Doug Anthoney offers Age Scotland’s take on this week’s news stories.
This week saw publication of a long trailed Bill to join-up, and so improve, health and social care services – the snappily titled Public Bodies (Joint Working) (Scotland) Bill. We’ve been campaigning for this for quite some time, and have been broadly supportive of the Scottish Government’s proposal; namely to make NHS and Councils work together in delivering health and social care services, with pooled budgets and shared targets and accountability.
So, does it cut the mustard? A first review (we’ll be trawling it repeatedly over coming weeks) suggests much is as expected, which is pleasing. But we’re concerned that a watered down duty to merely ‘consult’ the third sector might marginalise the role and influence of the many voluntary groups and social enterprises that play such a crucial role in keeping older people healthy, happy and independent in their homes. Our call for the Bill to be underpinned by values and human rights also seems to have been ignored. We’ll be raising these points with Alex Neil, the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Wellbeing, next week.
The week’s other big story was publication of Scottish Widows UK Pensions report which scores Scotland lowest for retirement preparations. It claims that over a third of Scots (39%) who could and should be preparing financially for their old age are under-saving for retirement, nearly three times the UK average (14%). Meanwhile, our aspirations for retirement income have increased to £24,500 per year, almost double what the average person retiring at 65 could expect (£11,200). The research also found that we are entering retirement with an increasing number of credit commitments, including loans, mortgages and credit card debts.
Scottish Widows, while inevitably signposting people to its own services, has highlighted a serious issue, and behind these figures are many people who will be very anxious about their future incomes as they approach retirement. Things look a little better for future pensioners, with the introduction of a flat rate state pension of £144 per week in 2016, and with automatic enrolment in workplace pensions, but this does nothing for those on the brink of retirement now.
What can be done? Westminster and Holyrood could, and should, put energy into alleviating poverty among our current pensioners, we said. Employers can also help their older employees to plan effectively for retirement, as the most enlightened already do. And individuals can take action to maximise their income; for example by calling the Age Scotland Helpline for a benefits entitlement check, and by making use of the Pensions Tracing Service to see if they have a forgotten historic pension pot.
Doug Anthoney is Age Scotland Communication and Campaigns Officer