Sixteen major charities and organisations supporting older people are appealing to First Minister Humza Yousaf to reverse the downgrading of the role of Minister for Older People.
They have written an open letter to the new First Minister spelling out why they are “extremely disappointed and disheartened” that the Cabinet role no longer has older people as its main focus.
Instead, new minister Emma Roddick has to look after the interests of asylum seekers, mainstreaming equality, faith and belief, social isolation, human rights, traveller families, LGBTI, the disabled, the displaced, and refugees, as well as older people.
About 40% of Scotland’s population – 2,225,688 people – are over 50 and regarded as older people, with over-65s now outnumbering 15-year-olds.
The downgrading also comes at a time when almost one in four older single women and one in five single older men are living in poverty, with about 22%of the older population poverty stricken according to the latest Scottish Government figures.
Organisations warn older people are facing some of the worst health and social inequalities of modern times.
But, instead of appointing a minister who has older people solely at the very heart of their portfolio, Emma Roddick’s other responsibilities mean she has at least 10 other major groups to look after.
The open letter to the new First Minister states: “We are disheartened and extremely disappointed that the prominence of older people’s issues and its position as a named responsibility have been downgraded within the new Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees’ portfolio.
“The list of policy areas covered here are larger and more diverse than ever before, which gives us cause for concern about the amount of necessary focus older people will receive.
“We feel this is a backward step on the progress that has been made, and reduces the importance of older people’s issues at a time when Scotland’s population is ageing and facing a growing number of serious challenges.
“Collectively, we have heard from many older people’s groups and individual older people who feel let down by this. In order to demonstrate a serious commitment to improving the lives of older people in Scotland, we believe you should reinstate a named ministerial title for older people.”
In the previous cabinet, Christina McKelvie was Minister for Older People, sharing portfolio responsibilities with Equalities.
Adam Stachura, head of policy for Age Scotland said: “It’s a real blow to lose a named older people’s minister. That’s also what older people’s groups and organisations have been telling us since the new government was formed. When the position, and indeed cabinet responsibility, for older people was originally introduced by the Scottish Government in 2018 it was a world-leading appointment. But the new post now feels diluted and a backward step. Of course, actions speak volumes, but a name also highlights priorities.
“As Scotland has a rapidly ageing population, the First Minister had a great opportunity to grow and maximise the influence of an older people’s minister across Government.
“It would demonstrate a serious commitment to improve the lives of those over 50 – many of whom live in poor health, don’t feel valued by society, lack the support and opportunities needed to live independently and well, and have very low incomes.
“We hope that, with this combined voice, the First Minister thinks again and brings back the role.”
The CEO of Scottish Care, Dr Donald Macaskill, said: “At a time when the United Nations are so concerned about older people, they are actively considering a convention specifically for them, Scotland really has just scored an own-goal by not having a dedicated Minister for Older People.
“We all know how badly older people really struggled throughout the pandemic, particularly those who had no family or close-knit circles living close by. And, I don’t believe, we have ever seen so many older people facing poverty as we do today.
“It’s deeply concerning so many are too worried to put their heating on because they are struggling financially. I believe there has been government failure to realise that, along with the failure to realise the effect on their mental health.
“No matter how much they focus or work hard, there is simply no way older people will receive the attention they need from a minister with so many other groups in her portfolio.”
And Michelle Carruthers from the charity Food Train, which delivers shopping for older people, said: “It really is significant that we have a Minister for Children but none dedicated solely to older people, despite their increasing number within our population.
“There is a failure to recognise the huge contribution older people play in our society. Many are still working and contributing, others are volunteering, helping provide vital services and support, and others are looking after children so mothers and fathers can work. But they are not being heard, and it is beginning to feel like they are almost becoming a forgotten part of our society.”
Before his election as First Minister, Humza Yousaf was contacted by Age Scotland with just one ask, to maintain the post of Minister for Older People.
He replied: “The Scottish Government have already done a lot of good work, concessionary bus travel, to just name one example of how we’re doing what we can within our devolved powers for our older people. However, I agree that there is more we can do so I will take serious consideration of your suggestion.”
He added: “I would very much value if elected as First Minister, as soon as is practically possible, to see how my Government can go further than we already have to protect our ageing population.”
In response to the concern over the downgrading of the ministerial role, the Scottish Government said: “Older people in Scotland remain as important to this government as they have ever been. The Equalities Minister is determined to ensure everyone can access the opportunities and services they need to live happy and healthy lives, and looks forward to working with older people to make this a reality.
“We are very concerned about the hardship older people are facing in this cost-of-living crisis. That is one of the reasons why the First Minister’s first act on taking office was to triple the fuel insecurity fund from £10 million to £30m. This will help to make sure people aren’t forced to limit their energy use or cut themselves off altogether.”
Dear First Minister
We would like to offer our congratulations to you on your respective election as first minister and appointments as cabinet secretary and minister.
However, we are disheartened and extremely disappointed that the prominence of older people’s issues and its position as a named responsibility have been downgraded within the new Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees’ portfolio. The list of policy areas covered here are larger and more diverse than ever before, which gives us cause for concern about the amount of necessary focus older people will receive.
We feel this is a backward step on the progress that has been made, and reduces the importance of older people’s issues at a time when Scotland’s population is ageing and facing a growing number of serious challenges.
Collectively, we have heard from many older people’s groups and individual older people who feel let down by this. In order to demonstrate a serious commitment to improving the lives of older people in Scotland, we believe that you should reinstate a named ministerial title for older people.
We look forward to hearing from you.
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