Earlier this week I started asking co-conspirators to speculate as to “what would bring about significant changes in the way we think about older age?”  

Shortly after that my attention was drawn to the announcement that the Minister for Women Harriet Harman had appointed Dame Joan Bakewell as the Governments official Voice of Older People. Joan will act as an independent and informed advocate on issues affecting older people’s lives.

I’ve been ruminating over this turn of events. Whilst I guess any raising of the profile of older people in a society obsessed with “yoof” should be a good thing and according to Gordon Lishman, Age Concern Director General, “Joan Bakewell offers a formidable set of skills, proven commitment and real passion” I remain uneasy for several reasons.

 1.   Why just a “voice” rather than a kick-ass Commissioner? Why play celebrity gestures?

How come we now have an official “voice” for older people but not a Commissioner? In March 2005 the Government saw fit to appoint Professor Al Aynsley-Green as England’s first Children’s Commissioner.

Earlier this year Wales’ First Minister, Rhodri Morgan, appointed Ruth Marks MBE as the first Commissioner for Older People in Wales.

The First Minister and Deputy First Minister for Northern Ireland announced in December 2007 their intention to create a Northern Ireland Commissioner for Older People.  

Why not England?

 2.   None of the issues mentioned (so far) are older person specific?

The Press highlight a few things bugging Dame Bakewell such as the need for better access, more lifts, better designed packaging and more public toilets. All very well and nobody would disagree, however all these things are not the province of just older people – we would all benefit from them – especially any of us with any mobility challenges, parents with small children and after all this is not special design for older  people , it’s simply good design.

It’s  shame that the Design Council did not continue the Red “Do-Tank” set up in 2004 to tackle social and economic issues through design led innovation.

By the way Joan 2008 is the International Year of Sanitation and




3.   Will a chat show approach (however articulate and formidable) make any difference? Why not direct action?

If we are to believe that the baby boomers won’t be pensioned off (The New Old: Demos) and can’t wait for the chattering classes to get the Government’s act together why not a call for direct action on these issues Joan?

Why not a mass pensioner piss-in at the House of Commons?

You can count on me Joan. I’ll happily volunteer spending a penny or giving it free to the floor of the House!

But this leads me to think that Joan’s appointment, however well intentioned, won’t  bring about “significant changes in the way we think about older age?”

 What would?