Food Train: Older people’s commissioner could help save lives

MSP behind Bill meets older people’s charity and its members to hear why more support is needed to champion rights – including access to food

A leading charity is backing an MSP’s move to create a commissioner for older people – and hopes it can help save lives.

South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has lodged a Bill in the Scottish Parliament which would create the role to champion and protect the rights of older citizens.

Food Train is urging MSPs to get behind the action – and for the public to highlight their support – as a consultation on the Proposed Commissioner for Older People (Scotland) continues.

Mr Smyth spoke with the charity and some of its members and volunteers about the challenges they face – and how he hopes a commissioner could help tackle them – when he visited its headquarters and community hub in Dumfries town centre.

Food Train supports more than 3,000 older people across Scotland, providing a range of services to help them eat well and live well in their homes. They include its acclaimed home shopping operation.

It is also a significant force in the drive for greater action to tackle malnutrition among older people, arguing that doing so would ease strain on under-pressure health and social care services.

Food Train Chief Executive Michelle Carruthers said: “A commissioner could ultimately help not just improve lives, but save them by ensuring the critical needs of older people are met – including their right to food.
“The needs of older people are far too often overlooked. Charities such as ours shout as loud as they can. But a commissioner would amplify the voices of older people in the heart of Government and hopefully create accountability and visible progress in tackling issues such as malnutrition and loneliness.
“The lack of a commissioner for older people is a wrong which needs to be put right.  We are pleased that MSPs are getting the chance to do exactly that and would be delighted to work alongside a new commissioner from day one.”

Children and young people have a standalone commissioner in Scotland, but there is no similar post for older people, which does exist in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Mr Smyth is campaigning to address the issue, the need for which was heartbreakingly highlighted by the often traumatic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the lives of older people forced to isolate in their own homes during lockdowns.

It was one that Food Train and its volunteers across the country were at the forefront of tackling, responding to record levels of need which peaked in the first 2020 lockdown at 84% higher than in the year previously.

Demand for its home shopping services have remained consistently high since at 40% above pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking after his visit to Food Train, Mr Smyth said: “It‘s fantastic to have the backing of such a well-respected charity for my proposal for an Older Person’s Commissioner. Every day, Food Train supports people in later life across Scotland through their fantastic work, so they understand the issues affecting older people and the benefits a Commissioner would bring to raising these issues.

“But it’s not just about standing up for the rights, services and care of older people. It’s about challenging the negative stereotypes of ageing and celebrating the immense positive contribution of those in later life.

“Many of the volunteers at Food Train are older people themselves and we need to highlight the role people in later life play in our communities, which would be an important part of the job for my proposed Commissioner.”

Mr Smyth added: “We have an Older People’s Commissioners in Wales and Northern Ireland doing a great job, and a big campaign for one in England. Why should older people in Scotland be any different?
“An Older People’s Commissioner would be the independent voice, championing the rights of older people that was missing during the pandemic, and I am delighted Food Train agree. I would urge others who back my plan to take part on my consultation on my website or by contacting my office.”

The need to ensure support for older people – and part that Food Train’s shopping service plays in meeting those – was highlighted as the future of its service in Glasgow was threatened earlier this year when the city council pulled its funding, a move which could have left hundreds of older people unable to get their shopping.

Operations were only thrown a lifeline following a local community campaign and a National Lottery grant.

Michelle Carruthers added: “We saw first-hand in Glasgow how easily older people risk being abandoned. Had an independent commissioner been in place, they would have helped us hold authorities to account.
“These issues are not going away. Funding is getting tighter. At the same time, Scotland’s population is ageing faster than in any other part of the UK.
“We have long called for greater investment in services which support older people to eat well, age well and live well. A commissioner could improve investment and accountability, as we have seen through the children and young people’s commissioner role.”

The Bill, which people are being urged to share their views on, proposes creating a commissioner to promote and safeguard the rights and interests of older people and to challenge discrimination.

Mr Smyth says this would be achieved by:

  • Promoting the provision of opportunities for, and the elimination of discrimination against, older people.
  • Encouraging best practice in the treatment of older people.
  • Keeping under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law affecting the interests of older people.
  • Undertaking investigations into how service providers take account of the rights, interests, and views of older people in the decisions they take and the work they do in relation to devolved matters.

A consultation on establishing the post of Older People’s Commissioner for Scotland is currently at the halfway point.


Head along to www.colinsmythmsp.com or call Colin Smyth’s office on 01387 279205 for details about how to take part in the consultation before the closing date on 12 September 12.


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