Need of Advocacy for Older People

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This essay aims to cover matters concerning the needs for advocacy with older people and further examine certain significant difficulties on a thematic basis whereas these needs are being met. Generally, older people are regarded as people who age over 65. Statistics show that there are over 10m of people (1 in 6 people) in the UK that are aged over 65, and are estimated to be doubled to around 19m by 2050. (Office for National Statistic, 2017) Comparing to 66.2m of the UK total population, these seniors who constitute the majority of the entire UK population, are yet being negatively labeled as dependent, useless, poor etc. Although there have been a plethora pieces of legislation and policy for older people for safeguarding their deserved legal rights, it is only limited to specific circumstances (e.g. mental health) in which older people are being ignored and subordinated in the society. Therefore, they should definitely be entitled to more support from the British government, especially the needs of advocacy, the term ‘advocacy’ will be defined and explained in the later part of the essay.

Over the past 30 years, there has been a growth of diversification in the forms of advocacy, while this essay will mainly focus on one-to-one professional advocacy. A broad definition of advocacy would be actions involve any citizens making a case for themselves, advancing their own interest, representing others and provide them supports to secure and promote their deserved rights and needs on an individual or collective basis. (Dunning, 2005, p10) Yet, advocacy is inevitably regarded as a highly principled activity. The Older People’s Advocacy Alliance (OPAAL) the UK grants the principles of advocacy in broad terms as empowerment, inclusion , and independence. (OPPALuk) Therefore, Advocates should go beyond any interests, encourages people to express their wants and needs freely, and safeguarding their deserved decisions that affect their lives at the largest possibility. (Dunning, 2005).

This part of the essay will now look into the needs for advocacy with older people on a thematic basis. As mentioned above, older people within society remains very limited to various circumstances, descriptions about older people are mostly negative. Lorraine Green (2010) argues that widespread discrimination against older people-ageism significantly exaggerates the problems faced by people as they age. Green defines ageism as ‘the systematic stereotyping of and discrimination against individuals relating to the aging process.’ (Green, 2010) The first relevant problem would be stigmatization. The Centre for Confidence and Wellbeing (2015) figured out the following stereotypes attached with aging: ‘Old people are: needy, passive, can’t learn new things and less useful than their younger counterparts.’, labeling theory argues that once a label is attached to a person, there is a tendency for older people to see themselves in terms of the label which lowered their self-esteem. Older people may not be willing to express their needs (e.g. needs of crime prevention, inadequate public transport, unsuitable and poor housing) or even lessen their motivation to participate for their deserved rights and eventually resulted in social exclusions. When older people remain powerless in front of the civil rights agenda, advocacy is needed which helps to combat ageism and other forms of discrimination. One-to-one professional advocacy could help older people to speak up for their needs, translate their beliefs or thoughts into action, which could likewise stimulate unengaged stakeholders by bringing issues to light about the injurious impacts of stigma and prevent further prejudice towards older people.

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It is doubted that there is a set of ‘standard and appropriate rules and framework’ which best protect older people from any unfair treatment. A survey shows that ‘only 26% of the respondents believe that older people in the UK are having a good quality of life, while 28% of the respondent felt their living standard was good in terms of financial status.’ (The Guardian’s aging population survey, 2015) The above shocking results interpret a cruel fact that older people in the UK are at risk of infantilization, as they are being protected by their younger counterparts or the society itself regardless of the older people’s own will, making them not feeling satisfied with their current situation even they felt their living standard was good in terms of financial terms. The study consists half of its respondents who are either older people themselves, professionals working with older people and carers, they indicate that ‘older people are collectively wealthier than before yet with increasing inequalities, they don’t feel happier than before.’ (The Guardian’s aging population survey, 2015) Instead, even the older people grow wealthier, their power of decision making does not increase proportionally. In some cases, older people are being disempowered and excluded from decision making, being forced to move into a care home regardless of their own will since their younger counterparts believe care home could provide better care for their parents nevertheless it’s wresting a person’s deserved authority. There is no doubt these younger counterparts do not mean any harm but acting out of ignorance, protection for the weak is honorable but sometimes overprotection will cause problems for others. Therefore, advocacy is needed, assist the elderly to speak out their own free will, let those younger counterparts to provide them what they devotedly want. In light with this, the thinktank ChentreForum has required an ‘older people commission’, to advocates the rights of older people. The Forum’s Chief Executive, Stephen Lee expressed that, ‘by giving more the elderly a formal voice in Whitehall, we would see more noteworthy progress set on age-proofing services, and policies that are more responsive to the difficulties and chances of a maturing society.’ Through advocacy, older people’s voice could be transmitted to the top level of government and publish approaches to tackle their problems from the root.

When it comes to reality, despite all of the clear needs for advocacy mentioned above, the feasibility of advocacy also comes into question. Instead, the British government, especially during the New Labour period, there was evidence of some shift in developing legal and policy framework which eager to promote advocacy in meeting older people’s needs in specific circumstances and situations such as Mental Capacity Act 2005, Older People’ s Commissioner for Wales and Care Act 2014 etc, yet statistics show that older people still do not feel satisfied for their quality of life because their needs could not be met. The reason behind that is mostly older people are very remote from the people in power, they do not feel well-informed or even unable to identify themselves as the target group when ‘important’ people are mentioning about them. Therefore, even there are a series of approaches implemented to suit the needs of older people, the ‘service user’ do not recognize themselves as the target group of those measures. Sarah Rochira from The Older People; Commissioner for Wales Comments that ‘my report shows that older people are frequently unconscious that this sort of support is accessible and are regularly unfit to it even they possess the right to enjoy, which is simply not acceptable. The only way to accomplish requires the support of an independent advocate who can speak to their perspective and stand up for their sake.’ (Sarah Rochira, Making Voice Heard) Advocacy with older people, especially professional one-to-one advocacy, could act as a bridge between older people and the community as those paid independent could help older people to figured out themselves as the ‘service user’ and raise their level of awareness towards accessible resources around them, ensure they are included within the mainstream activities of communities as some of them do not even understand their basic rights living as a British citizen.

As stated above, there were signs of some progress in both policies and attitudes of the government towards older people, especially during the New Labour Period. The Mental Health(Wales) Regulations 2008 introduced the role of independent Mental Health Advocates (IMHAs), aim at providing aids to people who have problems to express their opinions and ideas, assist them to exercise their rights or express their view, in which older people are also benefited as well. Yet, in the wake of the Conservative Party rose into power since 2010, they vigorously promote the austerity measures, keen at cutting public expenditure which directly affects the effectiveness of advocacy. Advocacy and campaigning organization indicates that it becomes harder to provide full support than they used to. A study shows that over 80% of the advocacy workers expressed that it becomes more difficult for clients (e.g. elderly, Black people) to get representation and advocacy. The cut of public expenditures also means a cut of workforce, as the age of population increase despite the number of service staff decline, it makes members working with older people do not have enough time to prepare advocacy works and any follow up actions, in a way boost the workload of these members and lowered the effectiveness of advocacy. As stated above, older people are now living in abysmal condition, some of them are being negatively labeled and at risk of social marginalization, while some of them are being disempowered and infantilize, ‘enjoying’ their life regardless of their own will. Therefore, advocacy should be placed at a top priority in government’s decision, calling urgent action to restore expenditure for the public health services, so that older people’s voice could be transmitted to people in power, launching policies which protect equality between older people and the resting member within the society, upholding their deserved justice and citizenships.

To conclude, there appears to be strong evidence that older people are beyond doubt with the needs of advocacy. This has been evidenced by the fact of disempowerment, stigmatization and ignorance in front of the policies of older people. Compare to other vulnerable groups, such as children and disabled people, older people, have mostly absent from the planning when ‘Important people’ have done their thinking about the just society. People normally assume children as innocent which require advocacy to protect their ‘valuable naive’ while disable people are disadvantaged with no faults by their own, so advocacy is needed to promote equality for them. Nevertheless, people normally regard older people as senile and less useful than their younger counterparts, having little mercy on them and exclude them for the need for advocacy. The austerity measures further push older people to edges, reducing their chances of advocacy. The above pictures give us an alarm that older people also require advocacy, they should not be ignored and stigmatized by society. Yet, this also brought the policies outcomes to lights that approaches towards older people seems to be ineffective as older people’s wants could not be met and the problem of advocacy still key in undermining the realization of equality society.

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