In a special guest blog, the Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan MS, highlights the importance of local projects to support people to age well, and why challenging ageism is so important to ensure older people are treated with dignity and respect.
Julie Morgan MS, Deputy Minister for Social Services
I was recently invited by the Older People’s Commissioner to address a conference celebrating progress towards our joint vision of an age friendly Wales.
The event showcased how local authorities and third sector organisations across Wales are working in partnership with older people to create age friendly communities and I was struck by the sense of optimism and hope in the room.
Amidst the current focus on the ongoing impact of Covid 19 and the cost of living crisis, the value of local projects that keep people engaged, well-informed and healthy can be overlooked. The conference highlighted how taking innovative approaches to working with and for older people can deliver real benefits for Wales’ ageing society.
I launched the Strategy for an Ageing Society in October 2021 and in April 2022, we published a supporting Delivery Plan which lists detailed actions, timescales and information about how we will measure progress.
Every element of the Strategy was developed in close collaboration with older people and their representatives via a series of working groups, engagement events and a public consultation. My Ministerial Advisory Forum on Ageing guided the discussions and continues to monitor implementation.
The Older People’s Commissioner has been actively involved in these discussions from day one and continues to support local authorities to embed age friendly policies and practices. I am proud that this partnership is driving forward a movement that is challenging the way people feel about ageing and is creating communities that support individuals to live and age well.
To support the implementation of the Strategy, £1.1million per annum is allocated to local authorities – £50,000 each – to fund a dedicated age friendly post. The funding supports local authorities to gain membership of the World Health Organisation’s Network of Age Friendly Cities and Communities. Each local authority also has a nominated local councillor to act as an age friendly champion.
Through this collective effort, Wales has become part of a global movement towards improving policies and services for older people to the extent that we are now noted as an international example of good practice.
But of course, funding for age friendly posts is not the only money that is helping to deliver our vision. Every department across Welsh Government is investing funding and staff resource into different programmes and projects that support the creation of an age friendly Wales.
The strand that ties all this activity together is our commitment to tackle ageism and promote positive images of older people. The vision set out in the Strategy for an Ageing Society pledges to create a Wales where ageism is always challenged and not allowed to limit individual potential or affect the quality of services older people receive.
As a government, we have always been clear that age should not diminish an individual’s right to be treated with dignity and respect.
I feel strongly that older people should not be portrayed as merely passive recipients of health and social care or as people who rely on the support of others to live healthy, active lives. The age friendly programme shows how wrong this assumption can be.
Ageism can be weaponised to create tension between age groups. When older people are viewed as bed blockers and younger people as hoodies, there is no space to build intergenerational relationships and knowledge sharing – such stereotypes can create a barrier to creating vibrant, supportive communities. They can also negatively influence how people feel about growing older.
The Strategy for an Ageing Society aims to reframe older people as active contributors to the Welsh economy and cultural life. We want to create a Wales where people look forward to growing older and take time to plan for an active older age. Wales must capitalise on the knowledge, experience and skills older people offer and I believe the age friendly programme is helping to work towards that goal.
It is important to listen to older people and not make assumptions about their needs or wishes based solely on age. Older members of my own constituency once asked for a dance class which is still running today.
Culture change is always difficult, but the age friendly movement highlights the value of collective activity and I encourage everyone to consider how they can play their part.