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Isherwood: A champion for older people's rights

Speech to the National Assembly for Wales.

"We welcome the appointment of the commissioner for older people as an independent champion for older people. This is the first such post anywhere in the United Kingdom and it has attracted widespread support. Wales has a growing population of older people compared with other parts of the United Kingdom.

Currently, 600,000 people in Wales are aged over 60 and, by 2017, in just 10 years, one in three households in Wales will include someone aged 65 or over. Many older people in Wales suffer from problems of poor housing, poor nutrition, a lack of employment opportunities, and inadequate transport services. Age discrimination in employment, especially if someone has been made redundant, is a huge problem, and older people also suffer from being denied pay rises or proper training opportunities on account of their age.

There is new legislation in this respect, as we know, which the commissioner will have a key role in monitoring. In addition, it is often the case that older people are the most reluctant to complain about bad service or poor treatment.

However, we should not try to kid ourselves into believing that the commissioner will somehow be a panacea for every problem faced by older people. The commissioner will be no substitute for a better basic state pension or improved personal care.

Help the Aged in Wales warned, when the Bill was published, that pension reform and an end to means-tested pensions would do more to improve the lives of pensioner households. The commissioner will not do much to alleviate the swingeing increases in council tax that have particularly hammered older people across Wales—and I am talking about real money, not percentages.

Eradicating discrimination requires a change of attitude across the board, and that will take time. Anything that a newly appointed commissioner can do to speed up the process, however, will be warmly welcomed. An early test may come on fuel poverty, which disproportionately affects older people.

Age Concern Cymru states that the meaningful involvement of older people in the appointments process is essential to the success of this post. It also stresses the importance of the commissioner's ability to work with the voluntary sector and groups already representing older people.

Its main area of concern is the commissioner's ability to make representations on non-devolved matters. The commissioner will need to be able to represent older people's concerns in all areas effectively, and without an opportunity to make representations directly to Westminster, that cannot happen.

As with the children's commissioner, it is important that the person appointed to the commissioner role is not afraid to raise concerns and tackle issues that may make him or her unpopular in certain spheres. Even those older people who have family or friends should have access to an independent advocate to support them and safeguard their rights.

It is important that the impact of the commissioner on other organisations is considered, especially where information and advice services across Wales are already stretched. I cite, for example, the real threat to Age Concern's successful welfare rights and financial advocacy projects in north Wales central. Wales needs a commissioner who can safeguard and champion the rights of all older people, and particularly those who are most vulnerable."

"Croesawn y penderfyniad i benodi'r comisiynydd pobl hyn fel hyrwyddwr annibynnol i bobl hyn. Dyma'r swydd gyntaf o'i bath unrhyw le yn y Deyrnas Unedig ac mae wedi ennyn cefnogaeth eang. Mae gan Gymru boblogaeth o bobl hyn sy'n cynyddu o'i chymharu â rhannau eraill o'r Deyrnas Unedig. Ar hyn o bryd, mae 600,000 o bobl yng Nghymru dros 60 oed ac, erbyn 2017, mewn 10 mlynedd, bydd un o bob tri chartref yng Nghymru yn cynnwys rhywun sy'n 65 oed neu'n hyn.

Mae llawer o bobl hyn yng Nghymru yn dioddef gan broblemau megis tai gwael, maeth gwael, diffyg cyfleoedd cyflogaeth, a gwasanaethau trafnidiaeth annigonol. Mae gwahaniaethu ar sail oedran ym maes cyflogaeth, yn arbennig os oes rhywun wedi colli'i swydd, yn broblem enfawr, ac nid yw cyflogwyr yn rhoi cynnydd cyflogau na chyfleoedd hyfforddi priodol i bobl hyn ychwaith oherwydd eu hoedran. Ceir deddfwriaeth newydd yn hyn o beth, fel y gwyddom, a bydd gan y comisiynydd rôl allweddol yn y gwaith o'i monitro. Yn ogystal, mae'n aml yn wir mai pobl hyn yw'r mwyaf amharod i gwyno am wasanaeth gwael neu driniaeth wael.

Fodd bynnag, ni ddylem geisio twyllo ein hunain i gredu y bydd y comisiynydd rywsut yn ateb pob problem a wynebir gan bobl hyn. Ni fydd y comisiynydd yn gallu cymryd lle pensiwn sylfaenol gan y wladwriaeth na gofal personol gwell. Rhybuddiodd Help the Aged Cymru, pan gyhoeddwyd y Mesur, y byddai diwygio pensiynau a dirwyn i ben bensiynau ar sail prawf modd yn gwneud mwy i wella bywydau pensiynwyr. Ni fydd y comisiynydd yn gwneud llawer i leddfu'r cynnydd aruthrol yn y dreth gyngor sydd wedi effeithio'n arbennig o wael ar bobl hyn ledled Cymru—ac yr wyf yn sôn am arian go iawn, nid canrannau.

Er mwyn dileu achosion o wahaniaethu mae angen newid agweddau yn gyffredinol, a bydd hynny'n cymryd amser. Fodd bynnag, bydd unrhyw beth y gall comisiynydd sydd newydd ei benodi ei wneud i gyflymu'r broses yn cael ei groesawu'n gynnes. Efallai mai tlodi tanwydd fydd y prawf cyntaf, sef maes sy'n effeithio'n anghymesur ar bobl hyn.

Noda Age Concern Cymru fod cynnwys pobl hyn mewn modd ystyrlon yn y broses benodi yn hanfodol i lwyddiant y swydd hon. Mae hefyd yn pwysleisio pwysigrwydd gallu'r comisiynydd i weithio gyda'r sector gwirfoddol a grwpiau sydd eisoes yn cynrychioli pobl hyn. Y prif bryder sydd ganddo yw gallu'r comisiynydd i wenud sylwadau ar faterion heb eu datganoli. Bydd angen i'r comisiynydd allu cynrychioli pryderon pobl hyn ym mhob maes yn effeithiol, a heb gyfle i wneud sylwadau'n uniongyrchol i San Steffan, ni all hynny ddigwydd.

Fel gyda'r comisiynydd plant, mae'n bwysig nad yw'r sawl a benodir i rôl y comisiynydd yn ofni codi pryderon na mynd i'r afael â materion a allai ei wneud ef neu ei gwneud hi yn amhoblogaidd mewn meysydd penodol. Dylai hyd yn oed y bobl hyn hynny sydd â theulu neu ffrindiau gael mynediad i eiriolwr annibynnol i'w cefnogi a diogelu eu hawliau.

Mae'n bwysig ystyried effaith y comisiynydd ar sefydliadau eraill, yn arbennig lle bo gwasnaaethau gwybodaeth a chyngor ledled Cymru eisoes o dan bwysau. Nodaf, er enghraifft, y bygythiad gwirioneddol i brosiectau hawliau lles ac eiriolaeth ariannol llwyddiannus Age Concern yng nghanol gogledd Cymru. Mae angen comisiynydd ar Gymru a all ddiogelu a hyrwyddo hawliau pob person hyn, ac yn arbennig y rhai sydd fwyaf diamddiffyn."

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