A declaration of independence

We recently held shared learning seminars with the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales on the continued independence of older people. Sarah Rochira, the Older People’s Commissioner for Wales, outlines her thoughts on independence.

Sarah Rochira, Older People's Commissioner for WalesI was delighted to attend the Shared Learning Seminars in Cardiff and Llanrwst in July 2015, two excellent seminars organised by the Good Practice Exchange team. It was a pleasure to see so many service providers from the public and third sectors, as well as older people themselves, attending. The fantastic attendance, the wide range of matters discussed and the exchange of ideas and good practice showed that this is an issue that resonates with many and that maintaining the independence of older people is important for providers, communities and individuals alike.

My focus was on the misconceptions and anomalies that exist around older people in public service delivery:

  • The needs and interests of older people are confined to health and social care: All policy areas and portfolios are relevant to older people and ensuring that housing, transport, education and leisure services, for example, are working together to help maintain the independence of older people is a key priority for me and something that I am working on with governments at all levels. Furthermore, service planning should be done with older people rather than to them. Older people possess a wealth of knowledge and experience and as regular users of services, are ‘experts by experience’ in how services should be delivered.
  • Older people require large-scale strategies, plans and policies: In my discussions with older people across Wales I never hear about strategies and plans. What older people need to help maintain their independence are the small things that often make all the difference. Adaptations to people’s homes and innovative cost-effective investments in ‘lifeline’ community services such as public buses, toilets and libraries are crucial in this regard. Older people ask for very little and these small-scale investments can make all the difference in keeping older people active and engaged with their communities.
  • Older people are the sole beneficiaries and recipients of public services: Older people are worth over £1bn to the Welsh economy annually. Wales’ public services would simply grind to a halt without the huge contribution of older people through volunteering and unpaid care, for example. Older people are invaluable assets and we should be investing in them to increase their contribution to economies and communities across Wales. Older people and the impact of an ageing population are frequently referred to in negative, derogatory ways and we need the public, private and third sectors to work together and change our starting point: frailty and dependence are not an inevitable part of ageing and with a little help, older people can contribute so much more. An ageing population brings it with many opportunities if we change the language and take an asset-based approach.

During the seminars, it was wonderful to not only hear about the exciting and innovative schemes underway across Wales to support older people to maintain their independence – from pop-up libraries in the Vale of Glamorgan, to gardening clubs in Wrexham, integrating services in rural Ceredigion and digital inclusion classes elsewhere – but to also hear from older people themselves about their views and experiences, and the difference that these services can make to their lives. As always, quite simply inspiring.

I was also pleased to hear that the Ageing Well in Wales Programme has inspired older people as well. The five priority themes of the Programme all have a crucial role in supporting older people to maintain their independence and with over 450 network members now working on Ageing Well aims in communities across Wales, the Programme is gathering pace.

Following the seminars and subsequent Wales Audit Office report I am keen to keep the momentum going and I will continue the excellent co-operation with the Auditor General for Wales and the Good Practice Exchange team to ensure that the importance of maintaining the independence of older people is recognised by everyone and beneficial for all.

Service deliverers need to work together towards the same outcomes. A preventative approach and the integration of services are crucial to enable older people to get out and about and have lives that have value, meaning and purpose. This approach will improve the resilience of individuals and communities alike, reducing the dependence on our health and social care services and ensuring that Wales is a good place to grow older – not just for some, but for everyone.

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