Scotland’s population is ageing more rapidly than anywhere else in the UK. By 2040, around one in four of us will be over 65.

Yet we know that many older people feel overlooked and like their voices don’t matter. Research into the issue, conducted by Independent Age - the national charity focused on improving the lives of older people in poverty - has shown that almost three-quarters of older people in Scotland think the issues they face are badly understood by society. These are issues such as struggling to make ends meet on a low income, experiencing fuel poverty and poor health, living in inadequate housing, and being on the receiving end of ageism.

People in later life need an independent champion to amplify their voices, to shine a spotlight on the problems they face and to put forward solutions. That’s why I am working on a Members’ Bill to create an independent Older People’s Commissioner (OPC) for Scotland.

Commissioners exist across other governments and nations in the UK and have a real impact on people’s lives. We already have Children’s Commissioners in Scotland and in all four nations of the UK, and a similar role covering older people already exists in Wales and Northern Ireland. There, they have a broad remit and have led campaigning on the issues that matter to those in later life, from bus passes and COVID care to the uptake of social security entitlements.


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An OPC for Scotland would help bridge the gap between older people and the institutions that impact their lives, including the Scottish Government, local councils, the NHS and businesses. They would engage directly with people in later life, listening to their concerns and working with decision makers to improve systems. They would promote the interests of older people, especially the most excluded and seldom heard, and challenge discrimination and ageism.

An OPC would have the opportunity to really understand emerging issues for older people and for our ageing society, proposing innovative policy solutions that will make things better than they are currently. If it was required, an OPC could issue guidance and best practice to public bodies, informed by their expert view about what people in later life need.

In short, if we create an OPC, all older people in Scotland – now and in the future - will have an independent representative and a voice for their concerns over the long term, regardless of who is in Government.

While more of us are reaching later life, a growing number are sadly spending those later years in poverty. One in seven of all older people are now in poverty, a number that has risen by a shocking 25% in the last decade alone to affect over 150,000 people in later life. We all need to work together to reverse this frightening trend. An OPC could help.

Independent Age says its helpline is getting calls from pensioners who are on the frontline of the cost-of-living crisis. Their advisers are hearing from older people who are having their income squeezed to the point of having to decide between whether to heat their home or eat enough, and from those who are washing in cold water or not using the lights because of their fears about the cost.

In their new report into the need for an Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland, polling by the charity shows that almost half (43%) of older people on a low income are worried they won’t be able to afford adequate food and drink over the next six months. Over half have reduced their energy use, despite our freezing Scottish winters, because they can’t afford rising bills.

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Over half of older people in poverty in Scotland are renters and research shows that less than a third are fully informed about their housing rights, with half worried about eviction, and by extension, the threat of homelessness. This threat also causes older people to stay in rented homes that are unsafe or don’t have suitable adaptations for their needs as they age. It can also lead to older tenants being forced to cut their budget to dangerous levels and pay unaffordable rents. Extremely worryingly, homelessness is no empty threat, with 1,100 older people experiencing homelessness in the last year, a steep rise of almost a quarter (23%) from the previous year. These aren’t issues any of us should have to face in our later lives.

An OPC can lead the way in listening to older people in poverty, a group that is often forgotten about. They could ensure information about social security entitlements are publicised and bring together government departments to drive uptake. An OPC could also work with utility companies to ensure they are identifying and targeting financial support at older people on a low income who may not be aware they qualify for help. Finally, they could help ensure older people are fully informed about their housing rights, playing a role in making sure the right homes are built for an ageing population.

By creating an OPC for Scotland, we could start to transform the lives of older people now, and properly prepare for the changes we need in our ageing society. That’s why, along with Independent Age and over 30 organisations across Scotland, I am calling for an Older People’s Commissioner. It’s also a move backed by an overwhelming majority of older people - nine in ten support the call – and seven in ten people from all age groups.

We should be celebrating the contribution older people make to our communities, tackling the discrimination too many people in later life face and ensuring everyone has the support they need to enjoy a fulfilling life in our twilight years free from the constraints of poverty.

But it’s clear that our society isn’t yet ready to deal with the challenges of an ageing population. An Older People’s Commissioner can begin to change that and help us all live a later life we can all look forward to.

Colin Smyth is a Labour MSP for the South Scotland region