A Silent Voice?

It was announced by the government’s Minister for Women, Harriet Harman, last Autumn that the broadcaster and writer Dame Joan Bakewell had agreed to be a Voice of Older People, acting as an “independent and informed advocate” on older people’s issues. As a seventy five year old herself, her role would be to raise the profile of age equality issues and encourage public debate around age discrimination laws. She was to be invited to give her views on key policy developments and to speak at government events. This would be part of the government’s plans announced last June, to bring new legislation to Parliament to spread equality and fair treatment throughout the community and outlaw ageism.

I wrote a blog on this in November and admitted that I was rather skeptical about the idea and it now looks as if I had reason to be. The National Pensioners Convention, representing 1.5 M members, invited Ms Bakewell to discuss her views on Pensions, care and other important topics.

She responded that this was not possible because of her other commitments. She had a heavy postbag and whilst admiring the work of the N.P.C., there were many other organisations involved in provision for older people, and she had many diary commitments. The N.C.P. Vice President says ‘When the so-called voice of older people is too busy to talk to one of the country’s biggest older people’s organisations, you have to wonder whose views she’s going to represent.

Using every opportunity to raise awareness of issues that affect older people, the strength of the Convention is in its local Forums, and the member of one of these when she heard of Ms Bakewell’s response, wrote to her complaining at this reluctance to meet with the N.P.C. In her reply, Ms Bakewell said that she had several dozen invitations to meet and talk. ‘You should perhaps know that being the Voice of Older People is a voluntary appointment, and runs alongside my professional life.

’ The Forum member suggested in her reply that if Ms Bakewell couldn’t do the job properly, she shouldn’t do it at all.

Who is most at fault here? The government for making a token appointment without sufficient thought and infastructure, or Dame Joan for accepting it? Jack Jones, onetime President of the N.P.C. and throughout his life a committed socialist and trade unionist, wounded when he fought for the International Brigade against the fascists on the Ebro front, died last Tuesday at the age of 96. A visionary and idealist, he would have had some strong words to say about this.