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  1. Election 2024
24 March 2015

After David Cameron got heckled, what did Liz Kendall say to Age UK?

Liz Kendall's speech to Age UK - full text  

By Liz Kendall

I’m honoured to be here with you today.

I’m honoured because Age UK is doing something special in this election campaign.

You’re telling politicians to lift our eyes beyond our party differences and make Great Britain a great place to grow older.

That’s a huge challenge – and a great prize.

And it’s exactly why we must not let you down.

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You know, a baby born at the start of the last century could expect to live to only fifty.

Today, one in three babies will live to a hundred.

That change will have as profound an impact on how we live as the industrial revolution had two hundred years ago.

So making Britain a great place to grow old isn’t just an issue for people who are retired today.

It’s a challenge everyone in Britain needs to wake up to.

In two decades’ time, fifteen million people will be over sixty-five.

Six million will be over eighty. 

That change is a fantastic thing.

We are living longer, healthier, more active lives.

Our NHS offers cures for diseases that previously killed tens of thousands prematurely. 

All this means older people are making an even bigger contribution than ever before.

Working. Looking after their families. Volunteering. Leading great campaigns like yours.

Now, we need a change in government as big as the change in our country.

Because, far too often, government gets it wrong.  We’re too short term. Too narrow. Too limited in our horizons and aspirations.

Your ‘Great place to grow older’ campaign is full of vital things we must do better.

You say we must act so older people can live safely in affordable, warm homes.

Labour will build up to two hundred thousand decent houses a year, freeze energy bills so they can only go down and not up, and ensure older people in poverty can cut their bills further with energy efficiency improvements.

You say we must stop scams, rip offs and discrimination against older people in financial services.

Labour will act on legal loan sharks and rip-off pension charges, and make sure that there’s proper protection for people who cash in their annuities.

You say we all deserve a retirement with enough support to live well.

Labour will make sure those who have worked hard, contributed to society and played their part in our nation’s success get a fair deal in retirement – including by guaranteeing the pensions triple lock.

Those are big steps a Labour government will make to change lives for the better.

Yet you know, and I know, the change we need in our society goes deeper still, and our response must be big and bold enough to meet it.

We will only be a great country if we are a great place to age well.

Nowhere is the challenge bigger than in health and social care.

60 years ago the biggest causes of death and ill health were infectious diseases and accidents.

To help end Beveridge’s “Great Evils”, we created the NHS – the most equitable and efficient system in the world – so everyone has the right to treatment based on their need, and not their ability to pay.

Today, the big health challenges are long-term conditions like cancer, diabetes and dementia.

But our care services are still too focused on dealing with the old problems.

They’re still too dominated by last minute, crisis interventions, usually in hospitals – not on helping people stay fit, healthy and living independently in their homes.

And social care is still on the sidelines – under-supported and under-valued.

These problems have been growing for years.

But when we should have been building a care system that’s fit for the future, this Government chose to force through a damaging backroom NHS reorganisation wasting £3 billion in the process.

And they chose local government for the biggest cuts, slashing council care budgets by a staggering £3.7 billion.

Your own research says we’re spending a billion pounds a year less on social care.

Already, a quarter of a million fewer older people are getting publicly funded care.

Already, half of all people who struggle to get in and out of the bath on their own have no care support at all.

Already more and more care visits lasting barely 15 minutes, with care workers not even getting the minimum wage because they’re not paid for travel times, and many forced to accept zero hours contracts too.

And who has to step in? Our sons, daughters, husbands and wives of course.

But families are also desperately stretched, with many of our six million family carers pushed to breaking point and at the end of their tether.

It’s not right that people who give so much get so little help in return.

And none of this even makes any financial sense.

When long-term conditions aren’t managed properly in the community, the pain they cause and the cost of treating them in hospital soars.

When older people don’t get the grab rail or care visit they need, they end up going to A&E and getting stuck in hospital too.

In the last 12 months alone, the NHS spent almost £300 million on delayed discharges from hospitals.

This could have paid for more than six and a half thousand community nurses or 40,000 older and disabled people to get a year of decent home care.

Where on earth is the sense in that?

We all want to live in a country that helps us age with dignity, but instead we’re creating a fearful country where you’re just one bit of bad luck away from misery.

That’s not what I want for my family, and its not what you want either.

When I think of my own parents, I know the talents they have, and the huge difference they make – not just to my family but their community.

My dad seems even busier than ever now he’s retired. He’s just used his experience in finance to help save his local day centre, by getting local voluntary organisations to take over running it.

My mum – who is 70 in a month’s time – was a primary school teacher. She became chair of governors at my old primary school and then chair of a local care home.

I want to live in a country that values and honours the hundreds of thousands of equally brilliant, talented older people and the huge contribution they make.

I want to see our older people play a leading role in society, passing on their experience, knowledge and love to the next generation. 

We’re at our best when at our oldest and we need to treasure older people as a precious resource, not abandon them to isolation and neglect. 

To do this we must create a health and care service that meets the challenges of the next century as well as we met the challenges of the last.

That’s why Labour is campaigning for a single, integrated National Health and Care Service.

This will be an incredible challenge. But my mum and dad taught me that nothing that is really worth doing is ever easy.

We will start by investing in an extra 5,000 home care workers straight away, through our NHS Time to Care Fund, so there’s more integrated help immediately.

We’ll give people the right to a single point of contact so they don’t have to battle all the different care services, with one team to meet all of their physical, mental and social care needs.

This will be underpinned by a new year of care budget to radically shift the focus of services out of hospitals, into the community and towards prevention – and help tackle the scandal of 15 minute home visits.

And backed up with decent support for unpaid family carers, a higher minimum wage, strong incentives to pay the living wage and better training for paid care workers, and the end of exploitative zero hours contracts.

That’s Labour’s vision.

We’ll work with anyone who cares about these issue.

We’ll seek your advice – because we can’t do it on our own.

We’ll take real action.

And we’ll never, ever stop trying to do better.

Your campaign is for this country to be a great place to grow older.

And you have rightly challenged us to raise our sights.

We all know that to achieve the fundamental changes we need in the decades ahead we must leave the old ways of doing things behind.

So if Labour forms the next Government after May 7th, I pledge that we will reach out to all parties and far beyond the narrow confines of Westminster.

We will lead a national endeavour to secure the long-term changes we need to make Great Britain a great place to grow old.

That’s a big, exciting journey.

All it takes is a change of direction in May.

Let’s change Britain – together.


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