When I chaired the Scottish Older People’s Assembly, I was shocked to learn that for many their greatest concern wasn’t money or loneliness but a fear of falling and not being able to get up again.
What’s more, recent figures have shown that those fears are well warranted, with the number of falls resulting in hospitalisations increasing dramatically in recent years. In 2018 there were 22,468 emergency admissions to hospital for a fall by those aged 65 and over. That’s a tremendously sad figure and it is essential that it is swiftly addressed.
Since I was first elected to Parliament, I have called for a national falls strategy to reduce falling among older people and other vulnerable groups. Working with opposition parties, three motions have been passed by Parliament in my name to this end.
Finally this week the Scottish Government have agreed to bring forward such a strategy. It is my hope that through this strategy we can deliver a new design for life for those at risk.
We have seen that simple measures can do wonders to improve older people’s confidence and encourage them to be out in the community more, especially in the winter. This should include considering how street architecture is designed to meet the needs of those at risk of falling, as well as things like gritting paths and providing extra railings so that everyone can be confident in getting about.
Age Scotland has also been campaigning for a change in policy in this area. Its head of policy, Adam Stachura, said: “We hear from older people who are terrified of having a fall and not being able to access help, especially if they live alone. It’s essential that they know what to do, can get help swiftly, and are assisted to regain their mobility.”
Making sure that our streets are accessible to all has enormous benefits for both physical and mental health. Now that the Scottish Government has agreed to move forward with the strategy, what we need to see is ministers stepping up and working with those at risk of falls to make speedy progress.
We all need to listen to our young people
A few weeks ago, I was inspired by a youth group session organised by YouthTalk which I joined in Corstorphine. The service has been under way in West Edinburgh since autumn last year, engaging with over 1200 young people to support their involvement in improving local services and communities. This chance to talk to local young people about the issues that matter to them was incredibly thought-provoking.
For a change, it wasn’t me talking about what I felt needed to change. Instead it was a chance to listen intently and try to get a better understanding of what really matters to them. The group spoke at length about the need to better protect our environment, maintain local parks and greenspaces and maintain sports facilities and activities. They all showed a real understanding of the challenges faced by these services and provided innovative suggestions for how we can achieve real progress for our communities.
The young people I meet in the west of Edinburgh have boundless potential to shake up how we do things in Scotland and sessions like this one provide a chance to show young people that they are as much part of our communities as adults, as well as acting as a launch pad for some real changes.
The group reaffirmed my commitment to lowering the voting and candidacy age so more young people who have ideas and want to make a difference are encouraged to get involved. Young people are enthusiastic about shaping the best possible future for Scotland, and it’s about time every political party started listening to them.