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Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, November 29, 2023


Contents


Age Scotland (80th Anniversary)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Liam McArthur)

The final item of business this evening is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-11200, in the name of Kenneth Gibson, on celebrating Age Scotland’s 80th anniversary. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament celebrates the 80th anniversary of Age Scotland’s work to support older people; understands that the first meeting of an earlier incarnation of Age Scotland, the Scottish Old People’s Welfare Committee, took place in Edinburgh in January 1943 to support the war effort and the wellbeing of older people in Scotland; acknowledges that the Committee’s aims were to “gather information of the present position of the care and welfare of the aged and to raise awareness of the needs of older people”; considers that, in the past 80 years, Age Scotland has made an invaluable contribution through its work in helping older people to live as well as possible, in promoting positive views of ageing and later life, and in tackling loneliness and isolation; is aware that Age Scotland recently published the findings of its Big Survey 2023, which aims to take the temperature of what it is like to be an older person in Scotland; recognises that one of the events planned to mark this milestone is a parliamentary reception on 15 November 2023 to celebrate the contribution of older people and groups from the Cunninghame North constituency and across Scotland, including the winners of Age Scotland’s annual awards, and to hear about the charity’s latest research, which it understands outlines the political priorities of people over the age of 50 and how they feel about growing older in Scotland, and wishes chief executive, Katherine Crawford, and everyone at Age Scotland continued success in their future endeavours.

17:05  

Kenneth Gibson (Cunninghame North) (SNP)

I thank you Presiding Officer, as I do members from across the chamber who signed my motion and facilitated tonight’s debate in celebration of Age Scotland’s 80th anniversary. I thank Adam Stachura, who is in the public gallery, and his team at Age Scotland for providing much of the background briefing for tonight. Sadly, my colleague Christine Grahame, who had intended to contribute tonight, is unable to be here because she has extreme back pain.

I believe that this is a timely topic. Scotland’s people are, on average, getting increasingly older. Indeed, by 2045, almost half the population will be over the age of 50—including me. In the past 80 years, Age Scotland has given older people a voice through myriad campaigns, research publications, workshops and community developments. On 22 January 1943, in the midst of world war two, the first gathering of the Scottish Older People’s Welfare Committee took place here in Edinburgh. That earlier incarnation of Age Scotland had a clearly defined mission to gather information about the welfare of older people, to provide a platform for discussion and to raise awareness and campaign for older people to ensure that their needs were met.

In 1943, the major challenges for people were homes and housing, poverty alleviation, practical support at home and addressing social isolation—many of the same issues that my elderly constituents have raised with me and, no doubt, that have been raised with members across Scotland.

It is undeniable that significant progress has been made in the past eight decades and that there has never been a better time to grow old, not least because of the tireless work of numerous older people’s welfare committees over the years. Life expectancy has risen dramatically since the 1940s, and the past 80 years has seen the creation of the national health service, programmes such as meals on wheels, an increase in the number of residential homes, care at home, concessionary travel, improved state pensions, social clubs and outings, and activities for older people. More recent achievements include a pension linked to earnings and free personal and nursing care, as well as the rapid spread of the men’s sheds movement and other support groups.

Although progress is undeniable, many overarching concerns and challenges faced by older people in Scotland remain. Age Scotland recently published its “The Big Survey 2023—Full Report”, in which more than 4,100 people over the age of 50 shared their views and experiences. The three main issues that respondents highlighted were a lack of accessible housing, housing affordability and fuel poverty. The on-going cost of living crisis has exacerbated that, with the number of pensioners in fuel poverty having doubled in the past two years. Age Scotland’s free helpline can help older people to maximise their income by running benefit checks and social security advice. So far this year, it has identified £1.13 million of financial support for older people.

Another finding in the survey was that, although the vast majority of older people have access to the internet, 19 per cent of over-60s do not use it—around 273,000 people. Unsurprisingly, therefore, digital exclusion is often a barrier to accessing services such as applying for a blue badge. For example, an elderly constituent walked into my Dalry constituency office yesterday to inquire about the local bin uplift schedule, as the local authority no longer delivers physical copies. Pensioners also do not always receive their due income—123,000 people across Scotland who are eligible for pension credit are not in receipt of it.

It comes as no surprise that older people, as the cohort that is most likely to require medical attention, often express frustration at the difficulty in obtaining a general practitioner appointment, with many practices not even having telephone queuing systems—a matter that I have frequently raised. In the big survey, 82 per cent of respondents indicated that they preferred an in-person GP appointment, with only 1 per cent having a preference for a video or telephone consultation. I trust that the Scottish Government has given close consideration to the findings of the big survey and will take them into consideration when making decisions that affect older people.

After having talked about older people’s challenges and concerns, I will now focus on the incredible contribution that older people make to life in Scotland. A third of respondents to Age Scotland’s big survey currently volunteer, and a further 23 per cent have previously done so. Age Scotland supports more than 400 community groups across Scotland, many of which are run by dedicated local volunteers who work to make communities better places for older people and others. It was also inspiring to speak to winners of Age Scotland’s annual awards at its recent parliamentary reception, which I was proud to sponsor. I again congratulate Saltcoats Armed Forces and Veterans Breakfast Club from my constituency on winning the Patrick Brooks award for best partnership working for all that it does to support the significant number of ex-armed forces personnel who live in the area, because feeling lonely and missing the comradeship of serving together is still all too common.

Loneliness is an issue that still affects many older people, and almost half of the respondents to the big survey said that they sometimes felt lonely. Age Scotland’s friendship line, which is operated by friendship caller volunteers, provides companionship and a listening ear for people who are 50 and over. It is open Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm. People may phone about absolutely anything, and someone will pick up the phone to listen, provide friendship and offer support.

I am sure that the Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees, whose portfolio includes the social isolation and loneliness strategy, will tell us more about the action that the Scottish Government is taking to address loneliness, but I will mention the recently launched social isolation and loneliness fund, which will provide £3.2 million to 53 community projects and organisations between August this year and July 2026. Groups that work to tackle social isolation and loneliness throughout Scotland include choirs, men’s sheds, lunch clubs and many others.

Funding has also been provided to Beith Community Development Trust in my constituency, which is involved in numerous projects across the Garnock valley and which the minister visited in August, when she met Alison Berry, the local lead of the lend an ear befriending service. That community-driven initiative aims to foster a sense of belonging and safety among individuals from the area who might otherwise be grappling with feelings of solitude. Such organisations make an invaluable contribution to the lives of many older people and others across Scotland.

I congratulate Age Scotland on its 80th birthday and thank it for eight decades of advocacy, support, campaigning, research publications and community projects, as well as its magnificent hot tips calendars, which are eagerly awaited. Crucially, it must be our goal to be a country where older people are always valued.

Thank you, Mr Gibson. I send my best wishes to Christine Grahame for a speedy recovery.

17:11  

Alexander Stewart (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

I thank Kenneth Gibson for bringing this important debate to the chamber. Today’s debate is an opportunity for me to step into old shoes from the years that I spent as my party’s spokesperson on older people, which was a role that I took great pride in. As I turn 61 today, I am a proud older person. [Applause.]

The debate also gives me an opportunity to discuss some of the biggest challenges that face older people across Scotland, some of which I have spoken about before in the chamber. Age Scotland’s second big survey provides a detailed snapshot of the challenges that older people face in Scotland in 2023. The survey—to which more than 4,100 people over the age of 50 contributed—highlighted on-going issues with older people’s mental health, which some respondents felt were long-lasting effects of the Covid-19 situation.

Loneliness is often an issue that comes up when the mental health challenges that older people face are discussed, and the survey confirms that it is still very much a live issue. Nearly half of the respondents to the survey said that they sometimes felt lonely, and 10 per cent said that they felt lonely either most or all of the time. Age Scotland supports 400 organisations and community groups with their vitally important work to prevent and tackle loneliness, but many of those groups are struggling to keep their doors open and keep the lights on. In recent years, at least 30 groups have been forced to close. Looking forward, it is important that those groups are supported to continue to provide support for individuals. They are a lifeline across communities, and I commend and congratulate all of them.

The First Minister was entering office when Age Scotland’s big survey was carried out, and respondents were asked about what priorities the Government should have. Unsurprisingly, social care and the national health service ranked highly among their priorities. Respondents suggested that the importance of reducing waiting lists and maintaining a seamless and joined-up approach in social care should be highlighted. Only 4 per cent of respondents thought that issues such as independence should be classed as priorities.

In looking at the findings, one of the biggest concerns is the fact that just 13 per cent of the older people who responded said that they felt valued for their contribution to society. That is even lower than the figure of 21 per cent that was recorded in the 2021 survey.

Along with the many other pieces of research carried out by Age Scotland, the big survey has provided an important spotlight on older people’s priorities, and on the challenges that they face in their communities. That is very important at a time when the views of older people are rarely given the attention that they deserve, and I thank Age Scotland for doing that work and giving those people a voice.

Today’s debate gives members the chance to reflect on the fantastic work that Age Scotland has done over the last 80 years, which has supported countless older people across communities. I know that in my region of Mid Scotland and Fife, numerous organisations and individuals have benefited from Age Scotland’s support, and other organisations and charities have supported individuals who are lonely. Kenneth Gibson talked about men’s sheds. I have visited fantastic men’s sheds in my region, where men come together to support one another, which provides a real benefit.

I know that Kenneth Gibson wishes the chief executive, Katherine Crawford, the best success going forward. I also do that, because it is vitally important that individuals in communities in our constituencies are supported, and that the voice of older people is truly heard.

The Deputy Presiding Officer

Thank you, Mr Stewart. What better way to celebrate a birthday than by taking part in a members’ business debate? Many happy returns.

I call Colin Smyth.

17:06  

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

Thank you for allowing me to speak early in the debate, Presiding Officer. I apologise to other members that the change of date means that I have to leave before the end of the debate, to attend another event. However, I was keen to add my congratulations and my thanks to Age Scotland on its 80th anniversary, and I am grateful to Kenneth Gibson for his motion allowing us the opportunity to do so.

We owe Age Scotland a huge debt of gratitude for the work that it does every day supporting older people in our constituencies. Whether it is its excellent advice lines, its support for older people’s community groups, of which there are more than 400 across Scotland, its equalities work, its research, its campaigns or its excellent about dementia initiative, the need for that work has never been more important.

We just have to listen to the heartbreaking evidence in the Covid inquiries about families who were not able to see their loved ones in their care home because we could not get our act together over testing, about social care packages that were removed at that time, about older people feeling under pressure to sign do-not-resuscitate agreements, about loneliness and the isolation that they felt during lockdown and, of course, about the devastating death toll among those in later life during the pandemic, especially in our care homes. I do not think that any of us can hold a hand on our heart and say that, during that dark period of Covid-19, the human rights of older people were being upheld.

Today, as we are all inundated with cases from constituents whose mainly older relatives are stuck in hospital because we do not value carers enough to pay them properly, we are still not meeting the needs of those older people.

There is a misconception that the current cost of living crisis is not hitting older people. However, the Scottish Government’s own figures show that almost one in six people of pension age in Scotland are living in poverty, and that number is on the rise. We are in danger of another pandemic—a poverty pandemic.

Too many of our older people also regularly face multiple forms of discrimination and are too often negatively stereotyped. We should be celebrating, as Kenny Gibson rightly said, the immense contribution that older people make to our communities. I had the privilege of attending the recent parliamentary reception hosted by Mr Gibson to celebrate 80 years of Age Scotland. I had the honour of presenting one of the annual awards—wonderful, hand-crafted wooden awards, I have to say, which were made by the men’s shed in Dalbeattie, in my South Scotland region—to Betty Glen as volunteer of the year. Betty’s award and the other awards are a small reminder of the big contribution that older people make in our communities, and we should celebrate that more.

Too often, older people are underappreciated, and the issues that they face are too often way down the political agenda. None of us will be surprised by Age Scotland’s big survey, which Kenny Gibson and Alexander Stewart mentioned, which shows that only 13 per cent of respondents felt that older people were valued—far less than the 21 per cent who felt valued just two years ago. All of us should be worried that just 3 per cent of older people felt that it was easy to have their voices heard by us decision makers.

That is why I hope that we do not just celebrate the work of Age Scotland but that all of us in Parliament listen to it a lot more. For example, it is calling, along with more than 20 other charities, for “older people” to be reinstated in the minister’s title. It also calls, along with more than 35 charities and organisations, for the appointment of a commissioner for older people to give those in later life an independent champion and a strong voice with statutory powers, just as they have in Wales and Northern Ireland, and just as children rightly have in all four nations. That would show real backing for Age Scotland’s work and for Scotland’s older people.

I know that Age Scotland is under new leadership with Katherine Crawford as the new chief executive. That is an excellent appointment; she brings a wealth of experience and skills in working with older people to the role of taking Age Scotland forward. I wish Katherine Crawford and all her team well, and I thank them on behalf of older people in my region for all their outstanding work. I encourage all members to back that work with our actions in Parliament.

17:20  

Rona Mackay (Strathkelvin and Bearsden) (SNP)

I had not expected to speak in the debate, but I am very happy to be Christine Grahame’s stand-in. I have not prepared anything, so it will be a short speech. It is the first time that I have heard Kenny Gibson admit that he is getting older, so that is quite something.

As Kenny says, there has never been a better time to grow old. Age Scotland is getting older—this is its 80th birthday. I add my thanks to those of Alexander Stewart and others for everything that it does for older people. It is easy not to value older people and the huge contribution that they make to our society.

The question of health is important. Physical health and, particularly, mental health are important, which is why organisations and charities such as men’s sheds are so important. I have visited several men’s sheds in my constituency. The wellbeing that they bring to the men who go there is fantastic. It keeps them mentally strong and gives them a reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Members mentioned volunteering. There is a thriving voluntary sector in my constituency. East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action has many initiatives, including a befriender initiative that matches up young people with older people. That has been hugely successful and does so much to combat loneliness, which helps everybody’s wellbeing.

However, as Colin Smyth and others have said, it is not all a bed of roses. Older people are struggling with the cost of living and to keep their homes warm. They must always be a priority and must be helped. I know that the Scottish Government takes all that on board, as much as it can, in order to keep people comfortable in their homes. Indeed, it is important to have homes.

I again thank Age Scotland for everything that it has done over the past eight decades. It would be too much to mention how many people it has comforted and supported. I wish it a happy birthday, and long may it continue.

17:23  

Beatrice Wishart (Shetland Islands) (LD)

I echo members’ congratulations and thanks for all the hard work of Age Scotland’s former and current staff over the past 80 years, and I thank Adam Stachura at Age Scotland for the briefing ahead of the debate.

Poverty can affect people at all stages of life. Fifteen per cent of pensioners live in relative poverty, and one in 10 live in persistent poverty. Across the country, there are fluctuating factors that raise the chance of living in poverty. We must do what we can to support those in later life to prevent slips into poverty and best support those who find themselves in that position, and we must do so with dignity and respect.

The pandemic highlighted the loneliness epidemic—more than 100,000 older people feel lonely all or most of the time. That is exacerbated by perceptions of crime and lack of transport that push people to stay at home. For some people, that means not speaking to another person for long stretches of time. We can help to address that by ensuring that reliable public transport takes people where they want and need to go when they want and need to.

Rural and island public transport services are in particular need of such attention, and it benefits all ages, but especially older people, to be able to reach public services and lead an active social life. Age Scotland supports more than 400 community groups across the country, and improvements in rural and island public transport would ensure greater opportunities to attend such groups.

We cannot forget that, as aspects of everyday life increasingly move online, almost one in five over-60s in Scotland do not use the internet. That is exacerbated in rural and island areas, where digital connectivity continues to be challenging in some places. We still need phone lines and in-person appointments to ensure that everyone is able to make medical appointments or pay their bills. Commitments to connect homes to high-speed broadband must be fulfilled to ensure that no one is left behind without communication. At the meeting earlier today of the cross-party group on poverty, of which I am a deputy convener, many of those issues, such as excessive heating costs, transport, isolation and stigma around poverty, were raised by participants.

Like Kenny Gibson, I will take this opportunity to talk about pension credit. Its take-up has been low historically, and it is estimated that 123,000 eligible households in Scotland are not claiming the payment. If a person has a low income—even if they have modest savings—pension credit can top up their income. Receiving pension credit can also entitle people to other financial support and assistance with other costs, including those relating to housing, energy and health. Age Scotland's helpline is on hand for anyone who is seeking further information about that.

Before I conclude, the final figures that I will raise today are that two thirds of over-50s say that they do not feel valued by society, and 56 per cent state that they feel that life is getting worse for older people. Those are both increases on previous responses. Older people make important contributions to society. Intergenerational connection is vital in communities and the workplace, and any narrative to the contrary needs to be reversed.

Age Scotland is not only a good resource for older people but a friend that is ready to provide support. From income maximisation to legal issues, the Age Scotland helpline and friendship line are available throughout the week. We should support its endeavours to provide opportunities for everyone to ensure that later life truly comprises the golden years.

17:27  

Pam Gosal (West Scotland) (Con)

I am delighted to support today’s motion, which was lodged by Kenneth Gibson, marking the 80th anniversary of Age Scotland’s work in supporting older people.

Our circle shrinks considerably from childhood to adulthood. That is the case for older people, in particular, as they witness lifetimes come to a close. Losing a friendship or a relationship that someone once thought would outlive them must be a lonely feeling.

Currently, more than 100,000 older people feel lonely all or most of the time in Scotland—that is equivalent to one person in every street. That isolation leaves our older people in a vulnerable position. All too often, with no one to look out for them, the elderly are targeted and exploited by frauds and criminals. That is why Age Scotland’s work is so important.

In 2020, Age Scotland introduced a friendship helpline, which has had an immense impact on users. One user said:

“It makes my day, makes my week. I’ve been very depressed and it’s nice to hear another voice. The family don’t phone and your friends do pass away. It can be lonely.”

I thank all the selfless volunteers who kindly donate their time to help older people to feel a little less lonely.

This year, I got to witness at first hand the way that Age Scotland advocates for local community groups. The Milan day centre approached me for help, as it is under review for closure. The centre provides a lifeline for ethnic minority older people where they can get together and meet people who speak the same language and share their culture. However, ethnic minority older people in Scotland continue to face barriers and discrimination in accessing the services and facilities that they need. When it comes to cuts, ethnic minority older people seem to be a target, as service providers know that they do not have a voice and that they are very small in number. It is incredibly disheartening that Scotland is, in many respects, failing our most vulnerable older people from ethnic minority communities. They have contributed so much to our social, economic and cultural fabric but, when they grow old and need looking after, they are often made to feel like an afterthought or, worse yet, disregarded.

The ethnic minority communities in East Dunbartonshire are lucky to have Age Scotland fighting in their corner to keep that service open. However, the onus should not lie with Age Scotland alone. The Scottish Government must bear in mind that a one-size-fits-all approach to service provision does not work and that fair funding for local authorities is needed to ensure that fit-for-purpose services are available.

I am honoured to have had the opportunity to reflect on Age Scotland’s important work on its 80th anniversary. By supporting Age Scotland and, better yet, supporting the expansion of service provision for older people, we can ensure that older people live comfortably, maintain their independence and receive the care that they need. They have made invaluable contributions to society throughout their lifetime, and it is important that society gives back.

As ethnic minority communities make up a growing share of our older people, it is important that service provision reflects that. I saw that at first hand in the Milan day-care centre in my region, and that is why I am acting as a voice for those communities today in the Scottish Parliament. I thank Age Scotland for standing up for ethnic minority communities and Scotland’s older people.

17:31  

Richard Leonard (Central Scotland) (Lab)

I thank Kenny Gibson for bringing this motion before us because, without question, it is right that the long-standing, outstanding work of Age Scotland is marked in Scotland’s Parliament.

For almost two decades, I organised the GMB union’s retired members section in Scotland. It was a huge privilege to work with and to learn so much from those giants of the Labour movement—people like Enoch Humphries, the former Fire Brigades Union and Scottish Trades Union Congress president, and Sammy Barr, a leader of the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in; Betty Warden, Aileen Burr, Dorothy Bain and Georgie Cardoo, all principled women who spent their entire lives campaigning for equality, peace and justice; and boilermakers Hugh Boyd and Tommy Douglas, who led the workers who built the Grangemouth oil refinery back in the late 1960s through a bitter strike in 1969.

From all of them, there was always a clear message that the treatment of our older citizens is a test of our values as a society. They all held to the unswerving principle that human dignity comes before private profit and that the basic state pension is a right, not a handout, because—make no mistake—pensioner poverty and pensioner inequality are not an accident of nature. They are a political choice.

Look at the state pension system—for all the talk in the past week of cuts to national insurance contributions, the national insurance upper earnings limit has been frozen once again. In simple terms, that means that the rich do not pay their way.

That very same elite group—the richest 10 per cent at the top—also scoop up 58 per cent of all tax relief on private pensions. They will now get their hands on even more, with the abolition of the cap on the lifetime allowance. What we are witnessing is a redistribution of wealth, but it is a redistribution of wealth that is going in precisely the wrong direction.

Just last week, Prospect the union reported that the gender pension gap between women and men stands at 37.9 per cent. That is nearly two and a half times greater than the gender pay gap. Of course, the pension gap is fuelled by the pay gap, but it is made worse because women are much more likely to have taken breaks in employment or to have worked part time to look after family and, so, forfeited their pension rights.

It is now compounded by the disproportionate exclusion of women from pension auto-enrolment. The requirement that someone has to earn a minimum of £10,000 a year in a single job role locks 3 million working women out of an occupational pension scheme. Let us not forget the Women Against State Pension Inequality—victims of the injustice of financial loss, of the robbery of the years of retirement that they thought that they had, and of the gross maladministration of those responsible.

As Age Scotland reminds us, more than a third of pensioners who qualify for pension credit fail to claim it, and we know that many of those who do not claim are the oldest pensioners. We know that the oldest pensioners happen to be the poorest pensioners, that they are less likely to have an occupational pension and that they are more likely to have additional outgoings, due to the poorer health that comes with age. We also know that, because they are more likely to be women, they are much less likely to receive the full basic state pension.

So, tonight, we pay testament to Age Scotland for its leadership in ensuring that our older citizens get the best deal out of the current pensions and welfare system, but our goal must be to work with it to fundamentally change the current pensions and welfare system. That is our responsibility—to lift today’s pensioners above the hardship of the present to see a vision of a better world. That is the very least that we can do to repay the debt that we owe them.

I call Emma Roddick to respond to the debate.

17:36  

The Minister for Equalities, Migration and Refugees (Emma Roddick)

I thank Kenny Gibson for bringing this important debate to the chamber. The motion is comprehensive and gets across just how much work is going on in Age Scotland, and I know that he places great importance on that work. Conversely, I am sorry to hear of Christine Grahame’s back pain, but I reassure her that she is certainly here in spirit and that I can still hear her previous lectures on the subject loud and clear.

As the minister with responsibility for older people’s equality, I have the pleasure of engaging frequently with Age Scotland. I know just how much work it does not only to support older people across Scotland but to communicate to Government how we can do better by them. It was a pleasure to meet Katherine Crawford for the first time just last week at the Age Scotland offices. As Colin Smyth mentioned, she is a fantastic and enthusiastic appointment, and I look forward to building a strong relationship with her in her new role.

Age Scotland is a committed member of the older people’s strategic action forum, which I have the privilege of chairing. Of course, Age Scotland contributes the information collected in its big survey, which I recently read. The findings tell us, unsurprisingly, that more and more older people are feeling financially squeezed. That is expected to worsen in the next year. The Scottish Government does not have control over pensions, but we support Age Scotland’s efforts in encouraging people to claim pension credit, which we know still goes unclaimed for far too many who may well be struggling with money.

We are incredibly concerned about the wider cost of living crisis and, specifically, how it impacts older people. Our strategic action framework, “A Fairer Scotland for Older People”, identifies ensuring financial security as a priority area. We support older people’s organisations and age-equality projects with more than £2.2 million from the equality and human rights fund. Our new £50 winter heating payment supported 400,000 low-income households last winter, including those in receipt of pension credit.

Age Scotland received £205,000 as part of our £971,000 emergency winter funding package for tackling social isolation and loneliness. I was glad to hear Mr Gibson mention our social isolation and loneliness fund. Over the past few months, I have been excited to meet many recipients of that fund, including the Beith Community Development Trust. I was almost as impressed with its cupcakes as I was with its helpline. It was wonderful to hear how, for people whom the trust has previously supported, the services meant so much that they are now contributing and volunteering, trying to return the support and friendliness that they received.

That echoes what I saw in Perth, Inverness, Inverkip, Fife and elsewhere. A little investment in the community sparks so much volunteering and has impacts far beyond the direct support services. Volunteers tell me that taking part in those groups gives them a reason to go outside. Befrienders often look forward to calls with their clients as much as their clients do. Those sound like natural connections, and for many people they are, but we know that others are excluded or face extra difficulties engaging with their communities without extra help.

The funding is being used in a massive variety of ways. It is paying for sports groups, gardening, transport—which, as Beatrice Wishart mentioned, is a particular concern in rural and island areas—and for groups that support people who struggle to mobilise independently. There are many wonderful examples of intergenerational working, which the member also mentioned as incredibly important. We know that older people make a large and positive contribution to communities and that there is great value in bringing generations together. I am yet to engage with a group that does intergenerational work where both the young and old people who were involved were not enthusiastically and genuinely emotional when telling me how brilliant the concept is and that it makes such a difference to their lives.

I know and have seen the difference that the funding has made. I look forward to continuing to learn and share best practice through our social isolation and loneliness action group, and to encouraging connections between groups that can share with each other what has worked well and what has not. The social isolation and loneliness action group is responsible for driving forward wider actions in our delivery plan to tackle social isolation and loneliness, which we have, importantly, recognised as a public health issue.

Data tells us that disabled people, young people, those on low incomes and people over 75 are the groups that are most at risk of social isolation and loneliness. The cost crisis is only making that worse and causing more isolation for people, as they are unable to use funds for transport. We recognise that, which is why we are focusing on specific actions that support older people. Earlier, we had a debate about the 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and I met Age Scotland’s ethnic minority older people forum just last week to discuss the particular barriers and difficulties that that group faces.

Older people are not a homogeneous group. They are diverse, experienced and highly valued members of society and culture. However, we know that age, along with gender, race, disability and other protected characteristics, can result in different and unequal experiences and access to services and that that can also result in discrimination. The Scottish Government is committed to tackling that, but we cannot do that without making use of crucial lived experience. Age Scotland is doing wonderful things in drawing attention to those issues and in giving people a voice to come to us and tell us what needs to change.

Pam Gosal

Does the minister believe that more has to be done with ethnic minorities and older people? Will the minister meet me about the Milan day centre in East Dunbartonshire, which is closing? Age Scotland is voicing the issue and is helping with the fact that the approach to delivering services needs to be tailored because of cultural backgrounds and language.

I will give you the time back for that, minister.

Emma Roddick

The member raises points that were echoed in the meeting last week, which will not be a surprise to her. I am more than happy to continue to discuss those matters. The issue of community groups closing can make marginalised groups feel that they do not have power or agency. We want people to be able to feel that and take action in their communities.

An important point that Age Scotland wanted to get across during the forum meeting last week was that the term “hard to reach”, which has been applied to ethnic minority older people, is a bit of a cop-out. We know where those people are and how to reach them. Certainly, they are at the Age Scotland forum regularly so, if any politicians need to hear exactly what people are going through and what issues are high on their agenda, that is the place to go.

I thank Kenny Gibson for championing the issue. As the minister with responsibility for older people, I will continue to welcome his scrutiny and support for measures that the Scottish Government is putting in place to support older people’s equality.

Meeting closed at 17:44.