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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 03 October 2018

Agenda: Portfolio Question Time, Remand, Business Motion, Parliamentary Bureau Motions, Decision Time, Age Scotland (75th Anniversary)


Contents


Age Scotland (75th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani)

The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-13889, in the name of Sandra White, on the 75th anniversary of Age Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates Age Scotland on reaching its landmark 75th year; recalls its establishment in 1943 as the Scottish Older People’s Welfare Committee; notes the subsequent formation of Age Concern and Help the Aged, whose merger in 2009 led to a new charity dedicated to improving later life for everyone in Scotland; wishes the staff and volunteers of Age Scotland every success for the future as they work to promote positive views of ageing and later life, help older people to be as well as they can be and help to tackle loneliness and isolation; recognises the contribution made by its network of over 1,100 local groups, which allow older people to meet socially, discuss issues affecting their lives, raise awareness about the help and support available locally and promote their health and wellbeing through activities such as body boosting bingo, walking football and men’s sheds; acknowledges the range of innovative projects led by Age Scotland and Age Scotland enterprises based in the Glasgow Kelvin constituency with the aim of improving later life, including its Housing project, which focuses on housing needs, the Warm and Well project, which delivers advice sessions on how to stay warm and reduce fuel bills in the winter months, its Helpline, which provides information and advice annually to over 10,000 older people and generated £587,000 in previously unclaimed benefits in 2017, its Early Stage Dementia project, which seeks to raise awareness of early stage dementia and the signs and symptoms of the condition, and its Veterans project, which, through the Unforgotten Forces consortium, boosts the health and wellbeing of veterans aged 65 and over; recognises the positive value of lifeline services in Orkney, such as Age Scotland Orkney’s Good Day call service and the emerging partnership with Care and Repair Edinburgh; notes the work of its regional ambassadors, its policy engagement work, the Age Scotland Awards and its Annual Conference; commends its campaigning work on social care, access to transport services, particularly in rural areas, community facilities such as cash machines and public toilets, and the take-up of social security entitlements; pays tribute to the work of Luminate, Scotland’s creative ageing organisation, which is supported by Age Scotland, for its internationally-acclaimed festival and work to improve the lives of older people through the arts, and hopes that Age Scotland will continue to work positively on behalf of older people for many years to come.

17:03  

Sandra White (Glasgow Kelvin) (SNP)

It gives me enormous pleasure, as the convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing, to open this debate on the 75th anniversary of Age Scotland. I am grateful to colleagues across the chamber who supported the motion in my name in order to allow the debate to take place. I welcome people in the public gallery, some of whom were at the reception last night.

We are here to celebrate 75 years of national and local older people’s groups and organisations, which have operated in Scotland since 1943. That is a remarkable achievement and this is an opportunity to pay tribute to the spirit and vitality of the many outstanding men and women who have made that work possible—older people who have dedicated their lives to the development and operation of older people’s groups and organisations. Those groups have enriched the lives of older people in our communities across the country and those organisations have helped to shape Government policy and legislation to improve the lives of older people in Scotland. All those groups and organisations continue to make an enormous contribution to advancing positive views of ageing and later life.

Indeed, at last night’s reception, we met groups and individuals who did just that. I thank Age Scotland and its chair, George Foulkes, Christine Grahame and the minister, who gave such a welcoming speech, and the many organisations that took the time to attend and make the evening such a great success.

Life for Age Scotland began with the establishment in 1943 of the Scottish Old People’s Welfare Committee. The founding members included an array of organisations that were active at the time, such as the Church of Scotland, Edinburgh and Leith Old People’s Welfare Council and Dundee Old People’s Welfare Committee. Sadly, at the time there was not such a committee in Glasgow; however, in 1954, Glasgow Old People’s Welfare Association was established. It is now known as Glasgow’s Golden Generation and it won an award last night; I am very proud of that fact because it is based in my constituency. Other member organisations included the Central Council of Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes, the Scottish Council of Women Citizens Associations and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Later we saw the formation of Age Concern and Help the Aged, whose merger in 2009 led to the creation of a new charity, Age Scotland, which is dedicated to improving later life for everyone in Scotland.

It is worth reflecting for a moment on some of the landmark achievements of the past 75 years. Those include legislation to make the provision of a home help service a duty on local authorities; the exclusion of amenity housing from the right-to-buy legislation in the 1980s; the introduction of free nursing and personal care for older people in Scotland; and the Scotland-wide free bus travel scheme for older and disabled people, which provides free travel on local registered bus services for people aged 60-plus.

I will give a wee plug here for Simon Ritchie from Age Scotland, who has been carrying out a major engagement exercise with Transport Scotland to gather the views of hundreds of older people, which will directly shape the new national transport strategy. I welcome Simon to the gallery tonight.

Other achievements include legislation making it unlawful to take a decision on employment and training based on a person’s age rather than their competence; the Adult Support and Protection (Scotland) Act 2007, which was introduced to help stamp out the abuse and mistreatment of older people who may be vulnerable; and “Reshaping Care for Older People: A Programme for Change 2011-2021”. In 2015, the Scottish Parliament’s Equal Opportunities Committee investigated age and isolation—the first formal parliamentary examination of loneliness anywhere in the world. As I was the deputy convener of that committee, I am very proud of the work that we carried out on that.

There is a range of life-enhancing activities in Scotland every week that are facilitated by older people’s groups. In my area, examples include—I say this first one with great care—the Partick Pluckers, which is a music group, stained glass making and knitting and crocheting blankets for conflict victims. Those are all carried out at the Partick annexe in my constituency. There is also the lunch club in the church hall or neighbourhood centre, which brings older people together to share a healthy meal and companionship, and there is camaraderie for older men and women who meet in the men’s shed to use their skills to make or repair things or just to have a blether over a cup of tea or coffee.

Other examples include activities that help older people remain active and healthy, such as body-boosting bingo, which can improve strength and balance, and walking netball, which helps keep people fit. These activities also involve bringing the generations together by enabling young children to visit older people in their care home. One recent activity that is really taking off is walking football, which allows men and women to get fit through regular exercise. People might remember that that was famously depicted in an episode of the popular BBC Scotland comedy “Still Game”, complete with Isa as a goalie—although I would not advocate the on-pitch violence that occurred on that occasion. That is a wee plug for “Still Game.”

In my constituency we have a newbie on the block. Wait for this: we have weekday wow factor, which includes discos, which are fantastic, zip sliding, speed boating on the Clyde and many other activities. We are not all just sitting there, Presiding Officer.

In the brief time available I have been able to provide only a short, but I hope valuable, snapshot of the work of Age Scotland, which I know that colleagues will want to expand on further. I will close with a short quotation from Professor Sir Stewart Sutherland, who said:

“To say Scotland is facing an ageing crisis is a myth. While it is certainly true that Scotland, along with the rest of the world, is getting older, that, in itself, does not constitute a crisis.”

I think it has to be repeated that it

“does not a constitute a crisis.”

Professor Sutherland was challenging the view that older people are a burden and a drain on our society and public services, as Age Scotland and its predecessor organisations have done for 75 years.

Instead of repeating that view, as people often do on the bus or on television or elsewhere in the media, we should celebrate what we know to be true: older people are an asset to our society and economy and they are the life-blood of our communities, providing the backbone of charities, volunteering and acting as a reserve army of unpaid carers. Let us join together to congratulate Age Scotland on its 75th anniversary, thank it for

“Speaking Up for Our Age”

and wish it every success for the next 75 years in being the effective voice of older people in Scotland.

17:10  

Jackie Baillie (Dumbarton) (Lab)

I congratulate Sandra White on securing time for this debate. I confess to being slightly nervous and, indeed, exhausted after listening to her list of activities that I am sure I will have to engage with as I get older. To be honest, I am not sure about zip sliding at any age.

No matter how much we fight it, or how young we feel on the inside, we are all growing older—albeit that some are growing older more disgracefully than others. For many, the prospect of old age, and everything that accompanies it can be quite daunting, but I think that it is wonderful and liberating. Aside from the knowledge and wisdom that we acquire simply because we have seen more, I like the fact that older people can get away with saying what they think. It is wonderfully liberating, although I am not sure that all my colleagues regard that in the same light.

I thank Age Scotland for all its work, which has meant that thousands of older people in Scotland were given a voice when they needed it the most. For 75 years, day in and day out, Age Scotland has championed the needs of older people, making sure that care and support were on offer to them, if and when they needed it. I, too, make special mention of Lord George Foulkes. He is the chair of the board and he was, of course, the first director of Age Scotland. He tells me that that was not 75 years ago, but we only have his word for it.

I want to highlight a couple of the initiatives that Age Scotland has been engaged in. First, the housing project and the warm and well project have meant that Scotland’s ageing population are much better equipped to stay in their own homes—something that we all want—and able to cope with ever-increasing fuel bills. Secondly, through its persistence, hard work and dedication, in 2017 alone Age Scotland’s helpline service claimed more than £500,000 of previously unclaimed benefits for older people. That, I have no doubt, will have dramatically improved the quality of life of thousands of vulnerable people and helped to educate others about the benefits to which they are entitled.

Recent research carried out by NHS Scotland on social isolation and loneliness showed that the older we get, the lonelier we feel and the less likely we are to have frequent social interactions with our family members and the wider community. Loneliness at any age is debilitating, but for people who are less mobile or who do not have family members living close by, feelings of loneliness are inevitable and all-encompassing.

Age Scotland has taken on the fight against isolation head-on, through its many social events and its good day calls service. The support that it gives to more than 1,000 local community groups across Scotland is so important, including through groups such as Age Concern Dumbarton and Age Concern Vale of Leven. It gives many people a reason to get involved again in their local community.

We cannot begin to thank Age Scotland enough for that kind of work, but it is equally important that Government stands alongside voluntary organisations to ensure that we all have dignity in our old age. The Labour Party has demonstrated that commitment to older people time and again, and I am proud to have been part of a Scottish Government that introduced free bus passes and the central heating programme, way back at that start of this Parliament. I am pleased that the present Government has continued some of that to this day.

I am also proud that we were responsible for introducing free television licences. I have no control over the content of programmes, but I still think that introducing free licences was a valuable thing to do. Other initiatives included increases to income support, state second pensions for low earners and winter fuel payments, to name just a few. Older people in Britain would not have had that support had it not been for the Labour Government. I want such support to continue.

I wish Age Scotland a happy 75th birthday and I hope that it will continue to receive substantial Government funding. For the sake of current and future generations, we must continue to ensure that our older people are a priority.

17:15  

Bill Kidd (Glasgow Anniesland) (SNP)

I congratulate Sandra White on bringing this important debate to Parliament. I also wish Age Scotland a happy birthday as it reaches 75 years as the national charity for older people in Scotland. Seventy-five years: that really is quite something—although I think from looking at my colleagues around the chamber that it might be less to some than it is to others. [Interruption.] Sorry, Sandra—I wisnae looking at you.

For 75 years, Age Scotland has tirelessly supported older people and has constantly worked hard behind the scenes—many of us do not realise how much work is put into the support that it provides. The charity offers one-to-one support and projects in community centres, and it provides insight into older people’s needs to us, in Parliament. Age Scotland’s impact reverberates throughout Scottish society.

True to that, Age Scotland gave invaluable insight earlier this year to the then Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee on internet use across the country. It said that 67 per cent of over-75s do not use the internet at all, which explains the impact of bank closures on that demographic. The committee’s report on bank closures drew on that important insight. That example illustrates how impactful the charity’s work is for we parliamentarians—and for big ones, too. That was a joke—thank you. [Laughter.] Having to tell people that it was a joke is a bit of a problem, but there you go.

In terms of societal impact, what stands out most is Age Scotland’s contribution to improving older people’s lives directly by working in communities across Scotland. In recognising the charity’s 75 years of work, it is important to highlight its rich history. As Sandra White said, it was formed in 1943 as the Scottish Old People’s Welfare Committee, and it has supported older people through significant events in the 20th and 21st centuries, including the end of the second world war, the birth of the national health service and the introduction of the welfare state. Aside from that, the charity has witnessed momentous technological changes. It has adapted and evolved continuously to meet and promote older people’s needs.

My Glasgow Anniesland constituency used to be the constituency with the oldest demographic in Europe, so Age Scotland’s work has been particularly pertinent to it over the years. My constituents have frequently highlighted the charity’s positive impact on their situation or that of family members.

Moving forward to 2018 and beyond, the charity now works with a network of more than 1,100 local groups across Scotland to provide projects, among other services, for people to become involved with. Many of the projects tackle two of the biggest issues for all of us, which are particular issues for older people—isolation and loneliness, which Jackie Baillie mentioned.

Community-focused activities have a tremendous impact on improving quality of life. Through a partnership with Glasgow Life, Age Scotland organises health walks across Glasgow, which not only keep up people’s fitness but create a sense of community and belonging. That project and many others have the capacity to be life changing, so I encourage my constituents to see whether there is any activity or project that they would like to participate in. Age Scotland has a lot to offer.

Looking forward to the future, it is projected that by 2041 the over-75 age group will be the largest in Scotland, so the work of Age Scotland will be relevant to an increasing number of our fellow Scots.

With that in mind, I would like to finish by thanking Age Scotland not only for all its dedicated work, but for its continued advocacy of older people’s rights and welfare into the future. I will just throw in a word of my own: Ye’re better aff auld than deid, so just get on wi it.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I was just thinking, Mr Kidd, that maybe you could give me written notice of your next joke, with appropriate timings marked.

17:20  

Jeremy Balfour (Lothian) (Con)

I start by wishing a happy birthday to Age Scotland and by thanking it for the reception that was held last night. I also thank Sandra White for bringing the debate to the chamber. For the first time, and maybe the last, I fully endorse every word that she said in her speech, especially her final comments.

Age is an interesting issue. I recently visited what is called a lunch club for old people, but I think that everybody in the chamber now—except perhaps Mr Arthur—would be welcome at it, because lunch clubs get younger and younger. At the other extreme, my father is in his late 80s and still working three days a week for the Government. Age is often relative.

Age Scotland, as we know, is a charity that works to ensure that the voices of older people are heard. It wants to support older people’s rights and their interests so that each person can live a full life, and to make Scotland a better place for older people. Sandra White was absolutely right to say that we need to get away from the mentality of saying that old people are a drain on society and on our resources. They often bring so much benefit and wisdom; we need to tap into that far more, as a society.

There are some interesting statistics available from the Scottish Government website. In June 2017 just under one in five people in Scotland, or 19 per cent, was aged 65 or over, compared with 16 per cent in mid-2007. Here in the Lothians, in 2012 nearly 20 per cent of the population was aged 65 or over, but in 20 years their number will be 72 per cent higher. I read that and found it to be almost unbelievable. There are going to be challenges and we need organisations such as Age Scotland to be heard and to give the support that older people will require.

As a number of members have already mentioned, loneliness is one of the biggest problems that face not only the older population but other groups. Age Scotland is one of the leading organisations that are doing amazing work to tackle the problem. It celebrates ageing through funding and supporting more than 1,000 member groups that are run for and by older people.

An example is its men’s sheds—one of the member group initiatives. A men’s shed provides a space for men to meet in a friendly environment and to take part in activities that they enjoy. It also provides a space where they are able to learn about the services that are available to them. It creates a vital community where friendships can be made, and a place where older people are able to get the support that they need.

One of the challenges for society as we go on is how to engage with people who are lonely and who have little contact with Scottish Government services or civic society. Somebody gave the recent example of a hotel that put on a lunch for £5, but the people who came were those who already go out regularly. We need to spend more time working out a strategy for how we can engage with people who are lonely but are being ignored.

I finish by again wishing a happy birthday to Age Scotland. I wish it well in its work and I thank Sandra White for allowing us to debate the subject tonight.

17:24  

David Torrance (Kirkcaldy) (SNP)

I thank Sandra White for securing the debate and I welcome the opportunity to celebrate Age Scotland’s 75th anniversary and to draw attention to the vital role that the Age Scotland network plays throughout Scotland. This year marks 75 years of amazing work and dedication from all the staff and volunteers at Age Scotland—past and present—who ensure delivery of many invaluable services, through a network of more than 1,000 groups across Scotland.

The groups ensure that the voices of our older people are heard, they provide support and care, they encourage health and wellbeing and they help to tackle loneliness and isolation. They work in partnership to identify opportunities and to develop initiatives that challenge inequalities and improve the quality of life of older people through a range of delivery methods including self-help, one-to-one interventions, group services and wider community engagement.

In Fife, 19.9 per cent of our population is of pensionable age. That is slightly above Scotland’s national average, which is 18.5 per cent. The proportion of people of working age is below the national average. Projections of populations in Fife and Scotland as a whole show a large increase in the over-65s demographic, alongside a large decrease in the 35 to 65 age group. The demographics of this country are changing, as more people live longer and healthier into old age than ever before.

There are many upsides to increased life expectancy, which we should celebrate. More children will know their grandparents and great-grandparents, and a wealth of knowledge will be passed on to younger generations.

However, an ever-increasing ageing population also presents many challenges for our communities. People living longer presents social and economic challenges including increased pressure on health and social services, gaps in the job market, with an increasing dependency on people of working age, and concerns about individuals’ health and ability to adapt to technological change.

A major issue for our growing older population is isolation and loneliness. We know that social isolation has a detrimental impact on the health and wellbeing of individuals. It can greatly affect the quality of life of older people and often contributes to decreasing physical capacity, severe health problems and depression. Depression can go undiagnosed or be misdiagnosed in older people.

In Kirkcaldy, many fantastic groups follow Age Scotland’s lead and work in partnership to address such obstacles. One such group is the grey panthers senior citizens club, which meets weekly at a community centre, gathering together older women who range in age from 75 to 90, to chat and to exercise their minds and bodies through gentle activity and quizzes. The group, which has been running for many years, currently has about 30 members, for whom it provides valuable social opportunities.

One member, Mary Walls, won an Age Scotland inspiration award in 2018. The awards recognise people from all over Scotland who have made an exceptional contribution to improving the lives of older people. I have known Mary for many years and can attest to her devotion to and enthusiasm for helping those around her. She truly is an inspiration and she is much loved, not just by the grey panthers but by the whole community. She is a very deserving recipient of the award.

Also in my constituency, the Kinghorn Friday lunch club encourages social interaction and tackles isolation at its weekly meetings. The group formed in response to the lack of opportunities for older people in Kinghorn. Many of its members do not have family and often used to go several days without seeing or speaking to anyone. The club has provided a lifeline by connecting individuals and building meaningful bonds.

Such groups are an essential part of the social fabric of my constituency in Fife. Without their efforts, we would be a lot worse off. They bring the community together, enable people to form new relationships and have an enormous impact on our older people by tackling social isolation, building relationships, developing skills and providing advice and support.

I again thank Sandra White for bringing the debate to Parliament. I thank Age Scotland for its valuable contribution to communities and individuals over the past 75 years, and I wish it all the best for the future.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Before I call Mr McArthur, I advise members that there are a few more members who want to speak in the debate, so I would be happy to accept a motion without notice, under rule 8.14.3, to extend the debate by up to 30 minutes.

Motion moved,

That, under Rule 8.14.3, the debate be extended by up to 30 minutes.—[Sandra White]

Motion agreed to.

17:29  

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

Presiding Officer, that motion without notice was timely, because I should start with an apology to you and the chamber, in that I may need to leave before the end of the debate as I am due to host an event on behalf of Heriot-Watt University. By way of atonement, I extend a cordial invitation to all members to join us in committee room 1 later on.

I add my voice to those congratulating Sandra White—not just on securing the debate but on her valiant attempt to snatch back from Oliver Mundell the record for the longest-ever parliamentary motion. Given the breadth, reach and significance of the excellent work done by Age Scotland, now and in its various guises over the past 75 years, it is perhaps no surprise that Sandra White found it difficult to avoid the motion turning into something of a mini novella.

Yesterday evening, it was wonderful to see the garden lobby packed out for Age Scotland’s 75th birthday celebration—and I say that as someone who was hosting a competing event somewhere else in the building. However, I was delighted to be able to drop in later and catch up with Gillian Skuse, who heads up Age Scotland Orkney. It is an independent charity, but a brand partner of Age Scotland. For some 25 years now it has been working with and for older people in the islands that I represent. As well as supporting older people to be able to live in their own homes for longer and to enjoy a good quality of life with dignity and independence, Age Scotland Orkney is taking steps, along with other statutory and voluntary sector partners, to prepare for the consequences of current demographic trends. Already, Orkney has a population that is ageing more rapidly than the national average. Trends suggest that, over the decade leading up to 2022, there will be a 50 per cent increase in its population that is aged 75 and over. Such a change would present challenges for the delivery of services anywhere. In an Orkney context, given that its population is dispersed over a number of islands, some of which are very small indeed, such challenges are magnified.

That makes the work of Age Scotland Orkney, in collaboration with other partners, absolutely critical for allowing the community to benefit fully from people who, as Sandra White reminded us, are assets in it. At present, that work includes a traditional home help service called here2help, which assists people with cleaning, shopping, laundry and a range of household tasks. Here2care is a person-centred care approach for adults who require additional help with personal care, helping older people to live at home independently for longer. Age Scotland Orkney also runs a podiatry clinic with a fully qualified podiatrist who offers a range of different treatments.

Then there is the dementia hub, which I had the pleasure of visiting over the summer. It was officially launched in March, and aims to improve the quality of life of people living with dementia, their carers and families through projects that promote health and wellbeing. Funded through the Life Changes Trust and dementia friendly Orkney, the hub is a one-stop shop where people living with dementia can go for information and advice about national and local dementia services, local groups and activities that can provide support for people living with dementia to live well in Orkney.

During my visit to the weekly drop-in session, it was immediately clear how much those attending the hub get out of the experience. There was an opportunity for those affected by dementia, and their families and carers, to share a cup of tea and have a chat or take part in therapeutic activities, including a state-of-the art Tovertafel—or magic table—which was truly hypnotic. I also had the chance to get a better understanding of what life is like for those living with dementia, including some of the many frustrations that they experience on a daily basis, and how much more care and attention need to be taken in engaging with them.

No doubt all that excellent work was part of the reason that Age Scotland Orkney was chosen to run Age Scotland’s new national good day calls service, as part of the independent living programme. The new daily phone service provides reassurance to older people and their families that someone will call to speak to them 365 days a year, checking in to ensure that they are well, offering support and a friendly chat and, in so doing, helping to tackle loneliness. The service has been running in Orkney for some years already, and those who benefit from it are in no doubt about what it offers. Margaret, aged 73, said:

“The thing that matters to me is the peace of mind that someone is checking that I’m okay as I’m on my own.”

Bill, aged 80, said:

“The Good Day Calls help me get my day underway with a cheery chat”.

I hope that that success will be replicated nationwide. Let us face it—who would not look forward to a daily cheery chat from somebody in Orkney?

I thank all those involved with Age Scotland across the country for their tireless work. I again thank Sandra White for giving Parliament the chance to recognise that work. I wish Age Scotland all the best over the next 75 years, during which time we are all likely to take more of an interest in its work.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Just because we have extended the debate by 30 minutes, that does not mean that members have to fill it. [Laughter.]

17:35  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I am delighted to speak in the debate, and I congratulate my colleague Sandra White on securing it. Campaigning for 75 years is an incredible achievement, and it is fitting that we celebrate Age Scotland in the chamber, given that so much of Parliament’s work since 1999 has been informed by the guidance and support of its outstanding efforts. Indeed, the merger that brought together Age Concern Scotland and Help the Aged in 2009 also brought together a combined 90 years of expertise and a wide network of older people’s groups and forums.

Age Scotland’s successes over the past 75 years have been numerous. On topics ranging from transport, housing and healthcare to loneliness, it has provided vital guidance on the Scottish Government’s legislative programme and its impact on Scotland’s older population.

In August, the Government’s revised housing strategy “Age, Home and Community: A Strategy for Housing for Scotland’s Older People: 2012-2021” was launched at Age Scotland’s office. Indeed, it would not exist in its current form without Age Scotland’s valuable contribution to the strategy’s monitoring and advisory committee. Housing choices can have an enormous impact on our lives as we age, and the strategy rightly champions independent living for older people in their own community, better reflecting the needs and aspirations of older people.

Working with MSPs, Age Scotland was recently successful in having the amendments to the Planning (Scotland) Bill that it supports agreed to at stage 2.

The revised strategy intersects with other efforts in related areas such as dementia and tackling loneliness, which is an issue that Age Scotland is also addressing.

Of course, Age Scotland’s work extends far beyond policy, and its most tangible impact on the lives of older people is perhaps its network of more than 1,100 local groups, which host an innumerable range of activities and workshops throughout the year, as highlighted by Sandra White’s motion.

More and more innovative groups now better meet the diverse needs of older people across Scotland. A particularly exciting project that has taken root in my constituency—I am aware that there is not a similar project in Sandra White’s constituency—is the Garnock valley men’s shed, which is part of a wider network of Scottish men’s sheds that Age Scotland has promoted.

Men’s shed provides a space to relax over a tea or coffee, indulge in pastimes, catch up with friends, laugh and be creative, which again contributes to our nationwide effort to reduce loneliness and social isolation. Age Scotland’s report into the benefits of the groups, “The Shed Effect: Stories from sheddders in Scotland”, found that they made an enormous contribution to men’s lives, to promoting positive views of ageing and to enhancing later life in Scotland. I have no doubt that Age Scotland will continue to champion initiatives such as those for many years to come.

As well as celebrating success, we must be frank about the challenges that lie ahead. Scotland’s population is ageing rapidly, as colleagues have touched on. The number of people living with dementia is expected to rise to 120,000 in the next two decades, which is a challenge that we must prepare and plan for now. Age Scotland has taken a proactive approach by launching its early stage dementia project, which provides free dementia awareness workshops for organisations across Scotland and information guides. The project is an invaluable resource for individuals and organisations alike.

As Scotland’s demography changes, so too does our workforce. One third of workers are aged over 50, and people are increasingly working into their 70s, retraining and starting new careers in later life, or—in the case of one or two of my colleagues—continuing careers in later life. Simultaneously, the supply of younger workers is falling and employers must be proactive to avoid skills shortages and shrinking talent pools. Retaining experienced and committed employees is a central facet of a proactive approach and Age Scotland has, to date, provided 190 Scottish businesses with practical, well-informed and legislatively accurate advice to help foster a workplace culture that is open, inclusive and positive about the benefits of age diversity. That work should be celebrated and replicated even more broadly.

As part of the Scottish Government’s older people strategic action forum, Age Scotland has played and will continue to play a vital role in future proofing all aspects of Scottish public services. The value of its contribution cannot be overstated.

I offer my thanks to the staff and volunteers who work tirelessly to promote a positive view of later life and support the wellbeing of older people. Here’s to many more years of Age Scotland. Happy birthday!

The Deputy Presiding Officer

I call the youthful Tom Mason, to be followed by the very youthful Christine Grahame.

17:39  

Tom Mason (North East Scotland) (Con)

It is a pleasure to contribute to this debate on the 75th anniversary of Age Scotland. I thank Sandra White for bringing the topic to the chamber. I should declare an interest: my age makes me a potential customer of Age Scotland, although fortunately I have not had to call on its services thus far.

Age Scotland is a remarkable organisation, with a storied history that spans not only a considerable time period, but a great many changes in the challenges that older people face. When the Scottish Old People’s Welfare Committee was formed in 1943, we were at the height of the second world war. Indeed, the committee was formed only a few days after I was born—I was born slightly prematurely because a bomb dropped next to our house. It is safe to say that conditions are somewhat different today. As a population, we are now living longer and largely healthier lives, thanks to advances in medical care and technology. That is welcome, of course, but it leads to higher demand for the care and services that our older people require. Even something like ensuring that an older person has someone to talk to is so important. Isolation and loneliness are subjects too seldom discussed, but the older we get, the more difficult it becomes to meet new people and socialise, especially if we have lost a partner or spouse.

Age Scotland is unafraid to champion older people’s issues, most notably through its men’s sheds, its walking football, its hiking groups and its intergenerational projects. I whole-heartedly commend all those projects and many others. It is at the forefront of efforts on a number of fronts; the motion cites a wide variety of its on-going work to help people right across Scotland, from its housing project and its veterans project to the warm and well project. In my region of the north-east, vital work is going on across the board to help people with financial and legal matters and with finding the right care homes, housing and even energy tariffs. My constituents are well served by the support that the local Age Scotland team provides.

I had the privilege of attending Age Scotland's reception here in Parliament last night. It was great to meet some of the people involved with these efforts and fantastic to hear about their passion for their work. I am encouraged by and—more importantly—grateful for their endeavours. Here in Parliament, the Age Scotland policy team is instrumental in driving forward change. It is always willing and able to debate challenges and opportunities, as well as the impact of legislation and all the work that we do here.

I thank Age Scotland for everything that it does: for making sure that our older people have a home that suits their needs, for providing such valuable advice to pensioners on household issues, and for doing its bit to ensure that no one gets left behind. If Age Scotland approaches the challenges of the future with the same determination and drive that we have seen over the past 75 years, our golden generation—including me—is in very safe hands indeed.

17:43  

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I declare an interest, as Tom Mason did: I, too, am a septuagenarian. I congratulate Sandra White on her role as convener of the cross-party group on older people, age and ageing, and on securing this timely debate. I also congratulate Age Scotland on its 75th birthday; I had the privilege of sponsoring its event here last night. Most of all, as others have done, I congratulate the 1,100 local groups and volunteers who work hard throughout Scotland.

It was an excellent move to merge Age Concern and Help the Aged into Age Scotland, and especially to ditch the terms “concern” and “help”. In themselves, concern and help are no bad things, but please let us not always associate older people with problems. If I am a problem, that has everything to do with me and nothing to do with age. Of course, we have our problems that come particularly with age: groaning when we rise from a chair or assume a seated position, creaking limbs, a tendency not to suffer fools gladly, and having long lost the desire to linger scantily clad before a mirror. [Laughter.] I knew that that would set Kenneth Gibson’s heather alight.

But—it is a big “but”—I must slot in the fact that I am weary of being told that I am a demographic problem when I am, as we all are, a demographic plus. Give me an older person on the till at Tesco any day so that I am not competing with the grocery conveyor belt to pack and pay in double-quick time. Give me the older person in B&Q—the retired tradesman—who will escort me to the appropriate tools for my low skill level. By the way, just in case I have to use them, other superstores should also be commended.

Grandparenting gives time to teach and sing old songs after a fashion. One of my granddaughters and I belt out “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”—

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Not here, Mrs Grahame, please.

Christine Grahame

—as we cruise along in my open-topped two-seater Mazda. That is my last stab at youth. In reciprocation, we sing together “All About That Bass”. Stories are read and invented, and there are lessons on how to be friends with Mr Smokey and when he has had enough. There are special moments shared with grandchildren with their own special granny rules and non-rules and sometimes unadulterated mischief—I have not told the parents about that.

Of course we need support. Some of us will not admit that, and some do not have family units, as I do. Age Scotland and local groups can step in. In particular, men’s sheds, which have already been mentioned, have addressed the issue of isolation for older men. In Peebles, that initiative has hit an impasse, as no site has been provided that is suitable for premises. As has been said, it has hit a metaphorical brick wall. I wish there was a real brick wall. The council should start to help it.

The good day call service that has been introduced recently is very important, because not everybody is as lucky as I am.

There is a mix of requirements that change over time as we age. Most of all, those requirements need to be met through conversations with older people. Age Scotland does that. The last thing that we need is to be patronised. Some foolish individuals—I will not name them—have tried to talk down to me as if I had dropped half of my marbles. They were soon put right.

I say well done to Age Scotland for getting the balance and the tone absolutely right—and happy birthday.

17:47  

The Minister for Older People and Equalities (Christina McKelvie)

I thank all members who have taken part in this lovely debate with a serious message. The contributions have been very helpful to me and very informative for the work that I need to do in the Government. I especially thank Sandra White, who has been a real champion in calling for this debate to mark Age Scotland’s landmark birthday. It is in the week in which we celebrate the international day of older persons. I also give special thanks and pay special tribute to all the volunteers who generously give their time. That is filled with the spirit and vitality that Sandra White talked about at the beginning of her speech.

It is important that Parliament comes together to send the unambiguous message that we support and value our older people. Many contributions, including that by Jeremy Balfour, have included figures relating to our changing demographics. I will not repeat those figures; the point is that there will be a lot more older people in the population in a very short timeframe.

We are all ageing, and the workforce is older and ageing. Sadly, “older” is now defined as being 50 or above. That seems to be far too young to me these days. Maybe we should look at that.

We have heard from everyone about the positive impact of Age Scotland and the 1,000-odd groups in its network, and we have heard about the great impact on constituencies and how invaluable that has been to MSPs. However, I suppose that members want to know what the Government is doing.

We in Government need to look at the opportunities and the challenges now. Mahatma Gandhi said:

“The future depends on what you do today.”

We have a job to do.

The Government is taking action. We have a minister for older people, although she may not quite be in that category yet; we are developing an older people’s framework, which we will publish next March and which will be co-produced by stakeholders such as Age Scotland and many other older people’s organisations; and we will publish a social isolation and loneliness strategy before the end of this year. The fact that that strategy is very important has come through clearly in the debate. We are working through the consultation responses. I reassure Jackie Baillie that we are taking the issue incredibly seriously.

We are also taking forward the fair work agenda, because we have an older and ageing workforce. Kenny Gibson spoke about the housing strategy and, with the warmer homes initiative, the fuel poverty strategy and many other things, we are ensuring that we have policies for now and for the future that will maintain safety and security in the home.

The Government is also looking at hate crime. We will publish a public consultation later this year, following Lord Bracadale’s recommendations on hate crime legislation in Scotland. He recognised that older people can be targeted by perpetrators not because of hatred of the elderly but because of a perception that they are more vulnerable—they should talk to some of the older members in the chamber, because they are far from vulnerable. He made an important point and recommended that the Scottish Government should consider the introduction of a general aggravation concerning exploitation of that vulnerability. He also recommended that there should be a new statutory hate crime aggravation based on age hostility. We are open to views on the best way forward and will consult widely; I am sure that Age Scotland and many of its partners will take part. I spoke at the conference on elder abuse and I heard first hand the heartbreak caused to older people and their families as a result of instances of hate crime and abuse of vulnerability—we take that seriously.

I will move on to social security, which is an important part of how we support people in their older life. We need to enable older people to contribute and thrive and we need to look after those who are unable to do that through ill health or disability. We need to make sure that systems are in place to allow people to live as independently as possible for as long as they want or need. That is why the Cabinet Secretary for Social Security and Older People announced last week that in Scotland we will do things differently from the Department for Work and Pensions when delivering the 11 devolved benefits. People will not be subject to undignified assessments that are carried out by private contractors—we all welcomed that in the chamber in yesterday’s debate on the social security charter. We will treat people with dignity and respect, and in doing that we will ensure that we address Bill Kidd’s concern about digital by default. We will create ways to enable older people to engage with the Social Security Scotland agency that work for the individual—that can only be welcomed. The cabinet secretary also shared the aim of ensuring that older people in Scotland have the opportunity to lead the best life that they can and feel valued and respected, and I agree with her on that.

I will turn to the positive contributions that are made by older people. They contribute in so many ways, including unpaid caring roles, volunteering and continuing to work. They act as “sandwich carers”—I do not like that term—by looking after grandchildren as well as elderly relatives, often with no financial support. David Torrance spoke passionately about local champions; it was a local champion in South Lanarkshire who brought about our Carers (Scotland) Act 2016, which was passed a few years ago and took effect from 1 April this year. That development is really welcome, because we need to underpin the progress that we make with legislation. In 2018-19, the Scottish budget includes £66 million to support additional expenditure by local government on social care—I hope that that will help to make a difference.

I will look at some of the negative perceptions. As a society, many of us are too quick to judge others; stereotyping can be offensive, hurtful or even dangerous, as Christine Grahame reminded us. Older people deserve better. They are not a homogenous group, just as younger people are not. We have all seen and heard incredible stories of people in their 70s running marathons, climbing mountains or winning Nobel prizes for physics. Those achievements are amazing, but may not be quite in the reach of everyone. Perhaps Jackie Baillie will reach for that zip slide when she reaches the status of an older person. We need to say no to the relentless negative media portrayals that bombard us and say that, once a person retires, they are a burden or a drain on society. I saw nobody at last night’s Age Scotland reception who was a burden or a drain on society.

We have spoken about the many barriers and about ensuring that we maintain concessionary travel schemes. Liam McArthur spoke about cheery chat at the Orkney hub and the benefits of public transport.

I will quickly talk about Queens Cross Housing Association, which has created a new intervention service. It was piloted at Queens Cross and funded by Glasgow health and social care partnership. I heard from Agnes, Mary and John, who have been supported by the service and who shared their compelling stories of the positive benefits that it has for them. The service provides rapid response in times of crisis or when high and critical health support needs are identified. The service lasts for up to six weeks, to allow recovery or for long-term support to be arranged.

Let us celebrate ageing because, even if it was a bomb that brought us into the world, like Tom Mason, or if, like Christine Grahame, we linger scantily clad in front of a mirror, getting older is something to be celebrated, and not everyone is fortunate enough to achieve it. We should celebrate it as a nation, possibly at a lunch club with Jeremy Balfour—that would be lovely. As a poetry fan, I sometimes look to poetry for inspiration. In Robert Browning’s poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra”, which was published in 1864 and which still resonates today, he wrote:

“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be”.

I love the aspiration in those lines. I have a great picture in my head of Christine Grahame singing in her two-seater Mazda and teaching the grandkids how to have fun and be disgraceful.

I look forward to working with all the organisations such as Age Scotland that champion older people’s rights to ensure that the best is yet to come for Scotland’s older people. I finish by saying: happy birthday, Age Scotland.

Meeting closed at 17:56.