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Older Persons Commissioner for England

Volume 824: debated on Wednesday 19 October 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to the appointment of an Older Persons Commissioner for England.

My Lords, I fear I will disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, because I must confirm that the Government have no plans to appoint an older people’s commissioner in England. The Government’s business champion for older workers, Andy Briggs, engages with business to promote the benefits of employing and retaining older workers in England. The Government are delivering a new enhanced support package for workers over the age of 50 to help them to stay in and return to work.

The Minister is right; I am really disappointed. I heard Heléna Herklots, the Welsh commissioner, speak to the National Pensioners Convention about how she seeks out ageism, tackles it and ensures that it is no longer continuing in Wales. Will the Minister at least meet a deputation consisting of representatives from this House and the other House, and the organisations concerned, so that we can persuade her that what is good enough for Wales—and indeed Northern Ireland—is also appropriate for Scotland and England?

As I hope I have proved to the noble Lord on many occasions, I am very happy to meet him and others to discuss this.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell me what opportunities there are for older people to receive education and training from her department? In that connection, may I point out that there are many vacancies in the horticultural industry for people whose great skills are required, and with good pay, contrary to popular belief?

I am very pleased to say to my noble friend that we are investing £1.34 billion in education and skills training for adults through the adult education budget. We have the flexible support fund, which we can use on a flexible basis, and have launched a £2.4 billion national skills fund. On my noble friend’s point about the horticultural industry, there is a wide range of vacancies, all paying well. We think that people with mental health problems really benefit from being in that sector: I will cite one example. The lady Mayor of Merton has purloined half of a large allotment facility in Mitcham. She is a Labour mayor; her name is Joan and I think she is cracking. My sister, who has real difficulties, has one of the mayor’s allotments and it has turned her life around. She now has five customers whose gardens she does, so we are right behind this type of thinking.

My Lords, it is a rare occasion when you will find me agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, but on this occasion I would ask the Government to think again. We will all remember the horrific cases during the pandemic, when blanket DNACPRs were put out across care homes. I cannot help but think that had there been an older person’s commissioner in place, some of these cases would not have happened. We have also had the cases at Edenfield and across other care homes. Will the Minister please take this away again and reconsider cross-party working and representation for older people?

I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, has a recruit to his group. I hope that my noble friend will take up that opportunity. I am sure that, given the benefits of such a position as she described, it will be for her to build up the case and put that forward.

Is the Minister aware that the commissioner for older people in Wales was first appointed in 2008, as the first such commissioner in the world? If the Minister looks on the website of Heléna Herklots, our commissioner for older people, she will see the valuable work that is done. The commissioner is a direct voice for older people to the Welsh Labour Government. I will read out her aims:

“I’m taking action to protect older people’s rights, end ageism and age discrimination, stop the abuse of older people and enable everyone to age well.”

Older people in Wales have this commissioner, so will the Minister consider again getting a commissioner for older people in England?

I know that noble Lords like to get me into trouble but the fact of the matter is that the Government’s position, as it stands, is that there is no plan to introduce a commissioner. I have read the brief of the Welsh commissioner and tried to familiarise myself with her role. I suggest the noble Baroness joins the campaign of her noble friend Lord Foulkes. I will meet and I will listen.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of the issues facing older people, such as lack of affordable care, poor housing, pensioner poverty and isolation, require a cross-cutting approach if they are to be resolved? Would she agree that a strong independent voice for older people is needed at the highest level? If they do not appoint a commissioner, what will the Government do to make cross-departmental working a priority, end the marginalisation of older people and champion their needs?

The noble Baroness has put forward reasons for having somebody to represent older people and I hear that. I am sure that by the time officials in my department have read Hansard they will have got the message, so please join the meeting. On the second part of the noble Baroness’s question, I am not able to commit to or confirm her request.

Would my noble friend agree that, if such a commissioner were appointed, he or she would have plenty of work in your Lordships’ House?

My Lords, I think the Minister has probably got the idea now that an old persons’ commissioner might be popular. I would have thought that the Government might be looking for popular things at the moment. Will the noble Baroness meet representatives of the WASPI women—the 3.6 million women whose pension age unexpectedly rose? I would also like the Minister to take this opportunity to clarify for the House whether the triple lock is to be kept or abandoned.

On the request to meet the WASPI ladies, the noble Baroness will understand that I will need to go back and talk to our new Minister for Pensions. I will put that request in and come back to the noble Baroness; I will write and put a copy in the Library. In 2019, the Government were elected and committed to the triple lock. As our Prime Minister has confirmed today, we will honour that triple lock for 2023-24 and the remainder of the Parliament.

My Lords, could I make a gentle suggestion and say to my noble friend that I am very glad she is thinking of this again? There would be nobody more suited for this job—because he could do both Scotland and England—than the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes.

Is the Minister concerned about the way many older people these days are being forced to open a bank account, following the ending of the Post Office card? It is so difficult for someone living on only a very small pension. Would she look into this? It might be something an older persons’ commissioner would do if we had one.

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I am going to be absolutely straight; my knowledge about the change to bank accounts and the Post Office card is not as sharp as it should be. I thought we had put different things in place so that people did not suffer as a result. I will go back to the department, find out the exact position, come back to the noble Baroness in writing and place a copy in the Library.

My Lords, is there a Minister for older people? If so, what does the Minister do, and if not, should there not be one?

I am not aware of there being a Minister for older people—unless anybody else can help me out here. As for whether there should be one, I suppose at some appropriate point we might recommend that to the Prime Minister.

Does my noble friend not think that there are enough commissioners and quangos, at enormous expense to the taxpayer, already? Do we really need another one?

There are a number and there is a cost associated with them. What we should do is look at the outcomes of their work to assess their value for money and the difference they make. I do not think I can say any more than that.