The population of Wales, at 3.2 million is smaller than NZ’s, but it has a slightly higher proportion of its population aged 65 plus (18% at present), and it has some very interesting initiatives which promote the wellbeing of its older people.
We heard about them recently during a visit by Professor Judith Phillips, currently at the University of Stirling in Scotland, but formerly at Swansea and, significantly, the chair of the Expert Group on Housing an Ageing Population in Wales. But this is only one of the interesting initiatives to come from this small country, better known for leeks and daffodils.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales is an independent voice and champion for older people across Wales. Her work is driven by what older people say matters most to them and their voices are central to her initiatives. Her aim is “to make Wales a good place to grow older – not just for some, but for everyone.” The Commissioner’s office works in partnership with the Children’s Commissioner to promote the benefits of intergenerational projects and activities. It all sounds great – should we have such a position?
What is more, Wales also has Future Generations Commissioner, whose role is to act as a guardian for the interests of future generations. This has come about under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015, which also establishes Public Services Boards (PSBs) for each local authority area in Wales. Each PSB must improve the economic, social, environmental and cultural well-being of its area by working to achieve wellbeing goals through Wellbeing Plans. In these plans the Older People’s Commissioner has set out objectives relating to older people, with clear targets. These include reductions in the number of older people –
- affected by domestic abuse
- affected by loneliness and isolation
- living in poverty
- affected by fuel poverty.
And increases in the number of older people –
- with dementia supported to live well in their communities
- who are and feel safe in their local communities and are actively able to do the things that matter to them
- who return to employment after the age of 50
- take up of financial entitlements.
The Commissioner is clear that it is not a case of prioritising older people when developing Local Wellbeing Plans, but rather ensuring that older people receive equal visibility and attention and are considered by public services equally to other groups. The Act will make public bodies focus more on the long term, work better with people and communities and each other, and do what they do in a sustainable way.
The Older People’s Commissioner for Wales hosts and chairs a partnership of individuals, community groups, national and local government and major public and third sector agencies. Its programme – Ageing Well in Wales – is first of its kind in the UK and complements the Welsh Government’s Strategy for Older People.
To get back to Judith Phillip’s group – The report of the Expert Group on housing an ageing population in Wales has five key themes:
- Understanding the housing requirements of older people – assessing housing needs and aspirations as part of the wellbeing plan, including the need for specialist housing.
- Supporting the right choices – to “stay put” or “move on.” This includes expanding organisations which provide aids and adaptations which enable people to “ “stay put” or move to a safer, more energy efficient, affordable and connected environment.”
- Living with confidence in older age – taking a person-centred approach, ensuring that new homes are designed to accommodate the projected health needs and diversity of the ageing population.
- A planning system which reflects the needs of the ageing population – encouraging local planning authorities to create mixed age friendly/lifetime neighbourhoods; encouraging “the development of a range of innovative and healthy housing solutions, (including private sector initiatives) that meet the housing demands and needs of an ageing population and bring wider social, economic and environmental benefits.”
- Making housing more affordable and incentivising change. Ensuring that there are affordable homes available for sale and rent and increasing diversity of tenures. Looking for opportunities to make the best use of capital and revenue resources across the housing, health and social care portfolios
It is important to remember that housing, social care and health are all devolved to local authorities in Britain, rather than being under centralised ministries as in New Zealand. The new legislation in Wales emphasises that these three services should be integrated, recognising how they rely on each other to provide wellbeing in the real world, as opposed to being in bureaucratic “silos”. This seems like a laudable aim which I would like to see pursued here as well.
 Interestingly enough, in March I attended a symposium in the Beehive which considered these very issues. It was called Intergenerational Governance and was sponsored by the Institute for Governance and Policy Studies at Victoria University.