The three main party leaders have moved to win back potentially alienated “silver voters” by appearing together for the first time in the election build-up in Saga Magazine (today, Tuesday 16th) to state their commitment to tackle the wants and needs of the over-50s.
After a long weekend of rows over the collapsed cross-party talks on funding social care, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Tory leader David Cameron and Lib-Dem Nick Clegg set out their stall to the magazine’s readers, which number a significant two million of the demographic most likely to cast a vote.
The leaders were responding to The Saga Generation Manifesto: six demands for a fairer society for the over-50s. The Manifesto points – which included sorting out the care system – were gleaned from the concerns of thousands of older people responding to Saga’s unique over-50s Populus poll.
“The fact all three leaders have dropped everything to respond to Saga Magazine readers is significant -because the older vote has suddenly been recognised by previously youth-obsessed politicians as having vast influence,” said Paul Green, head of communications for Saga.
“According to our survey and others, around 70% of over-50s will vote in the General Election. Over-55s are three times more likely to vote than under-25s.”
The company is resolute in not endorsing any political party, preferring to leave that choice to their “readership of grown-ups” - who will also be given the chance to grill each leader in an upcoming Saga ‘webchat’.
But while the magazine is even-handed in its praise and brickbats, it analyses the leaders’ articles and points out:
- Nick Clegg has some good and interesting ideas, promising a “flexible decade of retirement” and allowing those over 65 to work part-time while drawing some or all of their pension. He also stated that as older people are the biggest users of the National Health Service, they should have a direct role in scrutinising the care provided by handing power to older people through directly elected local boards – to which health and social care services would be accountable. He says the LibDems want to see “thousands more police” on the streets. But the magazine points out that on present poll evidence, he has little chance of becoming Prime Minister so can afford to be bold with his ideas.
- David Cameron has communicated well with the readers and promised much: keeping many benefits such as the Disability Living Allowance and Attendance Allowance, rights to respite for carers, increased funds for dementia research, and reiterated his Home Protection Scheme. This is his plan for a one-off £8,000 payment at the age of 65 that would pay for residential care fees for life. He also states his wish to change attitudes towards senior citrizens“to stamp out the culture of incivility which makes life hell for many older people”. The magazine points out that though that might be a laudable aim, he has not spelled out how this could be achieved.
- Gordon Brown says that “government needs to change the way it supports older people” and promises to “bring forward plans for the National Care Service” - though he is not specific about dates. He also promises “radical reform” of the pensions system – something many experts have called for and a major plank of the Saga Manifesto.
The magazine points out, however, that readers are likely to want to know why his proposals have not been introduced in the 13 years Labour has been in power.
All three leaders pledge to restore the link between pensions and earnings.
Magazine editor Katy Bravery said: “Clearly the three leaders are very keen to reach the part of the electorate most likely to vote. But it’s what they don’t say that is interesting. All three make pertinent points, but for me – and I would guess most of our readers - the question is, ‘how are you going to pay for all these promises?’ Each leader has agreed to face the Saga Generation and answer their questions with either a live webchat or meeting: so there will be an opportunity to flesh out their promises with proven costing and timings."
Paul Green said: "The Saga Generation takes its electoral duty seriously, and so the party leaders still have all to play for. By engaging in a mature, grown-up discussion with the older demographic we may yet see some sound policies that really improve the lives of older people. We are very happy to provide a platform for them.”
The Saga Manifesto demands fairer finances, the effective abolition of ageism, an age balance in Parliament, more support for carers, “intelligent” retirement processes and better, safer streets. The manifesto was put to the three leaders in January; they respond to it in the March edition of Saga magazine (published Feb. 16). www.saga.co.uk/election