Last week I was privileged to attend a conference organised by Years Ahead: The NorthEast Forum on Ageing where I heard Ms Claire Keatinge, the Commissioner for Older People in Northern Ireland, talk about her work.
She pointed out that, according to her calculations, older people contributed a surplus of £25million to the economy of Northern Ireland, a population of 1.7million people.
This surplus was through expenditure, taxation, voluntary work, and family support. She did not include the state pension in her calculations because, as she pointed out, we have all paid in advance for this.
She also looked at the way some benefits are described - for example free bus passes.
A general practitioner suggested to her that, just as children are inoculated against various illness, so older people can be inoculated against loneliness by the use of accessible travel.
A later speaker pointed out that loneliness is a big contributor to cardio-vascular disease, sleeplessness, and depression and is a bigger problem in the North East than is smoking.
Having heard on the news (over and over again) how we older people are filling up A&E departments, blocking acute beds by being too frail to move on etc, it struck me that I once joined an insurance scheme and paid premiums to that scheme for most of my adult life.
It has now reached a point where my insurers can no longer fulfil their obligations toward me.
Imagine what would happen if, say, a car insurance company took your premiums over many years and then, when you made a claim, told you they could not afford to pay out.
Surely that would be considered fraudulent yet that is exactly what the National Insurance scheme is doing.
We heard that the current Government have moved the goalposts as far as local authorities are concerned and that grants are no longer made on the basis of levels of deprivation (high in the North East, low in the South East) but on the basis of population (low in the North East, high in the South East) so that north eastern local authorities have been hit far harder than those in the South East.
In fact, one speaker likened it to ‘wheelbarrow loads of money heading down the A1 to the South East’. (No wonder they are promising to dual the A1, they can get the money down there faster).
North eastern authorities have suffered a 40 per cent cut in income under this government.
If you want to know the causes of so-calledbed-blocking it is clear that local care authorities no longer have the funds or infrastructure to offer people the care and after-care they need to get them out of hospital and keep them out.
Ms Keatinge pointed out that one excuse that is often given is that ‘we live in an ageing population’. Of course we do. We begin ageing as soon as we are born but if, as I move into my 70s, the relevant authorities cannot provide a service, then, she asks, what have they been doing for the past 70 years?
They certainly haven’t been planning services based on widely available demographic data.
Surely the fault must lie with successive governments who have failed to plan ahead, and who have failed to adequately fund our health and social care services – even if this does mean an increase in premiums.
It seems clear that what we need are Independent Regional Commissioners for Older People (yes, we are still people, not ‘the elderly’) who will take on those planners and bureaucrats who have taken a great deal of our money through insurance premiums and taxation (and continue to do so in the case of the latter) over our lifetimes and then signally failed to plan for or provide for our needs.
Instead, we are left waiting on a hospital trolley in a corridor.
Perhaps with the upcoming election now is a good time to stand up for our (purchased) rights and ask our politicians when they are going to fulfil the ‘cradle to the grave’ contract to which we have all signed up.