On Wednesday 3rd April the Scottish Government published A Fairer Scotland for Older People: framework for action.’

Over a year after the creation of the first ever ministerial portfolio for Older People, the document is an important contribution to addressing the challenges facing Scotland’s older population.

Sadly, despite what I would consider to be an excellent starting point this Framework report has received only a minimum amount of media coverage. You could say, of course, that Brexit and its shambles dominates the media. However, even without Brexit the absence of any significant media comment is perhaps itself illustrative of the challenges in addressing age apathy within our contemporary society.

The Framework is a starting point. In her Ministerial Foreword Christina McKelvie MSP states that:

‘I am also aware that older people can be marginalised. Maybe that is because we fear ageing and the impacts it can have on our lives through deteriorating health or because, quite simply, ageing is something most of us don’t want to think about.

‘It is time to remove barriers, tackle inequalities and allow people to flourish and be themselves. That is why I am publishing this framework. It affirms our responsibility to ensuring equality for everyone as they age and outlines the clear steps, we will take to deliver improvement.’

She goes on to state:

‘Importantly, the framework provides a platform from which we can reframe our thinking about older people, to move from what can be a negative, problem-focused perspective to a positive and cohesive recognition of older people as a vital part of Scotland’s potential for success and improvement in the 21st century.

‘We recognise that change will not occur overnight and will require years of sustained effort and a change in thinking…Scotland’s older people today and those older people of tomorrow are depending on us to deliver.’

I would encourage you to read the document as it brings together in one place actions and priorities around older age and also indicates areas where there needs to be more work and where we need to start addressing the barriers that prevent older people from becoming full citizens.

So why is this important?

Well on a simple level – if we are to create a fair society then that society needs to be inclusive of all and enabling of all citizens to achieve to their fullest potential. Sadly, this is not always the case for older people especially given the definition of older person in the framework as anyone from age 50. There are too many cases of age discrimination whether that be in the workplace or in accessing services and resources.

Scotland has an ageing population, and this is surely something to celebrate although all too often it is the subject of negativity or simple stereotype. The population is ageing at a faster rate in Scotland than the rest of the UK. Median age (the age at which half the population is older and half younger) in Scotland is 42.0 years from the mid-2017 population estimates, around two years higher than in the UK as a whole and is projected to rise to 45.4 years by 2041, compared to 43.5 years for the UK. There is also considerable geographical variation in the ageing of the population within Scotland. In general, it is lowest in the cities and higher in more rural areas.

Between 2016 and 2026, all council areas in Scotland are projected to experience an increase in their population aged 75 and over. Clackmannanshire (+48.0%) and West Lothian (+46.0%) are projected to experience the largest increases, while Dundee City (+9.6%) and Glasgow City (+2.9%) have the smallest increases.

Therefore we have a particular challenge in Scotland but that also gives us a real opportunity to ensure that Scotland is ‘the best place in the world to grow older.’

Age matters to all of us and most especially to those organisations who work in the care and support of older people in Scotland. Indeed, the Framework addresses some of the very real issues which the social care sector is currently facing in contemporary Scotland. It highlights the importance of social care in enabling older people to remain parts of their community, and to be active and contributing citizens. It addresses some of the challenges in ensuring that a career in care is viewed as a positive choice and that the standards and quality of care and support continue to improve. It requires the voice of older Scots to be at the heart of the decisions around the reform and future of social care and health.

Yet the Framework also shows the distance we have to go. It challenges the discriminatory behaviours and attitudes which treat older age persons as less than those of other ages. It calls out behaviours which dismiss the contribution of those whose communication is changing and those who face frailty and ill health.

Scottish Care has long argued that there is a profound discrimination at the heart of the way in which older people are treated within society. At a simple level discrimination is when one treats another on whatever basis in a less favourable manner than you would treat someone else. That discrimination happens to older Scots far too often up and down Scotland every day of the week. It is often so subtle and unconscious that it is almost impossible to recognise or name – but discrimination it is nevertheless.

The Framework is an excellent starting point in the journey towards achieving the ability of older people in Scotland to exercise and enjoy their full rights and entitlements as citizens. It is a summative work describing existing commitments and future aspirations. The challenge is to ensure that it does not simply remain a summary of good intention but becomes the description of action-led response.

There are still today too many instances in the social care of older persons where we are daily witnessing systemic discrimination in Scotland. Why are so few older people in Scotland actively and fully participating in the range of choices which are offered under the Self-directed Support Act? Why do I still hear social work assessors say ‘SDS is not for older people’? Why are there so few of the 33,000 people whose home is a care home who have been given an outcomes focussed assessment to determine their needs and wishes, who have been allocated a personal budget and given real choice rather than the fiction they are offered, all of which is their entitlement under the SDS Act?

In terms of revenue and resource why does the social care sector have to fight a continual battle to maintain already inadequate resource allocation for vital services and supports? Despite being a major contributor to the Scottish economy why does the social care of older people in Scotland continually get described as a cost and a drain on our society? Why do those who live with dementia effectively pay twice for that care and support whereas those with other conditions do not?

There are many instances where we have some distance to go to create a fair Scotland where everyone is enabled to exercise their human rights regardless of age. The Framework makes a helpful start. I for one – not least as I am well into the decade of older age – want to ensure we support its actions and its aspirations. It is up to each one of us to work with some speed to creating that Fairer Scotland which values age.

 

Dr Donald Macaskill

CEO, Scottish Care