Well, after months of campaigning, thenew Welsh Assembly Government has been announced. Wales will be led by aminority Labour administration (for the time being at least, according to speculation), with Carwyn Jones at thehelm. For those of us campaigning on older people’s issues in Wales, the bigappointments of health and social care saw LesleyGriffiths appointed as the Minister for Health, with Gwenda Thomas re-appointedas the Deputy Minister for Social Services.
As always, WRVS will work with representatives from across thepolitical spectrum to improve policy affecting older people in Wales. We had avery positive response from all parties to our manifesto for the Assembly election, and we look forward to re-establishing adialogue with policy-makers in the Senedd. But given the outcome of theelection, what does the future hold for older people’s policy in Wales?
The Welsh Labour manifesto contained much which WRVS could support. Annual healthchecks for over-50s, the retention of free prescriptions and bus passes, and apromise to improve arrangements for post-discharge care (“reablement”) allresonated with our desire for services which help older people to retain theirindependence. Moreover, the continuity offered by the new Assembly Governmentwill mean that the aim of joining up health and social care (as outlined inFebruary’s white paper)can continue. It would also be remiss not to acknowledge that Gwenda Thomas hasbeen a very approachable Deputy Minister, and we look forward to continuing ourrelationship with her over the coming years.
But the next five years won’t just be about Labour’sprogramme. As Carwyn Jones himself has accepted, he will need to seek consensus with other parties given the tightpolitical arithmetic in the Siambr. Like the SNP in the last ScottishParliament, Labour will want wherever possible to get support from the otherparties so that their legislation can get through the Assembly relativelyeasily. Plaid and the Welsh Lib Dems will both therefore have a role to play inshaping how policy develops.
This may well be a good thing – both parties (Plaid inparticular) could help to strengthen legislation and make the AssemblyGovernment go further than it might have done with an outright majority. Forexample, Labour have talked about encouraging social services departments fromdifferent local authorities to work together, and to work more closely withLocal Health Boards; Plaid have indicated that they might go further, and forcemore cross-border working. This would help to provide a more consistentapproach to social care in Wales, as well as making for a more efficientservice. To highlight another example, Labour indicated that they want toimprove reablement services in Wales, but to do so on a local level – here,opposition influence might persuade the Assembly Government to go a stage further,and create a standardised, national reablement service.
Between now and the next Assembly elections in 2016, thereare huge opportunities to improve the lives of older people in Wales. Much hasbeen done already by the Assembly, including the establishment of a dedicated Older People’s Commissioner– but if the parties in the Senedd can work together and find common ground,they really could make Wales a great place to grow old.
It’s always nice when an authority on your subject backs you up on what you’ve been saying all along.
Dr Julian Hughes, an old age psychiatrist, argues in a fascinating piece on the BBC news website that growing old is something to be celebrated, not scared of; an opinion which can be corroborated by research we did on the massive contribution people over the age of 65 still make to society.
Our Gold Age Pensioners report has shown that people over the age of 65 contribute more than £40billion to the UK economy through unpaid work. And as the overall number of people over 65 increases and people remain healthier for longer, this number will only get bigger and more impressive in the next few years.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the people highlighted in the report is that they don’t think the work they do is anything out of the ordinary. We disagree.
That’s why we’re asking for nominations for our 66 over 66 power list, celebrating not only the contribution of those people aged 66 and over who are already in the public eye, but those unsung heroes who make a huge difference day in, day out, without making a fuss.
These heroes might be involved in a lot of local groups that make a real difference to people in the area; or maybe they have organised an initiative that has had a big impact on the community.
We’re asking you to give these amazing people the recognition they deserve.
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Monday, 09 May 2011.