Charity collaboration should be an example to us all

Older people have a major role in Wales’ future, says Gwenda Thomas. This week sees another significant step towards improving the lives of older people in Wales with the coming together of Age Concern Cymru and Help the Aged Wales.

Wales, like the rest of the UK, has an ageing population and this is something we should celebrate. In fact, Wales has a higher proportion of older people than the rest of the UK.

The Assembly Government has long recognised the changing demographics in Wales and has taken action to ensure we have the services in place to meet people’s needs as they grow older.

Our Older People’s Strategy not only focuses on issues such as the health service and social services, but also looks at other issues which are important to older people, such as housing, transport and lifelong learning.

Wales is recognised as a world leader in the way in which it has worked with, and developed, services for older people, though we recognise that we still have a long way to go.

Key to taking our ambition forward was of course the appointment of Ruth Marks as the first Older People’s Commissioner.

Through better education, advice and support to live healthier, we are seeing people living longer, and our aim is to support people to live as independently as possible for those extra years. In our effort to encourage people to remain fit and active, older people living in Wales have access to free swimming at local authority leisure centres during school terms.

On Wednesday the First Minister Rhodri Morgan and I will attend the launch of a new charity in Wales that brings together Age Concern and Help the Aged in Wales. The same Wednesday is the first European Day of Solidarity Between Generations. This is a significant step. While many people in society recognise what older people and younger people have to offer, there are still some who do not appreciate this and they are often marginalised. This is not something we will overcome overnight, but we are determined to achieve this. For example, we are working hard on promoting intergenerational projects across Wales for people to come together to share experiences and gain a better understanding of each another. This will help to overcome barriers that can lead to prejudice between generations.

As part of delivering on our Older People’s Strategy we have, through local authorities, engaged with older people. In the past five years many 50+ forums have been established in Wales. Many of these have been facilitated by local co-ordinators funded by the Assembly Government.

In many ways I am an example of the great strides we have made in valuing the role older people can play despite the negative images sometime portrayed. Older people do have a great deal to offer. It is not your age that counts but the contribution that we can make.

Age Concern Cymru and Help the Aged in Wales have made valuable and important contributions to the development of plans aimed at improving the lives of older people. They have both played key roles in the development and implementation of our Older People’s Strategy. I am confident the new charity will continue to build on the achievements so far.

Gwenda Thomas is Deputy Minister for Social Services.