Crisis blights joy of golden generation – Esther Rantzen highlights heartbreaking issue

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Millions of older people feel so worthless and forgotten that some have tried to kill themselves, Dame Esther Rantzen reveals today. The veteran TV presenter and campaigner is throwing her weight behind the Daily Express Give Them a Voice campaign.

We are calling for the immediate appointment of a Minister for Older People, who will represent the nation’s 13 million retirees.

The crisis is so deep, one lonely woman in her mid-90s, took an overdose because she saw no reason to live. Thankfully, she survived – and later told loved ones it was an accident.

In a chilling account of the unbearable isolation felt by 21st-century OAPs, Dame Esther, 83, said: “It is clear ageism is so pervasive in this country.

“Every aspect of an older person’s life is sliced up and divided between government departments, which inevitably means they fall through the gaps and end up at the bottom of the list of political priorities.

“Reluctant to complain, their voices go unheard.

“There is nobody who sees the whole picture, prioritises their issues and acts as their advocate. I believe a Minister for Older People would really make a difference. It would be a crucial first step in changing negative ageist attitudes in this country.”

The push comes as official figures show there were 1.7 million people aged 85 and over in 2020 – equal to 2.5 percent of our population.

This is forecast to almost double to 3.1 million by 2045, which is 4.3 percent of the population.

The increasing number is a legacy of baby boom generations – those born after the Second World War and in the 1960s.

Technology is now seen as a modern-day cure-all, but relatively few pensioners own a smartphone.

While phones allow access to banking, shopping and entertainment, the march of technology has left many older people behind.

The social care crisis remains a worry for millions petrified of having to sell off treasured family possessions and deny loved ones an inheritance.

Our state pension remains the lowest in Europe and there are few retraining opportunities for those who want to continue working past retirement age. And the mounting cost-of-living crisis will see “unprecedented” numbers perishing cold and hungry this winter, experts say.

Caroline Abrahams, left, of Age UK, which is also backing our campaign, said: “I cannot overstate how upset and worried some older people are to find themselves in such a seemingly precarious financial situation.

“It’s why it is so important the Government keeps its promise to reinstate the triple lock [raising the state pension by inflation, earnings or 2.5 percent, whichever is highest] from April.

“Older people and others on low incomes will also need a big injection of extra financial support to see them through the autumn and winter.

“Inflation is so rapidly eroding the help they were given just a few months ago.” Ms Abrahams warned: “If this doesn’t happen, our sincere belief is we could see unprecedented numbers of older people dying of cold in their own homes – something that is incredibly shocking in the 21st century.”

Former pensions minister Ros Altmann was to be made minister for ageing – in effect, Britain’s first older people’s tsar – by then PM David Cameron in 2015.

But the job that would have held the Government and service providers to account was vetoed by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Baroness Altmann said of our crusade: “This is such an important campaign, ensuring the needs of older people can be properly considered.

“No more punishing them for not being online, stopping them from parking if they have no smartphone, closing bank branches and phone helplines.”

A minister for older people would be the first cross-government role since Labour politician Alf Morris.

In 1970, he introduced the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act – a world first that gave rights to those with disabilities. He was made the UK’s first minister for the disabled in 1974.

Baron Morris died in 2012.

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