How many calico bags does it take to make a conference? The hit of the Party Conferences was those bags that are stuffed with leaflets (no doubt on recycled paper), DVDs and CDs, throw away pens and, if you’re lucky, manifestos, fluffy toys and gobstoppers. We at WRVS were as guilty as anyone else – delighted when we saw some famous face from the telly with one of our bags – thrilled when our inspiring words graced the shoulder of a would-be world leader. I did see one person at the Conservative conference with eight cotton bags - that’s an awful lot of teddy bears and chocolates.
Of course not everything in the bags was to take home for the children. In WRVS’ bags was our challenge to all parties to listen to older people and to hear what they say they want. There is cross-party consensus on reforming public services so that they respond to individuals’ needs. All parties are exploring major reforms of the benefit systems. There was though, very little about the power of older people to cope perfectly well with, as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has put it, just a little bit of help.
You’d think having so many older people alive was nothing but a problem. The reality is the majority of older people in Britain enjoy life and health is improving. And older people have increasing expectations: they want their retirement to be happy and won’t accept being second class citizens.
We do need to face some threats head-on: widespread negative perceptions of old age limit expectations and put barriers in people’s way. And right now a quarter of older people say their quality of life has declined since turning 65. And old age will mean a decline for more people if we do not sort out the provision and funding of support and care urgently.
So, we put a challenge in our cotton bag. We want all parties to help us seize this opportunity and build Britain’s reputation as a great place to grow old.
And what older people said they wanted, when we asked them was:
Change attitudes to old age
Reform social care
Join up services for older people
Empower people to help each other.
If giving away some more calico bags can get that across, then I’ll think stuffing the bags was worth it.