have actually promoted it, although many exist in other countries as possible case studies.
Fourthly, would she agree that expanding work opportunities for older people, such as in the schemes and incentives pioneered in Finland, does not reduce job opportunities for the young? This is a crucial point. A recent OECD study showed that those countries with the highest proportion of older people in work also have the highest proportion of younger people in work. Statistically and in terms of job generation, that is an absolutely crucial observation. Finally, would she agree that 89 is the best age at which to become a marathon runner? If so, many of us sitting—and standing—here have a good few years of training in front of us.
My Lords, I begin, as others have done, by paying tribute to the most revered Primate, not simply for choosing this important topic for debate here in your Lordships’ House today but also to say how grateful many of us are—perhaps especially those of us who are not Anglicans—for the spiritual leadership that he has provided during his time at Canterbury. I hope that, as he returns to academic life, he will continue to challenge us—as he has done again today—to think beyond our narrow material concerns and to be an apostle of faith and reason.
Many of us were particularly moved by the speech that followed that of the most reverend Primate when we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. That brought to mind that when I was a young Member of another place there was a proposal to build a new geriatric unit in the heart of Liverpool. I was very concerned when I saw where it was to be situated and wrote to the Department of Health to ask whether a Minister could come and see the location. I received a reply that the Minister in the House of Lords—the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington—would come to Liverpool to see the site. That was not quite what I had had in mind at first, but when I met the noble Baroness I immediately revised my views. I took her to the place where they wanted to build a new geriatric unit and pointed out what people in that unit would see: they would look over the neighbouring cemetery in Smithdown Road. In a good example to anyone aspiring to ministerial office, the noble Baroness at this point picked up the plans and tore them up, telling the officials, “It will be over my dead body”. I am glad to say that, all these years later, the noble Baroness has lost none of her mettle. I would not want to be an official on the receiving end of a visitation by her, even at this time.
I was most grateful that the most reverend Primate amusingly drew a line at the age of 62, a threshold which, in my case, is not far off. Having arrived at Westminster in 1979, as the then baby of the House, in another place, I am conscious that it would be something of an understatement to say that I am preaching to the converted by giving a speech in a debate on the place and contribution of older people in society in your Lordships’ House, but I have always been reassured by something that Robert Kennedy once said about age and youth. He said that youth is,
“not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination”.
A great hero of mine is William Ewart Gladstone, who was born in the city of Liverpool. He became Prime Minister two years before the most reverend Primate’s threshold. He went on to be Prime Minister three more times and finally resigned from office at the age of 84, so there may be hope for a number of Members of your Lordships’ House if they have aspirations in that direction.
On arriving in your Lordships’ House in 1997—I was thinking about this as the noble Lord, Lord Glasman, spoke to us earlier—I was struck by the wisdom and experience of so many who participated in the debates here. I got to know the late Lord Longford at that time and I recall wonderful conversations as he talked about his experiences during the interwar years and Cabinet meetings that he had attended with great figures from the past. It was sometimes like talking to the pharaohs when you talked to him. He was an active participant in your Lordships’ House right up until he died at the age of 95. That is a salutary lesson to all those who belittle the contribution that people are able to make right until the end of their lives.
By contrast, our attitude to older people has become a national disgrace. Increasingly, we tend to regard older people as an unwanted burden. The time when families looked after one another, lived close to each other and gave support when needed is long gone. Age and wisdom are no longer generally revered. In its place, we have a media-driven cult of worshipping youth, casting the elderly aside and sending them off out of sight and out of mind to nursing or residential homes where, increasingly, the level of care is deplorable.
I was struck by the speech of my noble friend Lady Masham. It brought to mind a young woman who came to Liverpool to study geriatric care some years ago. She came from west Africa. After six months, she said to me: “David, I am returning to my homeland. I am not going to bother finishing my studies because I do not believe you have anything to teach us about respect or care for the elderly in this country”. That also brought to mind the story about Mother Teresa, who once asked why residents at a home that she visited were all sitting facing the door. She was told: “It is in the hope that someone will visit them”. Mother Teresa said that the tragedy of loneliness, a point made by my noble friend Lord Crisp, and a sense of being unloved, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, is the “most terrible poverty”. That came from someone who ministered to the poor in the city of Calcutta.
It is said that in Britain 1 million people do not see a friend or neighbour during the course of an average week. What does that say about the rest of us? What does it say about our sharp-elbowed, uncaring society when an 80 year-old Alzheimer’s sufferer was beaten repeatedly by a male member of staff at a residential care home in Kentish Town last year; or that a disabled grandmother in Wakefield recently said that she was afraid to return to hospital after what her family described as “absolutely atrocious” care; or the 89 year-old woman exposed to “sickening” mistreatment in a residential care home in Pontefract? As your Lordships know, the list goes on.
Nearly half a million people over the age of 65 are now living in residential care homes, but as the number of older people increases, so the elderly are struggling to find and pay for care to help with everyday needs. Care costs, whether residential or in a person’s home, have risen dramatically in recent years, and successive British Governments have spent less on this provision than almost any other country in Europe. A survey by the Saga Group last year found that Italy and France spent twice as much on their pensioners as we do in the United Kingdom and both those countries have the longest life expectancy for women in Europe. Britain came 17th out of the 20 major European countries surveyed—behind not only Germany but former communist countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
Each year an estimated 40,000 people are now forced to sell their homes to pay for care in their old age. Only the poorest, with total assets worth less than £23,000, qualify for any state support. Meanwhile, there are instances of local authorities cutting home care services to such an extent that charging for meals on wheels, which pensioners cannot then afford, has led to the NHS reporting that the number of admissions for malnutrition among the elderly has soared since 2007.
Sadly, some of the austerity measures have made matters worse, disproportionately hitting older people the hardest. In his Autumn Statement the Chancellor, the right honourable George Osborne, announced his second tax raid on pensions in less than three years, while the Government’s quantitative easing programme is penalising savers the most, many of whom are pensioners.
I welcome the fact that the Government have decided to put policies in place to enable those older people who wish to do so to continue working, a point made so eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. These policies match an increasing willingness to work beyond state pension age but, at the same time, a recent ruling allowed companies to dismiss older workers at 65 on the grounds of the “public interest”, to make way for younger staff climbing the career ladder. With the average life expectancy for men now at 78, and 82 for women, can that really be right?
We need to learn again to value the elderly, cherish their contribution to society and respect their human dignity. Older people, too, need to try to value themselves more and resist the myth that, because they are less able, they are of less worth. The most reverend Primate recently met Pope Benedict XVI in Rome. Last year, visiting an old people’s home in Rome, the 85 year-old pontiff reminded those present that it is “beautiful to be elderly” and said:
“It is necessary to discover in every age the presence and blessing of the Lord and the riches it contains”.
In the same month, speaking at a reception in Westminster, Archbishop Vincent Nichols put it well when he said that how we care for older and disabled people is a crucial test of any civilised society. Benedict noted, as the most reverend Primate has done again today:
“In the Bible longevity is considered a blessing of God; today this blessing is widespread and must be seen as a gift to appreciate and to make the most of”.
“There can be no true human growth and education without fruitful contact with the elderly”.
Children learn so much from their grandparents, who at times of stress and crisis often hold families together with wisdom and love. That contact is crucial. With something like 800,000 children in the country today having no contact with their fathers, the role of grandparents becomes particularly important. My own children’s grandfather died a year ago, aged in his early 90s. He had been an Anglican priest for 60 years. I can say that he and his wife gave a great deal to my children. I think that the link between parenting, grandparenting and the needs of children is massively underestimated.
Even when older people are unable to physically contribute to the good of society, their dignity must be respected. Elderly people should never be discouraged; they are a richness for society, also in suffering and in sickness.
So what could the Government do in practical policy terms to improve the situation? First of all, they could consider learning from current care provision policies abroad. France, Germany and Japan all had a starting point for reform similar to that now existing in England. Today, all three now have implemented state-run social insurance arrangements for long-term care. Under those arrangements, all people covered by the system—often the whole adult population—are required to pay regular contributions either as taxes or as mandatory insurance premiums. In return, should the insured person develop a care need, they become entitled to support from the system, either as services or cash allowances, regardless of their need.
Younger people need to look less at what older people cannot physically do and instead learn from them by listening to their stories of growing older, transformation, self-transcendence, humility and wisdom. We need communities capable of hearing these stories, viewing the elderly not as aliens and strangers or unwanted burdens but as people who enrich us in so many unexpected ways. Surely, therefore, it is high time, and in all our interests, that elderly people are given the recognition, esteem and dignity that they deserve.
Not for the first time, and I am certain it will not be for the last, the most reverend Primate has focused our attention on a central and defining question of our times. Sometimes it is only when someone has left office that their true value is fully appreciated. In the case of the most reverend Primate, I think that we already know that to be so.
My Lords, I have sometimes said to the most reverend Primate, “Rowan, God has given you every possible gift under the sun, and as your punishment He made you Archbishop of Canterbury”. Very sadly from the point of view of the Church of England, the good Lord did not hand down a life sentence. In His mercy, the most reverend Primate was awarded early release on grounds of good conduct, but it comes with the proviso that he will continue to make his very remarkable contributions to public life in Cambridge.
My starting point is the same as his, and it is one that everybody in this debate has shared. It is the fundamental value, dignity and worth of every single old person. Unless that fundamental value is in place and fully affirmed, our political policies will be skewed and the care patchy. Our society shares that value, which is why there are protests when it can be shown, for example, that care has not been what it ought to be. However, it can be undermined, even against our resolve. I think we need to be aware of some of the assumptions in our society in order to challenge them, for otherwise, despite our best intentions, they will undermine what in our good moments we want to affirm.
I want to look at a few of those unthinking assumptions. The first is thinking of human value only in terms of our capacity to be productive. I know many noble Lords, notably the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, have emphasised the capacity of older people to contribute, and I do not in any way want to deny that, but many people become very elderly and frail, and we cannot possibly value them simply in terms of what they can physically produce or physically contribute.
The second assumption that we need to challenge is thinking of our human value simply in terms of our ability to consume. While in recent years there has been a great deal of talk about grey financial power, we cannot forget that 1.7 million pensioners are living below the poverty line and another 1 million are living very close to it, and I doubt very much whether this grey financial power will apply to future pensioners in the same way that it has in the golden age of pensions in the past 30 years.
The third assumption that we need to challenge is thinking of the human person as essentially someone who is independent and in control of their life. As we get older, many of us become rather dependent on others, but life is a mixture of dependence and independence. We begin dependent and, after a period when others are very dependent on us, we might possibly become dependent on others again, but we do not thereby cease to be a person who is to be accorded proper respect and dignity.
The fourth assumption that we need to challenge is thinking of the human person in essentially individualistic terms, a view which has taken increasing hold in Europe and the United States since the Enlightenment. As the Africans like to say, we are Ubuntu: we are persons only in and through our relationship with other persons.
To resist the undermining effect of these assumptions, we need to affirm that we are essentially social, that mind is a social reality, that we become persons only in and through our relationships with other persons and that we do not lose our essential dignity as a human person, even if we become dependent on others or if our capacity to think, choose or even speak is impaired. This means that we need a vision of society not as a collection of isolated individuals, but as a network of mutually supportive relationships and mutual giving and receiving. Only if we have some such vision will we have a proper place for old people in our society and will we value the contribution that so many of them are now able to make.
Only if we have such a vision will we be able to resist the corroding effects of late capitalism with its individualism, material values and “devil take the hindmost” attitude. With such a vision, the values of the market economy will have a proper, indeed an essential, place as serving the wider good. Only with such a vision will we have the conviction to put the right policies in place and the determination to press for the highest standards of care in every aspect of our lives.
The kind of vision I have outlined can be recognised by anyone. You do not have to be religious or a Christian to see it. As human beings we have the capacity for moral discernment through the sheer fact that we are human. From a Christian point of view, that is part of what it means to be made in the image of God.
It does mean, however, that we cannot see life simply as a process of physical growth followed by physical decline. It is a process of physical growth which is integrally linked to growth of other kinds—from a religious point of view, particularly spiritual growth. Even as the forces of diminishment take hold of us, the words of Yeats come to mind:
“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress”.
It is very difficult to put into practice but, without claiming the high moral ground, I believe that a Christian understanding of what it means to be a human being in society—made in the image of God, with an eternal destiny and vocation to become part of that ultimate community, of which the communion of saints is the harbinger—does underpin, strengthen and give an impelling power to a purely ethical vision.
In short, behind policies towards old people there must be a continuing deep conviction about their dignity and worth. This means a vision of what it is to be a properly human society; one that is characterised in relation to old people as well as to everyone else. From them according to their ability and to them according to their needs: only some such vision can withstand the eroding effects of rampant capitalism, which by its very nature will measure everything in economic terms. This is a vision which, I believe, secular humanists and religious believers alike should work to maintain and strengthen.
My Lords, I too wish to thank the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury for this debate and join my fellow Peers in paying tribute to his work over the years—particularly to his compassion, eloquence, and dignity in the face of great challenges. We wish the most reverend Primate well in this next exciting stage in his life and pray it will be one full of peace, fruitfulness and joy.
This debate surely comes at the right time as we wrestle with so many issues around care, fuel poverty, isolation and others that we have been discussing today. It is also a time when we face a real risk of intergenerational conflict if, as a society, we are not careful to build bridges and greater understanding between old and young. On the one hand, many younger citizens highlight a perceived sense of unfairness as they see stable and secure jobs disappear, the prospect of property ownership recede, and pensions become less generous. On the other hand, there can at times also be a view among some senior citizens that the young have never had to endure the post-war grinding poverty that millions endured, followed by the rebuilding of this nation and the sacrifices made financially as today’s older generations built up their families—sacrifices that contrast with the consumer and debt culture that pervades much of mainstream society today.
As someone who in your Lordships’ House is considered part of the younger generation and is technically least qualified to speak in this debate, yet also someone who has benefited so much from the wisdom, eldership and support of older members of society in my own life—not least in this place—I witness these tensions only too often. I feel deeply a need for those who can to call for peace and greater understanding on both sides of the generational debate, for only when old and young work together can we address the many challenges we face as a nation. In view of the time, I would like to focus my remarks on retirement and, in particular, on the forthcoming wave of baby-boomer retirements occurring over the coming decade, and how that might provide both a challenge and opportunity to us as a society.
Over the early part of this year, I had the pleasure of co-authoring a research policy paper funded by the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, with the involvement of groups such as Manpower, Saga and Prudential, entitled Life Transitions and Retirement in the 21st Century. The paper sought to highlight the many major life transitions we all face from birth to death: starting and ending relationships, entering and leaving work, and entering and leaving the domain of various public services, from the criminal justice system to hospitals and education. The report highlighted in particular the opportunity to develop national service-type programmes, delivered by charities and social enterprises and targeted at people undergoing major transitions in life as a means of connecting them with each other to create social capital, providing useful information in a safe way, and of building resilience. Youth was one area in which such an approach was found to be worth while. Another is the entry into, and loss of, one’s first job. The biggest opportunity was in retirement.
In interviewing baby boomers nearing, or who had entered, retirement we found that there was a fundamental challenge that many now face: retirement can often be a traumatic experience for some and bewildering for others, and more could be done to develop ways led by retirees for retirees to help smooth this transition. The story was told by one policeman the team spoke to who recounts how, on his last day at work, he handed in his pass and was told, “That’s it, you’re no longer a policeman”. The loss of identity that can accompany such a sudden retirement, particularly for men, seems to observers to have an impact even on death rates in many such careers, an area which needs urgent further research. This example can be contrasted with another from a company like Shell, which has a wind-down programme, increasing time off from five days a week to four and three over three years, to give time for pre-retirement employees to adjust and build an alternative portfolio for their week.
What seemed to be needed was a kind of course, signposted to the retiring through employers and local agencies, and delivered through charities and social enterprises along a common framework, that could help walk people through, in a fun, confidential and relaxed environment, the areas that one may need to consider when retiring—not just how to plan finances, but the emotional side; the social side; what to do when health fails or as illnesses become chronic; how to handle other family members’ expectations; and, above all, the vocational or spiritual side, or what people feel called to use their later lives for. Such a programme could knit people together into support groups, and could encourage alumni to get involved, if they do not know how, in their communities and show them what is out there and what organisations, innovations, and ventures they could connect with, and even help build. Such a programme could send a clear message that later life is by no means an end but, indeed, a new beginning; not a burden on society, rather a precious asset; not just about social care, but about social eldership.
Retirement, we found, is not the caricature that we see often in the media, but increasingly complex. Millions will be working part-time in retirement and having portfolio existences, often for the first time in their lives. Many, if encouraged in the first year or so of retirement, before long-term habits are formed, could be encouraged to enjoy a well earned rest but also be given the opportunity to work out how to make the best of the remaining decades of their lives in non-traditional ways—blending, where possible, work and leisure rather than it being about one or the other. For example, they could get involved in their local communities directly, setting up in executive or non-executive capacities part-time small businesses co-owned with younger, unemployed people, and learning about the best ways and technologies to use to care for others around them, including their parents and, ultimately, themselves.
Many people do this already, often without remuneration or structured guidance to do so, and I pay tribute, as other have done here today, to the millions of those who in their later years have already found ways to do so much to contribute to society and those around them. For example, 65% of older people already help elderly neighbours and 49% serve the wider community in some way. However, baby boomers in particular—the 60s generation and beyond—will have a challenge, juggling the needs, care and struggles of their parents and their children, while also having a desire to make the most of life, express their own identities and have their own way, and not just get involved out of duty. If given the right support and networks, this generation none the less has the ability literally to turn around the fortunes of our nation, using their best years to help build the capacity and resilience of this nation. But they have to be in the driving seat. This cannot be led and driven top-down, but instead should come out of retirees’ own desires, callings, and initiative.
How could we move forward from here? Well the Shaftesbury Partnership, in which I declare an interest as a founder, are taking forward work with interested parties from the voluntary, private and government sectors to develop and pilot such a scheme. I would encourage any noble Lords who may have ideas or thoughts to get in touch so that we can trial such an approach.
A new All-Party Parliamentary Group on Life Transitions is also being established, in which I declare an interest as treasurer, to help parliamentarians and policy-makers think about and meet members of the public undergoing life transitions such as retirement. It is led by Chris White MP, with the support of others such as David Blunkett MP and the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. I would encourage others to get in touch and participate in this work.
Thirdly, there is a low-cost role for government to help publicise, incentivise and support the development of such schemes, including skill-sharing ones such as WRVS’s Carebank and the Amazings initiative from Sidekick Studios. Perhaps when people first get notified of their state pension and official retirement arrangements, several years before they hit retirement age, they could be alerted to what is available and around them. More could be done for sure to support the many public sector workers, whose talents would otherwise be wasted for both state and society, to wind down and make the transition better. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on the Government’s stance in these areas. As the City of London itself transitions, could we do more to connect those who have worked in our financial services industries with opportunities to connect with others retiring and seeking to rebalance their lives for the benefit of us all and those most in need?
Retirement is changing, and we need to look at it differently and with optimism. The coming baby-boomer retirees represent the youngest ever retiring generation. Their energy and ideas, their leadership and resources can be a great benefit to this country. Let us find ways from within business, the voluntary sector and government local and central, to unleash on their terms their skills, energy and potential, to support them where it is needed, and to see later life not primarily as a source of decline and expense but increasingly as a rich source of wisdom and an asset—one which can benefit us all, not least those in or entering retirement themselves.
I, too, congratulate the most reverend Primate on this Motion and on his inspiring speech. He included an economic insight into the important contribution of the elderly, but we shall perhaps have more of these economic archiepiscopal insights with his successor.
As a former city councillor in Cambridge, under the stern mayoral discipline of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, it was a pleasure to hear her powerful words again. It was certainly my experience as a city councillor visiting retirement homes to see the loneliness and sadness that we have been thinking about in this debate. During one such visit, during an election campaign, I was asked about my policy on euthanasia. I hummed and hawed and said that it was not quite the role of Cambridge City Council to deal with that. The lady asking the question said that she would prefer to be off by lunchtime; she was a precise Cambridge mathematician who was actually a founder member of the Euthanasia Society, along with the Shaws and the Webbs. This is the sort of challenge that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, spoke about.
From my experience as a scientist in academia and government, like other noble Lords I benefited hugely from the wisdom and insights of older colleagues in my career. The remarks of my noble kinswoman Lady Bottomley on her experience in business and the health services is certainly paralleled in the world of science. An old don in his 80s at Trinity, Samoilovich Besicovitch, asking me about my teaching load, helpfully commented that it had been much easier under the tsar. That is the kind of thing that you can learn about from older colleagues. Many universities maintain the civilised practice of entitling retired academics as emeritus, providing opportunities for them to talk and collaborate with students and fellow academics. That is very much a feature of the scene in China. I was at a conference last week, and it was remarkable to see quite young scientists questioning and collaborating strongly with scientists in their 80s from the Chinese Academy. In Japan, some of my colleagues have stepped down from responsible professorial positions to become lecturers at junior colleges. That kind of thing could perhaps be done more in the UK.
How can government and Parliament also benefit more from the contributions of the elderly and retired? I notice that there are no people of our age in the Box. This is particularly important as the Government keep reducing posts. The Government contribute to the pensions of former civil servants such as me who would like to contribute. When civil servants were more numerous, government departments and, indeed, society benefited greatly from their representation in all sorts of national and international organisations. Regrettably, the UK is now almost notorious for its absence of representation in many such bodies. Retired civil servants could do this job—occasionally, I have seen this being done—and could feed back information to Whitehall and make sure that the UK is represented, just for the price of the train fare and a cup of tea on the train. This kind of thing should be thought about as part of the Government’s policy on slimming down the Civil Service.
In this debate there has not been much discussion of the medical and technological contributions to the welfare of the elderly and the ways in which they can help people, particularly those who are elderly and disabled. At one end of the spectrum, the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, referred to athletic achievement. At the other end, as a colleague of Professor Stephen Hawking at Cambridge, I was fortunate to see how technology enabled him to talk, be understood and continue his remarkable scientific contribution. However, he had the benefit of the latest technology. When she replies to the debate, will the Minister say what is being done to achieve this vision?
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich said that human beings were not machines. However, machines can help humans be human. That is a very important point. For example, we can use high technology to understand what whales are saying to each other through the funny little noises they make across the ocean, but we are not using this technology to understand what people who can make only rather funny noises are trying to say to each other. It is just a matter of science, but the science is not being applied. We should have computer programmes that analyse the sounds and gestures of disabled people and enable them to communicate and to be seen as people. If we look at this in a very positive way, we may even be able to make an intergenerational leap from the very oldest to the very youngest techie children who respect only communications that come through the ether. Communications made through sound or touching are very old-fashioned and utterly uninteresting to them. We may be able to make a great breakthrough in that regard.
Government research agendas have an appreciable content of work focused on matters connected with the elderly and on the associated science, technology and social science, but I believe that a stronger vision of where this is leading is needed. This is a tremendously human-oriented programme. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that question.
My Lords, in preparing for today’s debate I asked a number of people what they would say about the most reverend Primate. The most frequent response was that he had done an amazing job of keeping different people together within the church. That is absolutely right. He has managed to keep within his church a broad and diverse range of people with different opinions. That has been an extraordinarily difficult and at times very painful process for the church and for him. In years to come, his church will thank him for having done that. We in the wider society should do so too because what the church has to say about how enduring values affect issues as our society evolves is important and continues to be so. Therefore, the job that he has done in making sure that, in coming to its decisions, there are many voices within the church is extremely important.
It is therefore no accident that today a number of people have chosen to talk about diversity and older people. I intend to do so, too, but in a slightly different way. I want to talk about a group of people—older lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people—known by the inelegant acronym OLGBT. A decade ago at Age Concern, I was involved in Opening Doors, which was one of the first ever pieces of research in this area. It was the beginning of a project that endures. We did that because the law had changed in the 1970s and we knew that for the first time a cohort of people who had been out during their lives was coming towards old age. However, we knew that services and society were not ready for them and had not thought about them.
We were right. The prevailing attitude, certainly among service providers was, “We haven’t got any around here”. We said, “No, you would not have any around here because you have never looked for them”. In fact, they were a generation of people who had grown up through times of illegality and then went through a transition of becoming legal but not accepted. They were therefore very hidden and very reluctant to put themselves forward. Antony Smith, the diversity officer of Age UK, talks now about the need for organisations actively to come out and be welcoming of people from the OLGBT community, because if they do not those people will never have trust in those organisations.
In the decade or so for which this project has been running, we have got to know quite a lot, although there is still much that we do not know, about older gay people. We know that they are as diverse as the rest of the population. Some of them have had outstanding careers in the military, in our public services, in business and so on. We have also had some villains among them, as has the rest of the country. Many of the things that older gay people want are just the same as what everyone else wants. They want to feel safe, feel connected and be valued. However, in addition, they want to be understood because they have been so alone and so isolated for so long that they are not understood.
Recent research carried out with Age UK and Opening Doors in Camden gave rise to a description by an old lady that is more telling than I can describe. She said, “I am an older lesbian. If I never have another relationship with another woman, I will still be an older lesbian”. I shall also quote an older gay man, who said, “I think I was 82 before I felt good about myself”. Those two statements together begin to indicate to the rest of us what these people have gone through in their lives.
A very few projects have become established around the country. There is the Age UK project in Camden, which is perhaps the biggest and most well known, the Navajo project in Lancashire and the Equity Partnership in Yorkshire. There are not many more but they are dotted around the country. They provide simple services such as home care, social care and so on. What the people who go to those projects say is that they have given them a renewed sense of being part of a community, a structure to their lives and things to look forward to again—the same things that everyone else wants. However, those projects have also served as good research bases for others. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, in January 2012, used Opening Doors in Camden to carry out some research. It made some interesting discoveries. Lots of people make the assumption that, because in times past some faith groups have been very hostile to gay people, they have left their churches. It turns out that that is not so. Quite a number of gay people remained within the church. They may not be out, but their faith and participation in the church is important to them.
I have mentioned those small projects and there are some others. We got the news last week from the Charities Aid Foundation that the financial crisis that gripped the City in 2008-09 is now sending out its shockwaves and that those are going to hit charities and local authorities. Many of these projects are run by charities which are highly likely to disappear over the next few years, and I think it is likely that much of this work will be lost. Given what is about to happen in the charitable sector over the next three years, does the Minister agree that it is imperative that government takes a more proactive role in promoting diversity, particularly in public services, than they have in the past, so that policy statements across government reflect the diversity of the nation? There are some bits and pieces of work going on. Stonewall Housing, for example, is developing some standards to show what good practice should look like.
I simply want to put the matter across to noble Lords in terms that I think are strong but nevertheless warranted. Throughout the debate, people have spoken about the fact that nobody relishes the prospect of losing their independence in later life. However, having spoken to very many gay people, I know that they have an extra dread that old age may mean dependence upon people who either do not understand them or, worse, hate them. That is a real and constant fear within the community. That is why it is important, just as it is for members of our black and minority ethnic community, that government redouble their efforts to make sure that these people’s needs are included.
I want to finish on the following note. In future, the majority of care and support for old people will be in communities. The church always has and always will have a very important role in shaping the nature of our communities. It is, and will remain, a force which determines very many of the good and strong aspects of our community life. I hope that in the role that he goes on to play in the future, the most reverend Primate will continue what he has done in the past, which is to raise questions about the human condition and about society that cause Governments and the rest of us as individuals to think and to reflect.
I add my appreciation to the most reverend Primate for initiating this debate. I should also like to add a personal note. I have felt very privileged that I have had the opportunity to get to know him, and I am grateful for the kindness that he and Mrs Williams have shown me on more than one occasion. I will remember that as a great good fortune for me.
We all know that we, here, are the luckiest old people in the world. There is no doubt whatever about that. When ageing, there cannot be anything better than to be in this place, to have things to do and to have wonderful people to talk to. It used to be called the best day centre in the world. It is, and we should never stop appreciating how many wonderful old people we meet. Some of us who, when we came here, thought that we were entering middle age in our 50s, realised that we were actually quite young. Then old age crept in. Old age has crept up on me without my realising it. Now that I am nudging the age of 80, I still do not understand how that happened. Where did the years go? I think that has happened because I have been so happy and productive here. Therefore, old age has no meaning when you are productive and doing things. It has a negative meaning when you are not productive and not doing things. It has a positive meaning when you can have a fulfilling time.
My experience is that I have just become old without realising and I do not see myself as old. I think it was the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, who said we have bits and pieces attached to us that keep us going. I have two new knees, a huge pacemaker and a stent and I feel wonderful. We are very lucky in this day and age but we also have to blame medical science for keeping us going. Many people who are not fortunate enough to be in this House do not find the fulfilment they need in their lives. I was very interested to hear the things the noble Lord, Lord Wei, suggested should be done. That is very important.
I am going to say something about families a little later, but I want to suggest something now. We have heard about volunteering and the contribution of elderly people—I had them in my notes but I will not speak about them because many noble Lords already have. I started my life in the voluntary sector so I have seen what people do—friends of mine looked after elderly people in hospitals when they were about five or 10 years older than the patients. Older people, who are well and fit, will do things and keep doing things and that is a wonderful thing and a wonderful example for us all. They save money for the country and that is a very good thing. However, we have to consider that somebody in their mid-50s who has lost their job may be told that they are too old to get a new job. That frightens me. Why should you be too old when you have such a long life span? You should not be too old until your mid-70s. It is extremely difficult to understand.
We need an initiative whereby people can participate in different activities. We have things called day centres. I have been to day centres because in my previous life I was a councillor. I know about day centres. I also know about sheltered accommodation because I decided to take responsibility for it. They are not designed to encourage people to do things for themselves and for other elderly people. Things cannot change unless elderly people—elderly like me, of course—can take responsibility for doing something for and with other elderly people so that there is pleasure, enjoyment and activity.
We have youth centres. What is a day centre? You sit around the room and get a meal. That is not good enough. Sometimes they have some card games and things but it could and should be much more than that. There should be a centre of the third age where people can go. There should be a workshop there for people who want to make or do things. There should be a number of different kinds of activities for people to participate in. There should be advice on starting a small business and how to get a loan to start one. It should be an overarching centre that anybody can access.
I would also like councils to encourage people to become a group to look at local issues. Who knows better what is happening in their local community than the older people? Starting such a group is not about money, although of course if you start a centre there will be need to be some money—you could convert a day centre into it.
I am very much in favour of people being treated with dignity. I hated the little young things calling the older women and men by their first names. I thought that was very unpleasant. It really is unbelievable that people can treat older people like that.
I have almost run out of time so I shall quickly go on to families. I was brought up to believe that we should respect old people. That seems to have completely disappeared in this country. You see older people standing and youngsters—the sort of people who are able bodied—sitting and not giving them seats. That depresses me.
When I was visiting sheltered accommodation I noticed that many of the people there had no visitors at all. They had separated from their brothers and sisters and their children and no one was visiting them. That, again, is a sad development. I would hope that people would nurture and foster family. It should not be like an Asian family, where you are dominated, but something with which people feel connected.
My last point is about Asian families. The noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, gave a lot of facts and figures but, basically, people imagine that Asians look after their own families—well, they do not any more. In fact, in some cases, Asian families have a far worse time than white families. I have known of parents being put in attics without heating and so on. Yes, they are with the family and no one can say that they have thrown their parents out, but it is not right and it is not what it should be. We should not make any assumptions about anyone looking after their parents and we should try to make a life for older people.
My Lords, I, too, express my thanks and gratitude to the most reverend Primate for his contribution and, in particular, for his leadership and vision about the benefits of interfaith understanding. I heard his every word today with warmth—they echo in my heart as though they were my own—and I salute him for his courage and wish him well in his new journey.
A number of studies have sought to quantify the economic and social contribution of older people to our society. The WRVS and the Age Positive organisation have estimated that in 2010 older people made a net contribution of £40 billion to the UK economy. The WRVS describes older people as the social glue of their communities and neighbourhoods. A report by ResPublica observed that older people do more than their fair share of volunteering, charitable giving, voting and other forms of civil engagement, as other noble Lords have mentioned. This is demonstrated clearly across the country in church halls, tenants’ organisations, unions and political parties. It was most recently demonstrated in the Olympics.
However, recent research has indicated that older people feel unappreciated and disrespected by society in general. In 2009, a survey was conducted which found that 76% of the older people who responded believed that their country had failed to make good use of the skills and talents of their generation. We have a diverse older population in this country, as has been alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and, for the first time since the latest census, we have more robust statistics on minority elders. A recent survey of minority elders in Surrey found that those who have lived in this country for longer have the same fears of growing old as the general population—loneliness, isolation, reduced income, lack of access to day care facilities and specialist day care facilities and sheltered housing. Even in leafy Surrey, minority elders still have language and communication issues and rely on friends and families to help with their communication needs. The survey of minority elders in Surrey found that they have a perception of mainstream organisations that they do not try hard enough to engage with them. The take-up of Age UK services in Surrey by minority elders is extremely low.
Another survey, carried out in Blackburn, showed that 99% were not accessing any social care services. Some 80% said that they did not visit their GPs regularly and relied on family for their health and other information. Some 44% did not claim any kind of benefit, which is contrary to the information often given in the media. As my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland said, there are significant differences in the experience of women, where prejudice and discrimination continue to impact their later lives.
To address these gaps, we need to embrace policies that encourage the active participation of older people in all aspects of our social and economic life. We should positively promote their contribution and accord respect to all our elders. All older people rightly deserve that. Recently in our family, we have experienced a number of deaths—mostly people in their later years. It has reminded me time and time again of the importance of those in our lives who are older and how much their contribution enriches our very existence. So this debate comes at a time when I have been thinking about some of these issues on a very personal level. I grew up among the knowledge that an older person is experienced, wise, to be listened to and learned from. In addition, they are to be valued and, yes, revered and respected, and loved for their wisdom and guidance—never passive—with inalienable rights over their families that asserted that in time responsibility of their care would belong to the whole family. When I came to this country and went to live in the East End, I discovered that it was the same for the families who lived there. We were different in colour, culture and religion, but regard for the family was exactly the same.
Demographic changes have altered communities and practices so that many communities and families are struggling to keep hold of the longstanding commitments and values of extended families that can support each other. We are coping with the fallout of social policies of a modern and transient world. None the less, many families continue to support the elders within their families, but, worryingly, much research exists that enlightens us to the contrary. The issue of violence and abuse, highlighted by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is ever increasing to blight our society. The new world order has exposed many older people to the fallout of economic gloom—inadequate care, poor and inadequate housing, poverty and isolation. Societal and working practices have seen massive cultural shifts with regard to income, the promotion of independence and self-reliance, thus impacting family structures. The demands of these differing norms have seen the dispersal of families to all areas of the country, and even to different parts of the world. That is characterised by a higher proportion of single households, divorces, couples without children, or families living apart. Added to that is the surge of 1980s consumerism and focus on individuals. Surely, we should have foreseen the results of our own making, with a society where many older people feel a burden, disrespected and misunderstood, existing in parallel to each other and not integrated and cohesive as one group or family.
Families define who we are. Much is being done to encourage older people to volunteer and actively participate in family life and society. We need to do more to encourage our young to understand and value our elders by their greater involvement and participation in joint activities, be that in school, university or other less formal settings. Of course I am not talking about the brigade of countless grandparents who are regularly rescuing their working children. Intergenerational relationships can be a great asset to today’s busy families and are an opportunity to honour our elders. This is ever present in my own life through the constant love and care my mother gives to her five children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In the spirit of fraternity, I add my voice to that of the most reverend Primate and call on the Government to consider setting up a commissioner for older people. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in his suggestion that we should have a panel of elders to reflect the diversity of our society and of our experience. What has actually inspired me to comment on a panel of elders is the work of Sir Richard Branson. It is something that we could look at and perhaps even replicate across the country in smaller ways.
I have talked about my personal experience of elders in my family, but I accept that this is not the experience of many families in Britain, even those who come from a familiar background and culture to mine. The panacea of extended families all living under one roof and taking care of each other is a fallacy in today’s society, as was so eloquently illustrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Flather. With an ever ageing population, the issues we are debating today are important to us all, regardless of ethnicity, race or religion.
My Lords, your Lordships’ House has a wonderful record in longevity, as we have heard several times in the debate, but if the temperature in the Chamber drops any lower, I think it will see quite a few more of us off. It is an honour and privilege to speak in this debate and I congratulate the most reverend Primate on his magnificent contribution, on securing the debate, and on the title he has chosen for it—the “contribution” made by older people. Too often when we discuss the place of older people in society, we focus on the problems. We talk about the demographic time bomb, the drain on the resources of the NHS, social care problems and so on. I do it myself all the time when I speak about the problems faced by those delivering social care both now and in the future. But what it is easy to forget is that older people themselves are often the ones providing care, and it is on that caring contribution that I want to focus. We should recognise the contribution made by older people as providers of social care and childcare for grandchildren.
The latest census figures were published on Wednesday and show that the number of carers over the age of 65 is increasing even more rapidly than the general carer population. We are still awaiting the analysis but it certainly looks as though while the total number of carers has increased by 10% in the past 10 years, the number of carers aged over 65 may have increased by as much as 15%. The reasons for this are not difficult to see. The bulk of care in our society has always been provided within families, with twice as many unpaid carers, nearly 6.4 million, as there are paid staff in the health and social care systems combined. The care they provide is valued at a staggering £119 billion every year, which is easily the cost of another health service. If anyone says that families do not care any more—and I am sorry to say that I have heard that several times today—I am afraid that I want to scream. Everyone here in this debate will know at least one, and probably several, older spouses who are caring for a partner with Parkinson’s, some form of mental illness, dementia, arthritis or diabetes. The list is endless. Most of them do not want to stop doing it; they do it because of the love they have for their partner or out of a strong sense of duty, or for the simple reason, as many a carer has said to me, that, “It is what you do”.
Caring for relatives can be a positive experience and many report that it is so, but of course taking on the responsibility of caring, however willingly you do it, has its consequences. It can have very negative consequences for your own health, for example. More than 60% of carers report that their health has suffered as a direct result of caring—either their emotional or physical health, but often both. The vow that people take in the marriage service,
“in sickness and in health”,
is very real in these situations. Age UK research shows that of 2 million older people with care-related needs, nearly 800,000 receive no support of any kind from public or private sector agencies. Many live alone and will suffer the loneliness that many noble Lords have drawn attention to today. However, many others are cared for by a spouse who is becoming increasingly frail themselves because of the stress of caring, and increasingly unable to get any kind of support because of cuts in local services or the charges that councils are now imposing.
As noble Lords will know, councils are increasingly unable even to consider meeting care needs that are assessed as being non-severe or moderate. Research by the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services shows that 83% of councils have eligibility criteria set at substantial. If your needs are not seen as substantial, you do not get any help. As one carer aged 87, caring for his wife of 85, who is severely afflicted with arthritis, said, “They say her needs are not substantial because she can get dressed and be wheeled into the shower that we had installed at our own expense. Of course she can’t dress herself but we manage it between us in about an hour and a half every day. They used to give me a break from caring once a month and took her into a care home for 24 hours, but of course it’s all stopped. But we soldier on—what else can we do?”. What else indeed?
Neither should we ignore the financial consequences of caring. There are extra heating bills, not to mention extra laundry, specialist foods and so on, but what causes most frustration among older carers is a lack of recognition within the benefits system. Those caring for more than 35 hours a week are entitled to carer’s allowance, currently just over £58 a week, but if you are in receipt of the state pension you cannot receive carer’s allowance because of the overlapping benefit rule. You are doing no less caring but you cannot be recognised financially. That causes a great deal of frustration and anger among older carers.
I turn briefly to those older people who provide huge amounts of childcare. This has also been mentioned several times today. Many older people wrote to Carers UK as part of its Sandwich Caring survey and talked about their caring experiences and where they impact on other aspects of their life. Many families rely on grandparents to provide childcare for their children while they are at work. In fact, grandparents are the biggest providers of childcare, as we all know. However, many found themselves caring at the same time for a parent with a sudden illness, a long-term condition, a stroke or dementia, and were therefore unable to provide the vital childcare in the way that they had done. They were painfully aware of the financial pressures this placed on their sons and daughters, not to mention the fact that they had enjoyed spending time with their grandchildren. More investment in care and a stronger care system, integrated better with health, would enable more of these grandparents to do both. As women have children later in life, this linking of caring responsibilities with grandparenting will become much more widespread.
Chronic underfunding has led to a crisis in our social care system, putting huge pressure on existing care services, the NHS and particularly on family members who provide care. This brings costs not only for carers and the people they care for but for the economy and public services more widely. Demand for the unpaid care provided by families and carers is increasing, and it has been estimated that nearly 3.5 million additional carers will be needed by 2037.
The care and support White Paper published in July presents a positive vision for the future, as does the draft Care and Support Bill, which is about to begin pre-legislative scrutiny; I declare an interest as a member of that committee. The Bill strengthens the rights of carers and those using care and support services, as well as bringing clarity and accessibility to social care law. However, a significant gap remains between the demand for care and support services and the ability of local government to provide good-quality social care to those in need. If this funding gap is not filled, and if a fairer and more sustainable model for the future funding of social care is not agreed, families and society will continue to pay the price.
I have said many times in your Lordships’ House that if we as a nation do not change our attitude to care and caring needs, we will be in serious trouble. We seem wilfully to ignore the fact that most of us will need care at some point in our lives. Report after report shows us that we do not plan for that and are not even aware that we will have to pay for social care. I ask the Minister, as I have asked others: when may we expect a reply from the Government to the Dilnot report and when may we expect this new thinking on social care to come on to the public service agenda?
I focused on the serious subject of providing and needing care, which can be depressing. If ever I am depressed about the passing years, I think of the example set for me by my auntie Ida. She is 94, lives alone, has an active social life, grows all her own fruit and vegetables and, as the Seville orange season approaches in January, will be preparing for her marathon marmalade-making session. She makes about 150 jars to give away because, as she puts it, “I like to make it for all the old people, bless them”.
My Lords, like all other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate, I thank and congratulate the most reverend Primate for obtaining it. I also pay tribute to him for all that he has done during his time in his historic office and the manner of his doing it.
After such a rich variety of speakers and the wonderful mix of wisdom and humour, I am sorry that as the final Back-Bench speaker I should end on a particular and critical note. Although the subject of the debate is,
“the place and contribution of older people in society”,
I deliberately limit my contribution to the place of one small but rising part of the whole, namely older people in prison. Their needs reflect those of older people in the community, which most of them will become on release. I speak in the context of the provisions of the Equality Act 2010, which outlaws harmful age discrimination in the provision of goods and services, and enforces a duty on all public sector bodies to promote age equality.
My interest in older prisoners was aroused by an experience as Chief Inspector of Prisons when, visiting Winchester, I was asked by its excellent doctor whether I felt strong enough to see three very dangerous prisoners. All were elderly and bedridden, one with advanced Alzheimer’s, one with advanced Parkinson’s and the third so mentally ill that he clearly had no idea where he was. The doctor explained that she had found them in the category B Kingston prison, the Prison Service categorising them as being so dangerous that they could not be in less secure custody. In view of their condition and because Kingston did not have 24-hour nursing cover, she had on her own initiative brought them to category C Winchester to die in the dignity of her care.
When I raised the issue of elderly prisoners with the Prison Service, I learned that neither was anyone responsible for them as a group nor were there any special arrangements such as nominated prisons with suitable facilities. I therefore contacted the social services director responsible for the elderly and asked him to work with me on a thematic review of elderly prisoners as part of an overall review of minority groups in prison. When I reluctantly had to abandon that review, having been forbidden by the then Prisons Minister from including race, I forwarded the report of the social services director to the director-general of the Prison Service. It seemed that the director’s comprehensive survey of the problem and sensible recommendation that social services, with their national responsibility for the elderly, should be made responsible for the oversight of conditions for and treatment of elderly prisoners in nominated prisons, required immediate attention.
Needless to say, nothing came of that, and it was not until 2004, when my successor, Dame Anne Owers, published a review of older prisoners, No Problems - Old and Quiet—a title taken from a prisoner’s personal file—that the size and shape of the problem was drawn to public attention. She reported that although some 7% of all prisoners were over 50, few prisons were taking the special healthcare and resettlement needs of older prisoners seriously—a problem exacerbated by the tendency of prisoners to age prematurely by up to 10 years while in prison.
Older prisoners were accommodated in a regime designed for, and largely inhabited by, young and able-bodied people, supported by prison staff who were untrained for their needs. Most disappointingly, in view of my previous attempts, the review found that, in general, local authority social service departments were extremely reluctant even to carry out assessments of older prisoners, still less to offer support either during or after imprisonment. A follow-up report in 2008 found that, although there had been some improvement in healthcare arrangements, the National Offender Management Service had still not developed a national strategy for older prisoners supported by mandatory national and local standards.
That is the background to the situation today, which is that as of 30 September, although there are isolated examples of good practice, there is still no national strategy or guidance relating to the welfare of the 9,913 prisoners over the age of 50. Of those prisoners, 3,333 were over the age of 60; more than 600 were over 70; 42 were over 80 and the oldest was 92. That represents 11% of the prison population, a rise of 4% since 2004. Prisoners over 60 are the fastest growing age group in the prison estate, a rise that is not matched by a corresponding rise in the number convicted by the courts. It cannot be explained by demographic changes, or a so-called elderly crime wave. The most likely cause is harsher sentencing policies, which have resulted in longer sentences being awarded to criminals aged over 60, especially those convicted of sex offences and drug trafficking. The sole guidance is a chapter on older prisoners in a Prison Service order entitled Prisoners with Physical, Sensory and Mental Disabilities, which largely focuses on their health and mobility needs, which prisons are expected to meet by making what are called “reasonable adjustments”.
Inspection reports over the past year confirm that there are still a worrying number of deficiencies in conditions for and treatment of older prisoners, in addition to a general observation that the contrast between their treatment and that of other vulnerable groups has grown. For example, although some older prisoners may be unlocked during the day, as well as them being retired at 60—and so disqualified from earning wages—there is too often no structured activity for them and a general lack of daycare centres.
Although statistics suggest that more than half such prisoners are suffering from a mental disorder, staff training in mental health awareness is poor. Few have the ability to identify the early onset of dementia and, although most prisons have special clinics for older prisoners, few have a special lead nurse in place. A number of older prisoners with mobility problems are unable to use the showers, or have difficulty accessing top bunk beds. However, on the positive side, 85% of older prisoners state that staff treat them with respect, and 84% state that they have a member of staff whom they can turn to with a problem.
Older prisoners also need help in preparing for release, which, disappointingly, received no mention in Ken Clarke’s “rehabilitation revolution” Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle. Life on the out is nothing like life inside prison, and many will find it hard to cope, particularly those who have served long sentences and who may have lost all contact with their families and communities, or be prohibited from making contact because of the conditions of their release. Of course, age itself does not determine either capabilities or needs but, in addition to possible isolation from friends and family, older ex-prisoners are more likely to have health problems than the rest of the population, have less income and be less likely to find work. Furthermore, the frailties of age are likely to accentuate the effects of victimisation against them following their crime and punishment.
In sum, because the problems of older prisoners are often not visible and since they are less likely to complain or make trouble, it is too readily assumed that everything with and for them is satisfactory. However, it is clear from the evidence that that is far from the case and that too many of their well documented specific needs and concerns are not being recognised or met. For example, as reported in 2004, social care provisions for them are as minimal on release as they are in prison and also suffer from a lack of national direction.
Winston Churchill famously said in 1910 that the way in which it treated crime and criminals was the truest test of the civilisation of any country. Applied to the treatment of older prisoners, we currently fail that test. I know that this issue is outside the responsibilities of the Minister, but I hope that she will pass on what I have said to her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health, in particular. In the Advent spirit of hope, I once again thank the most reverend Primate for the opportunity to raise the issue and wish him all good fortune on his return to Cambridge.
My Lords, it is a real pleasure to participate in today’s debate initiated by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. The words have rightly been very warm, but I hope that the archbishop is wearing his thermals.
I am delighted that after 10 challenging years as the leader of the Church of England and head of the worldwide Anglican communion, he will be able to enjoy a different and, I hope, slightly less demanding life as Master of Magdalene College Cambridge. A new career at 62 is brilliant. From these Benches, I thank him for the values he has espoused and articulated. His spiritual leadership and work with other faiths will be missed. Those of faith, little faith and no faith all appreciate the tremendous work of the Church of England in our communities, especially with young people, old people, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged. I fear that in these times of austerity its work is growing.
Like every other person on this earth, each and every one of us is growing older by the minute, but as Members of your Lordships’ House we are both privileged and cosseted. While we might worry about our health, our wrinkles and our dignity as we age, we are active, our minds are nourished and stretched, and in varying ways we are making a contribution to the life of our country, sometimes through our legislative work or advocacy, sometimes though our work with charities or business, oft times through our family life. In this House, we have hope. Hope in old age is denied to many, but I heard a wonderful example of hope the other day. A friend who lives in London has been concerned for some time about his parents, who live in Scotland, both of whom are in their 90s. My friend had been trying to get them to move into some form of sheltered accommodation, and a couple of weeks ago he spoke to his father, who said that at last he had decided to take the plunge. “That’s great”, said the son, “Shall I come and help you move? Can you tell me what date I should come?”. To his astonishment, his father replied, “Well, there’s no rush. I’ve put down a deposit on a home which should be completed in two years’ time”. Optimism is a wonderful thing.
Getting older is a strange and, too often, daunting process, and we know that death will surely follow. The fact that our society is obsessed with youth and frightened of death makes it all the more difficult, but getting older does not mean diminished capacity or a diminished contribution to society. We need the talents and skills of our oldest citizens, who are participants in our communities, but we must also value them. I am 57 and, yes, I fervently wish that I was younger and that I could relive parts of my life with the understanding that I have now, but in my lifetime the place and contribution of older people in our society has changed.
In physical terms, the shape of families has changed and many are fragmented so that frequently older people live alone, often far from sons and daughters.They sometimes feel unloved. With e-mails, cheap phone calls and Skype, parents and grandparents can now participate in the lives of their offspring who may be thousands of miles away. However, it is clear that loneliness is exacerbated by distance. Sadly, a recent report published by WRVS showed that the pressure of work and family commitments is taking its toll on older people, with many saying that their children were too busy to see them, but that they can gain strength and joy from other people’s children and intergenerational work is hugely important.
Society has changed. We went from a period of strong communities—although perhaps my rose tinted specs deceive me—to no such thing as society, but now, as the archbishop said in an extraordinary speech during our debates on last year’s summer disturbances,
“People have discovered why community matters. They have discovered why solidarity is important”.—[Official Report, 11/8/11; col. 1512.]
As life gets more difficult, the role of communities and families and the position of older people within them grow stronger. As the state withdraws from some public services, the voluntary sector and volunteers take its place, sometimes because they have rightly sought to deliver services, at other times because they have to shoulder burdens caused by the state that is shrinking because of cuts. Many of the volunteers are older people who, far from being a burden, are contributors to their community. We know that WRVS and many local charities provide support and companionship for people who are lonely and who cannot get out of their homes.
In my own area, it is also older people who run organisations such as the local history society, which, working with schools, ensures that our history and traditions are carried forward for the next generation. It is older volunteers who work with local environmental organisations, conscious that we are stewards of our environment for future generations. It is older people who underpin our voluntary services, which in turn are sustaining our society. This is good for society, but research also shows that older people who volunteer are less depressed, have a better quality of life and are happier.
Within extended families, friendship circles and local communities, it is often women taking the leading roles. At the same time, they are often doing tough but badly paid jobs in homes and hospitals. Women are supreme jugglers. Whereas the juggling used to stop when the children left home, it now continues for much longer. My party has recognised that older women are the nation's greatest untapped resource. We have set up an older women’s commission, which is looking into the pressures faced by a new generation of older women, whose lives are very different from those of our mothers, and how we respond to the challenges that these women face.
Recent Gransnet research has found that three-quarters of grandmothers aged over 50 are caring for their grandchildren, more than a third care for vulnerable or elderly relatives, almost 40% do voluntary work, and more than one in four are still holding a job. Many are also working really hard to hold families together across the generations.
We are living longer, which is often—but depending on one’s health not always—a joy. This poses huge challenges for society. Even as the retirement age rises we draw pensions for longer, and as demographics change there are fewer young people of working age to every pensioner. We should not look on this as a burden, but who is going to provide money for the pensions? It must not be a financial burden on the next generation who are facing far greater challenges in terms of security than our lucky generation ever had. Few can hope to own their own house before their late 30s, they will never have the security of a job for life, their own pensions may be meagre and they may well have to tackle issues relating to environmental and energy security. Where retirement is concerned, as the noble Lord, Lord Wei, suggested, perhaps we should be looking as a society at a phased-in period leading up to retirement, with shorter hours at work, more time volunteering, more time supporting younger people and time to adjust to the new realities. Loss of work must not mean loss of identity.
Longer lives do not necessarily mean healthier lives. We already have a crisis in our social care system. Carers are often themselves elderly. Local authorities are doing everything they can to protect front-line care services, but with further financial cuts inevitable, they will have to cut services further, despite increased demand.
We need urgent action to provide a holistic health and social care service—a truly integrated service with one budget, quality community services and a lasting financial settlement for social care. Unless we get that right, the fabric of our society will crumble. Living longer also means that we must reappraise our housing needs, as my noble friend Lady Andrews said. We should perhaps be looking at how younger and older people can live in the same community, as well as at having properly adapted housing. I would also suggest that we should reconsider policies such as the bedroom tax, which is a nightmare for many elderly people.
We have all visited residential homes, some of which are excellent, but others are profoundly depressing and are little more than warehouses for the elderly. There will always be a need for some quality homes, but we should be looking more at intergenerational solutions that are good for younger people and older people. I warmly welcome the initiatives where young working people who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of rented accommodation live with elderly people who need a human presence in their home—someone to do the shopping.
There must be many other schemes that could and should be explored which would greatly enhance the lives of young and old as well as build trust between the generations. Today we have rightly focused on the positive attributes of elderly people—their skills, talents and experience. However, in doing so we must not diminish the wonderful attributes of our young people. Old and young can learn from each other, albeit in different ways. Society should indeed honour our elders, but we should celebrate the younger generation who are our future. Each generation should speak with, listen to and learn from each other.
In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, I assure him that the grey vote has always been of huge importance to all political parties, one practical reason being that older people are those who wish to vote. Having said that, older people are now rightly more vociferous and assertive. Public services which affect older people are now in crisis. These people are used to having their own way, and they want to be part of decision-making. They will have, perhaps, more impact on our policies in future.
This has been a rich debate. I end where the most reverend Primate began. As a society, we have to do more to change attitudes towards older people. To change our current culture, we have to affirm models of living for older people, provide opportunities for them to use their talents and experience, and enable them to live with dignity until the end. As a state, we have a duty to support those who need it, and we have to reaffirm that to assuage one of the fears of growing old. I like the emphasis put on love by my noble friend Lord Griffiths and others. Love should mean that we respect each other and older people, celebrate their contribution to society and recognise the self that is part of being a human being. That self does not disappear if it becomes dependent. I hope that, as a nation, we will better learn the importance of love; love which should be tolerant of difference so that, for example, elderly gay or black and ethnic minority citizens do not live in fear—and neither should prisoners.
I wish the most reverend Primate well in his new life. This man of warmth, compassion and huge intellect deserves space for thought and enjoyment after the past 10 years. As many have said, however, I hope that he will continue to be a catalyst for ideas and an inspiration for our country, including for policymakers and decision-makers who are grappling with today’s problems while searching for new ways to meet future challenges, especially in terms of public policy. On behalf of these Benches, I say to the most reverend Primate that I wish him well, and thank him for his extraordinary contribution to our society and for what he will continue to do.
My Lords, this has been a hugely enlightening debate in which all Members of this House are infinitely more qualified to take part than me. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
I could not pass up the honour of answering the historic final debate in this House of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury as the Archbishop of Canterbury. I, like others, hope that he will continue to make a contribution in the House, perhaps in a different guise. I thank him for the momentous role that he has played not only in this House but in the Church of England, in interfaith relations and in British society. He has been thoughtful, brave and challenging, and has always managed to remain relevant to today’s challenges. I add my voice to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, to the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and to the warm words of the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock.
This debate could not be in a more relevant time or place, in a year when we are marking 60 years of service by one of Britain’s greatest ever older people, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. When we refer to great women, I am sure that the House will join me in saying to the most reverend Primate that colleagues value not only his contribution but also the amazing contribution of his wife Jane. As we all know, no great man can ever succeed without a great woman behind him.
As we heard today, the changing demography of the UK means that the contribution of older people in society is more important than ever. Much was made earlier this week of the changing make-up of Britain, revealed in the census results. One of the biggest changes to our country that is often overlooked is the rising number of older people. Every year about 650,000 people turn 65. That means that there are more people over the age of 60 than there are under the age of 18, and it means that pensioners make up almost one-fifth of our total population. There are 1.4 million people over the age of 85 living in Britain today, and 12,000 of those are Britons over the age of 100. Of those, 10 are super-centenarians: people who have reached the age of 110.
Our oldest living resident, Grace Jones of Bermondsey, celebrated her 113th birthday earlier this month. That is something that we can all call—using the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood—a very good innings. Long may it continue. The proportion of older people in Britain is set to rise even more dramatically, mainly due to a drop in fertility rates, advances in healthcare, and the fact that all those baby boomers from the 1960s are starting to reach retirement. It is estimated that by 2050 the number of Britons over 65 will have doubled to reach 19 million.
We owe a great debt to the older members of our society—family members, friends, colleagues and neighbours—who have shaped the world that we live in today. Some of them lived through the Great War, remember the roaring ’20s and the depression, fought fascism and saved Europe from tyranny, rebuilt Britain after the war and created the welfare state, came to Britain for a better life from other countries and spent the swinging ’60s campaigning for the equalities that we enjoy today. Our older people take a long view. They have seen booms, they have seen busts. They have seen politicians come and they have seen them go. The point is that society has so much to learn from them, which is why we should encourage more intergenerational interaction.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Chesterton, had some interesting suggestions on how high tech could play a role. More conventional intergenerational interaction is something that my department already supports. For example, there is a project known as the Mitzvah Mummies, which I visited earlier this month, where mothers and their babies visit retirement homes—so simple yet so beneficial, alleviating the loneliness that is, sadly, part of the lives of so many older people. This was referred to so poignantly by the noble Lords, Lord Glasman and Lord Crisp. The Department for Work and Pensions, too, supports this interaction—for example, by introducing grandparent credits to support those who care for their grandchildren with their pension contributions. Our Government recognise the importance of generations past by learning about British history. That is something that the Education Secretary is proving with his national curriculum. So we appreciate how valuable the people are who have lived through and shaped our history.
Older people have not just shaped our past; they make an enormous contribution today, in particular to our economy. The number of people of state pension age and above in employment has nearly doubled in the past two decades. According to one survey, the over 65s, through taxes, spending power, social care and volunteering, make a net contribution of £40 billion to the economy. The Government have scrapped the default retirement age, which was forcing people from their jobs just because they had hit 65. I could not put it better than my noble friend Lady Bottomley, who mentioned serious businesses opting for age and wisdom over youth. We are making difficult but necessary changes to the state pension age. Much evidence shows that working longer is good for the economy, for society and for the individuals. Keeping more people in work helps the economy to grow. If everyone worked a year longer, annual GDP could increase by £13 billion. In fact, one report has predicted that the country will continue to experience an increase in demand for older employees and an increase in the supply of those willing to work.
With an average age of 69, this House is a fine example of the contribution of older people to public life. Indeed, my first memorable experience in your Lordships' House was meeting my noble friend Lady Trumpington. I tried to intervene on a Question, as did my noble friend. Because of the youth in my legs, I got to my feet slightly quicker and took the question. I apologised afterwards and was, rightly, solidly told off by my noble friend because I forgot that she comes here with great expertise and I should have been more respectful of her and of this House. I realised very quickly that Members of this House are not just Members; many of them are institutions in their own right.
In 2010-11 this House spent 400 hours examining Bills. We considered 47 Bills and 2,499 changes and made 610 changes. We asked 7,546 Questions, many of which I seem to answer these days. We have former Foreign Secretaries; Olympic heroes; scientific geniuses; business gurus; faith leaders; and even wartime code-breakers. We have years of collective experience and expertise, which is what helps this House play its key role in checking and challenging the decisions and actions of this or any Government, ensuring that the laws of this country are rigorously tested to be fit for purpose. The downside for me is that I can never find anybody to whom I can complain about feeling tired, cold, overworked or in need of rest without being reminded that, by virtue of my age, I am not yet eligible to make such complaints.
We must also consider the unpaid contribution made by older people in Britain. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, was right to say that their contribution cannot be measured just in monetary terms. That point was reiterated by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, also made that point powerfully. Every year older volunteers spend an average of more than 100 hours informally volunteering and more than 55 hours in formal volunteering roles. This is worth £10 billion to the UK economy. In 2010-11, one in three people aged 75 and over were involved in some form of civic participation, including petitioning and participating in consultations and local meetings. In the same period, one in four people aged between 65 and 74 undertook some form of formal volunteering such as organising events, raising funds, leading a local group and visiting people. In fact, compared with other age groups, more older people visited others as part of their volunteering effort. This is invaluable when you think of the loneliness and isolation that can blight the older generation, as has been referred to by many noble Lords today.
A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that older people make significant contributions to the capacity of the organisations they assist through their voluntary work by bringing to them years of experience and expertise together with commitment and loyalty. I take on board the further schemes and initiatives referred to by my noble friend Lord Wei. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich spoke about the care provided for older people. However, the other side of the coin is the way in which so much care is provided by older people. About 960,000 people aged 65 and above provide unpaid care for a partner, family or other members of their extended circles. A fifth of all carers aged over 75 provide 50 or more hours of informal care each week.
Recent research has estimated that older carers in the UK are providing up to £4 billion-worth of unpaid volunteering and up to £50 billion worth of unpaid family care. That case was made powerfully by the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. Grandparents Plus estimates that 25,000 grandparents over the age of 65 are raising 30,000 grandchildren in the UK and that if the children they are caring for were in independent care it would cost £1.4 billion in care costs alone each year. The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, made a passionate speech about the contribution made by grandparents and, indeed, godparents. On a personal note, when I was appointed to your Lordships’ House, I was a single parent with a child in Yorkshire. Had it not been for my parents, I simply could not have taken on my role here. So, far from being just recipients of money, older people are also the creators of wealth.
Given the crucial place and contribution of older people, it is vital that society offers them support when they deserve it. We have heard too many stories of poor treatment of older people in hospitals and care homes. On 1 October this year, the ban on age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services came into effect and will be an important means of improving the experience of older people in health and social care. My noble friend Lady O’Cathain rightly raised real concerns around dementia. We know that dementia is a nettle we need to grasp, which is why we have a champion group leading work on dementia-friendly communities where people will come together to reduce misunderstanding about dementia and improve the ability of people with dementia to remain independent and have choice and control over their lives.
Older people are the core customers of the health and care system. We need to ensure that their needs are met by, so far as is possible, keeping them well and out of hospital, providing high-quality, dignified and compassionate care, helping them to regain their independence after a period of support and providing advice and choice around end-of-life care. Those principles were mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, in her wide-ranging speech. The thing is, if we get it right for them, we get it right for everybody, including our minority ethnic elders. The challenges they face were expertly detailed by my noble friend Lord Dholakia and the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin. Those with specialist needs were referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and my noble friend Lady Barker spoke about older people from the OLGBT communities. She asked a number of questions in relation to diversity of provision. I have received a reply but it is not one with which I am satisfied, and I will therefore reply in more detail in writing.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, referred to the grey vote. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on the electoral importance of older people and the fact that they are a generation whose politics can change in later life. My noble friend Lord Cormack referred to compulsory retirement for members of the clergy and the Supreme Court. It is a matter on which I will have to write to him, but I should ask him and others to bear in mind that there are those of us at the other end of the scale, of my generation and below, who yearn even to think about the possibility of choosing to retire at the age of 65 or 70.
The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, raised the issue of the specific vulnerabilities of age faced by prisoners. He reminded us why a person, a Minister or a single commissioner is unlikely to resolve the diversity issue or a range of issues faced by older people in prison and why those needs need to be mainstreamed. I will take those issues back to colleagues.
I note the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, in relation to services for older people. However, in difficult times, I hope that they will acknowledge what the Government are doing for older people by protecting key benefits, including free eye tests, free prescriptions, free off-peak bus travel, free television licences for those aged over 75, and winter fuel payments.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, raised a number of points that I shall try to answer. In relation to raising the pension age, people are living longer and healthier lives, and they therefore need to retire at a time when it is right for them. From 1 October 2011, the Government abolished the default retirement age. I agree with the noble Lord on combating ageism against older women. It is interesting that those of us who are women are usually seen as not as good when we are younger and not as strong or resilient when we are older, but we seem to outlive the men. In relation to expanding work opportunities for older people, I agree that there is no evidence that increasing the employment of older people reduces job opportunities or wage rates for younger people. Evidence suggests that older and younger workers are not competing for the same jobs; they tend to have different skill sets and different work experiences. In relation to the marathon runner, there is hope for us all to get fit. I also say to the noble Lord that I do not know when he anticipates retiring, if at all, but if he does, he has a potential further role as a stand-up comic.
Noble Lords asked me about the Government’s position on Dilnot. The Government are providing an extra £7.2 billion over the spending review period to protect access to services that support vulnerable people. Regarding Dilnot, the Government are still in consultation on the funding but looking to resolve that issue over the course of the next spending review.
I believe the mark of a good society is how well it treats its older people. Respecting our elders is inherently British. We must bust those myths and stereotypes about older members of society, who are not a homogenous group but whose ages span five decades from 60 to 113. As I have said, older people are not just recipients, they are contributors. They are not just helped by volunteers, they are the volunteers. They are not just the cared-for, they are the carers. This growing proportion of our population should not be seen as an issue but as an asset.
Perhaps I may take a moment at the end of my speech for some personal reflections. I recently went on holiday with my parents. As we were walking back one evening, having had a meal, my father was struggling to walk. His age is about the average age of Members of this House, and therefore, in many people’s eyes, he is not an older person. However, as he was struggling to walk, I remember reaching out to steady him and giving him my hand, and I remembered the way in which my parents must have on many occasions steadied me as I learnt to walk. I remember feeling quite sad, being aware that he was getting old and being concerned about how long he would be there for me. I realised then that, although I possibly no longer had his hand to steady me, I did have his wisdom. It was at that moment that I realised that in families, as the noble Baroness, Lady Flather, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, we must focus less on what older people can do physically and more on what they can do in so many other spheres. It gave me great comfort that there was so much more that I could continue to take from my parents.
My Lords, this has indeed been a very rich debate. I am profoundly grateful to all those in your Lordships’ House who have taken the trouble to be here today, not only on a Friday—and a Friday not long before Christmas—but on a Friday whose climatic conditions are clearly in evidence in the growing number of scarves and wraps appearing round the Benches.
It would be impossible to respond to all the immensely valuable points raised but I should like to touch briefly on four things that have emerged during the discussion today. One is a cluster of concerns around training and learning. The noble Lord, Lord Glasman, pointed out that we need a view of a lifelong vocation to transmit wisdom and that, therefore, older citizens are in need not just of training but of an opportunity to teach and to share what they have learnt. This House is of course a notable example of what can be achieved in that respect. For that reason, I do not want to sideline at all the importance of training. The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, had a great deal to say about this earlier in the debate, and I made numerous notes because she covered so many significant points about the success of training for older people in making them more able to contribute what they can and in the development of business models for older people, as well as many other things.
Behind that lies a deeper question about the authority that we accord to older people in our society. I use the word “authority” advisedly because, although it is not a comfortable word in our society today, it is one that has some real traction when we begin to think about how we learn and how we orient ourselves. Virtually every speaker today has, in effect, assumed that we can properly speak of an authority of experience that resides in our older citizens—an authority that we need to pay attention to, value and nurture appropriately.
A second group of issues that has come up has already been flagged by the Minister in her response, and that is to do with the fact that it is of course impossible to generalise about older citizens. Each one is an individual and many belong to groups which have distinctive needs and concerns. Our attention has been drawn in several contexts today to those older citizens who belong to a category of persons for whom ageing brings extra difficulties—whose condition is compounded by disability, by circumstances of ethnic background and community, or by their status as prisoners. I was very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, had such detailed evidence to submit to us on the still unresolved issues around ageing prisoners. And of course, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, pointed out, there are questions arising around the needs of older LGBT people.
Our response to older citizens has to be sensitive, varied and flexible. It is important, as many noble Lords have pointed out today, to bear in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to these questions. What we need is a fundamental change of attitude which expresses itself in an imaginative, sympathetic response to the particular needs of communities and individuals.
A couple of very specific questions were put by, among others, the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, about the role of the clergy. The role of chaplains in healthcare institutions is crucial both in drawing attention to the needs of older citizens and in gathering and galvanising volunteers. That they should also have a role in identifying those deserving of public recognition in some way is, if I may pick up the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, something that I would want to take away with some enthusiasm.
As to retirement ages, I feel I am not in a very good position to speak, being on the edge of leaving office, but I hear what is said and I believe there is a very significant area of concern for many of our churches, not least the Church of England, in the way in which we perhaps too readily refuse to consider and to respond to what I called earlier the authority of those who are older and experienced.
Fourthly, I want simply to touch on the remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, about the need for a protocol for all care institutions, in which principles of respect and attention are clearly set out. I believe this to be at the very heart of all our discussions today and of any future policies. We need clarity and a sense of what people—as I believe I said in my opening remarks—know is owed to them as citizens and human beings. That is the essence of whatever emerges from today in terms of more focused policy proposals and initiatives.
Running through my head in much of the discussion has been one of the most haunting prayers in scripture: “Do not forsake me when I am old and grey-headed”. It is a prayer addressed to the creator but it could very well be addressed by older citizens to their fellow citizens. We are urged not to forget, to run away from, to despise or to undervalue those to whom we are bound in common citizenship and humanity.
Finally, I want to express my deep personal gratitude for all the embarrassingly undeserved things that have been said more personally in the course of this debate. I want to put them in the context of the remarks right at the beginning of the debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. On my calculation, she has lived through the reigns of nine or 10 Archbishops of Canterbury and must have a view of archbishops as simply butterflies who come for a day and disappear.
As a butterfly happily contemplating mutating into a caterpillar very shortly, I am very glad indeed to acknowledge my debt to fellow Members of your Lordships’ House for many years of unbroken stimulus, companionship, challenge and inspiration.
House adjourned at 2.46 pm.