A heading for this report in true journalistic style would be ‘Minister Massacred’. Given the aggressive response from the 2000 plus delegates to the speech by Stephen Timms MP, Minister for Pensions at the Blackpool conference, it must have felt like being alone with a broken rifle at Little Big Horn. One delegate suggested that the Minister may well have regretted leaving Westminster.
I make no excuse for this report being biased towards my attitudes and those of the people I contacted and spoke to, both in the sessions, and in the tremendously useful networking events in the outer area of the rather warm Winter Gardens.
In his summary at the end of the three day event NPC General Secretary Joe Harris noted that ‘this was an angry gathering’ and that the anger demonstrates that 'as a neglected group we should act’.
The event had several strands which interested, and involved me, both from a national view of equalities – disabled people receive similar treatment and attitudes as do pensioners – demeaning and stereotypical mindsets.
In terms of the event, other NUJ delegate reports will be submitted relating to the overall attitudes demonstrated at the open session on Tuesday, but in effect they matched those demonstrated one week earlier at the TUC Disability Conference. Means tested lifestyles are not acceptable for the several million who are serious victims of an uncaring and oppressive state social structure. Enough is enough is the message.
The sessions which I attended as delegate were those of Health and Social Care, facilitated by Dot Gibson (NPC Vice President) and Forums and Local campaigning, facilitated by Joe Harris. Both are areas which at local level in Blackpool I work in both voluntary and secular (media officer-journalist) capacity, and both have an impact on my work in the disability arena, and I use the word advisedly as arenas are places where fighting often takes place. And this is what is clearly emerging, that pensioners (and disabled people) are fighting back for rights which are being eroded both by policy and accident.
Health and Social Care was a heavily attended sessions with much made of the low respect and care of people from the statutory bodies who are responsible for the sectors. The general feeling that services in health and local authority are based on profit and lip service rather than responsibility was a constant theme of speakers who told of failures which were described by one speaker as being
‘from a system which is in desperate trouble’. In a straw pole vote over 75% of the room were convinced that ageism is rife in sectors supposedly serving the older citizens.
It was clearly stated that support and health care should be on the basis of need and not the present ‘age and ability to work’ status.
A continual criticism was that new NHS management structures and consultation processes including the recently failed Patient Public involvement councils soaked up money which produced nothing tangible.
Having written in a totally critical fashion, I can state that in my own area some light is in the tunnel, as a new set of local initiatives are being established by a mix of voluntary and statutory individuals. However, that is the crux of the problem, for the new house of cards is based on enthusiastic and invaluable individual input, and is not a real enlightened local or national policy repositioning.
We were invited to look at the document ‘Independence, well being and choice’ although to me it initially seems like another set of good ideas written by people for whom there is no outcome.
To sum up the session – There is a lack of health and social support for older people, but more importantly there is no recognition of the ‘individual’ in a case and number based system.
Session 2 was that of Forums and Local Campaigning which gave a more positive view, albeit very patchy. In my own area I can say that forums are supported and generally well established, and a new Senior Voice Forum in conjunction with Age concern starts on June 17th, albeit in a particularly inaccessible but just redecorated venue!
My own input to the session was to question the role of charities and voluntary groups in relationship to co operation and co ordination. This did hit a chord with many who feel that NPC need to make sure that each and every initiative is discussed and operated to its fullest extent. This does mean that such as Age Concern, Help the Aged, The Heart Foundation, and so on actually talk to each other, and maybe here is an important role for NPC.
But a real summary of the session was that which was echoed in the final event – without the voluntary sector, particularly the older or retired, the social structure of the country would collapse.