A great place to grow old

As Northern Ireland’s first Commissioner for Older People completes her term, Claire Keatinge reflects on her inaugural term in office.

With my term as Northern Ireland’s first ever Commissioner for Older People completed, I am confident that older people throughout Northern Ireland will have benefited from real, positive change.

The need to appreciate the positive contribution made by older people to safeguard and promote their interests has never been more important than it is now. People in Northern Ireland are generally living longer, healthier lives. In fact, babies born today have a one in three chance of living to 100 years. With this comes a lively, vibrant, economically active and socially productive older population, presenting a range of opportunities for government and wider society. 

This also means that there will be an increased proportion of our population, particularly those aged over 80 years, who will require more services, better safeguarding and more acute care. It is vital that the services needed are in place and all of my advice to government over the last four years recognises that it has never been more important to plan well for our ageing population. 

During the last four years, I have listened to older people to find out what really matters most to them and provided advice to government on a range of issues. I have worked to achieve real and positive change for older people and so much has been accomplished to date. In March this year I welcomed the introduction of new policing targets for older victims of crime. This was the first time that these targets have been included in the policing plan and came about after COPNI research identified that older victims of crime are less likely to have a successful outcome than younger people. I also witnessed a positive change in the narrative across society and by politicians when referring to older people as a result of my research that found the over 60s put much more into society than they take out to the sum of almost £25 billion over the next 50 years. Positive change has also been brought about by working closely with Age NI and Age Sector Platform to hold government to its commitment to introduce age discrimination legislation that protects older people. 

My role as the first Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland has been both dynamic and rewarding. But it has not been without its frustrations and challenges. The inaugural term of office coincided with a number of significant economic changes, the most challenging of which was “austerity”. This reduction in real terms in public spending has had a negative impact on older people, in their day-to-day lives and in the provision of services for them now and in the future. During my term I had to intervene when cuts were proposed to many of the services vital to older people such as ‘Meals on Wheels’ and the proposed closure of statutory residential care homes without proper consultation.

Whilst I remain convinced that our politicians want Northern Ireland to be a great place to age, I have been left frustrated with the lack of decisive action which is required by government to introduce the legislation, services and policy that would create the certainty that today’s and tomorrow’s older people need and deserve. There remains a great deal of work to be done to make Northern Ireland a really great place in which to age. 

This includes the changes required to better protect older people in regulated care settings across Northern Ireland and to improve the services that they receive, the need for updated Adult Social Care and new Adult Safeguarding legislation, as well as the need for better support for older carers. As I complete my term as Commissioner for Older People, I leave a clear message for government; they must make the changes required and implement my recommendations without delay, older people do not have time to wait.

To download The Commissioner’s Report – A Summary of Advice to Government 2011-2015 visit www.copni.org/publications. 

Claire Keatinge has just completed her term as Northern Ireland’s Commissioner for Older People.


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