As we age, we all hope to live full and active lives: in reality this is not the case for everyone.
For many, long term conditions, a reduced income, or caring responsibilities can impact their later life. At the charity Independent Age our mission is to make the world a better place to grow old in. For people like Eve, who told us she couldn’t buy fruit because her pension income was so low, or Margaret, who shared the realities of caring for her husband at home for 12 years.
We want the voices of Margaret, Eve and people like them from across the country to be heard by the decision makers during this election. Now is the perfect opportunity to ensure older people and their families are represented in the debate.
Independent Age believes it’s essential that the next Government improves the systems that affect people as they age and makes them fit for purpose.
We have three goals:
- Ensure our social care system is well funded and personal care is provided free at the point of use like the NHS.
- Ensure all pensioners have enough money to live on.
- Ensure that no one is discriminated against, in any environment, because of their age.
The higher you build your barriers
It’s easy to assume that every campaigner is online and it’s fair to say that many people who engage with our issues are extremely tech savvy. At the same time there are many who aren’t. Some of our campaigners share with us how their worsening eye sight makes it harder for them to engage digitally, while others have told us that they don’t have the money to invest in up to date technology or Wi-Fi.
It’s important for us as an organisation to ensure we are empowering our fantastic campaigners whether they are online or offline. To do this, we’ve taken a multi-pronged approach.
Over the years, our campaigns team has built fantastic relationships with local older peoples groups and pensioner forums across the country. These relationships are key when it comes to getting the attention of politicians in Westminster, or influencing local systems and decision makers. This election, we’ve supported these powerful advocates by creating a guide on how to organise and run a local hustings including a to-do list which can be ticked off in the run up. We sent this to 150 local groups across the country and many have started getting in touch sharing their plans to host an event and quiz their candidates. We want to be sure local older people are leading in influencing change across the country. You can get your husting pack here.
Make your voice heard
For those who aren’t part of a forum, we created a lobby pack for individuals to question their local candidates; whether on the doorstep or by attending a local event. The pack includes key information about what to expect from canvassing and hustings events, statistics about both of our national campaigns, alongside suggested questions.
We shared a digital version of this pack with our 24,000 online campaigners, and sent a paper-based copy to 15,000 supporters who prefer post.
Leave them hanging
We also created door hangers, like you’d get in a hotel, which list key questions on each side that we are hoping campaigners will ask canvassers if they knock on their door. These have proved really popular and lots of our online network have been asking for them in paper based form.
You have e-mail
We’re aware that not everyone will have the opportunity to question a candidate in person during this election – particularly those in safe seats. To ensure more people feel they can get involved we are also running an online e-action which will automatically find out someone’s candidates when they enter their postcode. We’ve drafted a letter which our campaigners can then edit with their own experiences and the system will then send that letter out to all of their candidates. This way we are enabling more and more people to participate in the process, including those who are time poor, less mobile and those in safer seats. It is important to us that we break down barriers preventing older peoples from being able to have their voice and concerns heard.
Putting pen to paper
At Independent Age we have nearly 100 people who have taken on an official voluntary Campaign Correspondent role. These are often people who are not online, but who want to take action to help our campaigns. To support General Election activity we’ve created a briefing supporting our correspondents to hand write letters to their local candidates about our key campaign issues and to seek their views. We provided refresher information on our two national campaigns, gave tips on drafting a letter, and sent them a list of their candidates’ postal addresses.
What’s the point of all this activity?
We want to raise our campaign calls up the agenda during this election, and make candidates from all political parties aware of the biggest challenges facing people as they grow older.
This is also about the long game. Everyone has been asked to feedback through an online or paper-based survey, to let us know what information they have gathered about their candidates.
Beyond the election any information our volunteers provide about their candidates, when we have a newly elected Parliament, can be used to build relationships with the MPs who are willing to champion the issues people face as they grow older.
5 top tips for influencing at times of an election
- Don’t make assumptions. Older people are not one homogeneous group. They all have different levels of experience and confidence when it comes to election activity. To tackle this, we’ve created a range of resources that are accessible for those who may have never spoken to a political candidate, as well as useful tips and tricks for seasoned campaigners.
Stick to the issues. When supporters are on a journey with you, they become more powerful advocates. An election is not the time to suddenly introduce a new issue and expect them to campaign on it.
Make it personal: It’s likely that our campaigners will have issues that matter to them personally, which we as an organisation don’t currently campaign on. With that in mind, our resources give people the tools and information to ask questions on their own issues, as well as our national campaigns.
Communicate accessibly. It’s vital to think of ways to include people who are both online and offline. By doing this, candidates will be contacted in a range of ways, and the issues you care about are more likely to move higher up their agenda.
Facilitate feedback. It can be tricky securing feedback and in this case our organisation not only wants to hear whether the resources were useful, but also to be given information about the candidate’s views and opinions. To facilitate this, we’ve given multiple feedback routes– including email, an online survey, and a paper based form that can be posted back to us.
If you care about issues that affect people as they age, please join the Independent Age campaign network and help us make positive change happen.
This post was written by Morgan Vine, Campaigns Manager at Independent Age. Across her career, Morgan has campaigned to improve policy and legislation on health and social care, employment, benefits and accessibility. She has worked for organisations including Age UK, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK, Which? and Versus Arthritis. She is an active member of several coalitions and has Chaired the Continuing Healthcare Alliance and the Prescription Charges Coalition. Morgan is also currently a Trustee for Age UK Bromley and Greenwich.