Labour leader Ed Miliband's appointment of a shadow minister for older people marks a growing recognition that more has to be done to respond to demographic change.
The appointment of Liz Kendall as the first shadow minister for care and older people marks a high point in the campaign to persuade politicians to pay more attention to our ageing society. The fact that Kendall will attend the shadow cabinet means that older people's interests should be considered in every decision it makes. This is a massive step forward, which should benefit services, including housing for older people.
The appointment also provides an enormous opportunity for her to expose the gaping hole in the coalition government cabinet where I, as well as tens of thousands of other individuals and organisations across the country, believe an older people's minister should be.
Pensions minister Steve Webb and care minister Paul Burstow are among a host of politicians playing crucial roles in designing public policy related to older people. But there is no one minister whose job title indicates it is also his or her role to consider in the round the needs of one of the largest and fastest-growing groups in the country.
The issues affecting older people are wide-ranging; housing, care, planning, fuel poverty, pension reform, transport and discrimination. Only by looking at them together can we effectively support older people and benefit fully from their valuable contribution.
Simply by her presence, Kendall is a visible reminder of the enormous gap in the coalition's thinking. The real opportunity for Kendall is to demonstrate how these gaps are affecting older people and resulting in money being spent ineffectively.
She is not the first shadow minister to not have a direct opposite number in government. Back in 2009, the department that dealt with higher education was scrapped and replaced by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The post of universities secretary was axed. But David Willetts, then in the Conservative shadow cabinet as shadow minister for universities and skills, remained, enabling "two brains" Willetts to continue to be a thorn in Labour's side.
A bright, dedicated shadow minister has an enormous opportunity to pile pressure on the government by, for example, ensuring there is an appropriate response to the Dilnot commission's report on care funding. With experience in two thinktanks (the Institute for Public Policy Research and the health-focused King's Fund), as well as a strong history of campaigning, Kendall has an impressive track record.
Older people, their families, and the people who work with them, have felt ignored by politicians for too long. They will now be looking to Kendall to demonstrate that's she's listening to them and acting in the interests of today's older people and the older people of tomorrow. Perhaps then the coalition will realise what they're missing.
Mario Ambrosi is head of public affairs at Anchor. You can sign Anchor's petition for an older people's minister at www.greypride.org.uk
Article is available from The Guardian online
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