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Head of the National Audit Office, Sir John Bourn, reported today that the Government had made good progress in the development of policy for older people, but should build on this, in particular, by publishing an overall strategy to co-ordinate work across departments, and by ensuring better feedback to older people on how services are improving.

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Today’s report to Parliament points out that older people are major users of public services. But many find the divisions between service providers confusing, with those most in need often having to contact the largest number of agencies. The National Audit Office’s report examines whether, in line with the Government’s stated aims, the development of services relevant to older people is joined up, avoids duplication and takes account of older people’s characteristics and needs.

The National Audit Office found that the Government has developed a wide range of policy initiatives in recent years to address the needs of older people. It has taken a more strategic approach to policy-making on these issues by establishing a Cabinet Committee on Older People, appointing a Cabinet champion for older people, designating the Department for Work and Pensions to take the lead on older people’s issues, and establishing The Pension Service to provide a dedicated benefits service for pensioners. It has used a range of approaches to co-ordinating different parts of government to produce tangible results, including the Better Government for Older People initiative and the Performance and Innovation Unit’s report Winning the Generation Game. But, according to Sir John, in order to provide an overall framework for work across Government, the Department for Work and Pensions should publish an Older People’s strategy soon. This would help to make it clearer how the work of different departments in areas relevant to older people fit together.

The National Audit Office also found that the Government is developing a much better understanding of what older people believe, want or need. Through a range of innovative consultation methods, the Government has better informed policy-making and obtains regular feedback from groups of older people on policy proposals. But Sir John urged the Government to consider how it would fulfil its commitments to repeat the “Listening to Older People” programme, and to report more on progress on matters relating to older people.

He also suggested a more joined up approach across Government to consultation and research on older people’s issues is required. This would help to avoid duplication of effort, and minimise burdens placed on organisations such as charities, which are often asked to comment on proposals. A stronger emphasis also needs to be placed on providing timely and informative feedback in order to maintain the commitment and interest of third parties consulted.

Among the NAO’s other recommendations are that:

  • the Department of Health should clarify publicly the roles of older people’s champions in the NHS, and the Cabinet Office should consider the merits of requiring every Department to appoint an older people’s champion, along the lines of e-champions or consumer champions;
  • the Treasury should work with other Departments to identify synergies in future Public Service Agreement targets affecting older people, and to assign more of them jointly to relevant Departments where this would help to promote more effective service delivery;
  • sponsoring Departments of joined up programmes should ensure that funding issues are clarified from the outset to avoid distracting policy makers from progressing their projects; and
  • population ageing has long term implications, so strategic futures work should be encouraged to help inform policy making and ensure the future needs of older people are clearly understood.

"Older people are major users of public services and many of them find the divisions between service providers confusing. Often those most in need have to contact the largest number of agencies.

"The Government has been successful in finding new ways of developing services for older people that are joined up and avoid duplication. But there is scope to build on this. Improved co-ordination across government on older people’s issues could be addressed by the publication of an Older People strategy. At the same time, Government must ensure it continues to provide feedback to those it consults in order to maintain commitment and to avoid raising expectations that are later undermined".

Sir John Bourn


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