A Voice of Older People

Broadcaster and writer, Dame Joan Bakewell, has been appointed as a champion of the elderly by the government’s Minister for Women, Harriet Harman, who says that the 75-year-old has agreed to be a Voice of Older People, and will act as an “independent and informed advocate” on older people’s issues. Her role will apparently include raising the profile of age equality issues and encouraging public debate around age discrimination laws. She will be invited to give her views on key policy developments and to speak at government events. This is all part of the government’s plans announced last June to bring new legislation to Parliament to spread equality and fair treatment throughout the community. The outlawing of ageism is to be a central part of the new bill.

Writing in today’s Guardian, Joan Bakewell says that after her 70th birthday she began to think as never before about the consequences of getting older and the changes of life-style it involves. She reflects on the increasing number of older people in society, as we often do in these postings.

‘Society will have to make a major psychological adjustment….for example older people can work willingly and effectively, but not for so many hours. Employers will need to accommodate shorter shifts, easier roles….those who have occupied top jobs will have to renegotiate lesser roles.’ She points out that the old are ‘shouldering much of the work of carers in our community: grannies care for grandchildren so that mothers can work; people in their sixties look after their parents and suggests tax breaks for the carers.

Gordon Lishman, Age Concern Director, has said ‘Joan Bakewell offers a formidable set of skills, proven commitment and real passion.’ More realistically perhaps Paul Cann, director of policy at Help the Aged, has said that she has played a fundamental role in breaking down gender barriers in the past – ‘we hope that in this new role, she can help break down the barriers to equality so many older people face.

I confess to being a bit sceptical about it all. Bakewell is quite as much a journalist as a campaigner and the two are not necessarily compatible. And governments are very good at ignoring independent voices. However : Welcome to our blogs, Dame Joan!!