I spent Good Friday holding a bumper session of constituency advice surgeries in the Scottish Parliament. We plan these days well in advance, and in the midst of our attempt to be uber-organised and efficient, completely missed the fact it was going to be a public holiday.
My wonderful team gave up their holiday and did it anyway, clear in the knowledge that for some folk this might be their only chance to see one of their representatives.
Meeting people, listening to their concerns and trying to do your level best to help them with their predicament is easily my favourite thing about being a member of the Scottish Parliament and Friday was no exception. Along came the Edinburgh Sheltered Housing Liaison group – a very grand title for a group of residents determined to give voice to the city’s older population and their housing needs.
I’ve done a fair bit of campaigning recently on the state of the city’s housing stock, from the condition of our hostels to difficulties in getting home adaptations, right through to the proliferation of Airbnbs, but this group rightly wanted to know what I was doing for people in sheltered housing.
They are increasingly anxious about two key things, community and vulnerability. Residents in sheltered housing blocks have seen serious cutbacks recently to the number of wardens across the city. Whilst they were fulsome in their praise of the people doing those jobs, they know they are hugely overworked, often doing the jobs of two people.
They spend so much time getting the basics done there’s no time anymore for assisting residents with holding community events which build up a sense of community. One resident told me that his facility has a fabulous community room, but they’re not allowed to use it after 5pm when staff go home. There’s a feeling that just because they’re older that any sense of fun should stop, that they should be tucked up in bed before Reporting Scotland. That’s no way to live.
Many sheltered housing residents live very rich and active lives, lives that involved marching down to Parliament on Friday to demand action from their MSP. Quite right too! However, others do need a bit more help and support and that’s where serious concerns about the vulnerability of some residents come to the fore.
These activists have been doing their own research into Edinburgh’s Community Alarm and Telecare Service, even putting in FOIs to the council to demand answers. They showed me their results on Friday.
In the month of January alone, more than 8,200 calls were made by residents to the Telecare hotline between 7pm and 7am seeking help. That seems like an awful lot of anxious people, roughly 260 a night. What’s more than of all those calls, just seven per cent led to a callout, someone jumping in a car and travelling to that person’s house to check they’re OK. The residents fear many are not. Fears which have been evidenced by their door-to-door survey work.
We’ve spent a lot of time recently commending the activism of the school age generation on issues like climate change, and rightly so.
However, this group of people made me wonder if we’re doing nearly enough to listen to and respect the demands of our elders, folk left to feel dismissed because of their growing years.