Page last updated at 12:51 GMT, Sunday, 9 November 2008

Bakewell to champion the elderly

Joan Bakewell said she was free to criticise the government in her new role championing the elderly

Broadcaster and writer Dame Joan Bakewell has been appointed a champion of the elderly by the government.

Minister for Women Harriet Harman said the 75-year-old had agreed to be a Voice of Older People.

Dame Joan, dubbed "the thinking man's crumpet" by comedian Frank Muir, will act as an "independent and informed advocate" on older people's issues.

Welcoming the opportunity, she said: "We are increasing in numbers and need to be heard."

Her role will include raising the profile of age equality issues and encouraging public debate around age discrimination laws.

The journalist, who rose to prominence in the 1960s through BBC Two's Late Night Line-Up, will be invited to give her views on key policy developments and to speak at government events.

Elderly rights

Dame Joan said she looked forward to "being one of many voices making it widely known what it means to be old".

Joan is a champion in the fight against discrimination against older people and a role model for active and positive senior citizens
Harriet Harman

She said: "With more and more of us expecting to live longer, there are issues that concern every individual: how will I provide for myself; how shall I afford such necessities as heating, lighting and insurance; what will my pension rights be; how much help can I expect from the state?

"We all - not just the over 50s - need to confront such concerns now so that we move to a reassuring future where people can look forward to enjoying their old age in peace."

Dame Joan has presented a wide range of programmes, including Granada's consumer affairs show Reports Action and BBC's Heart of The Matter.

Joan Bakewell
Bakewell was one of the first women to break into TV journalism

She regularly comments on age issues in her column in the Times and has written numerous books, including The View from Here: Life at Seventy.

In June, Ms Harman set out details of the Equality Bill, which will replace the 116 different pieces of equality legislation in force.

The new bill is aimed at tackling "harmful" age discrimination, such as access to insurance, and does not affect benefits for older people, such as free bus travel.

Ms Harman said she was delighted with Dame Joan's appointment.

"Joan is a champion in the fight against discrimination against older people and a role model for active and positive senior citizens," she added.

Dame Joan's role will be unpaid although expenses will be covered.

'Formidable skills'

Pensions Minister Rosie Winterton said: "With one-in-four children born today likely to live beyond 100, the changing face of our country has far-reaching consequences for us all.

Joan Bakewell offers a formidable set of skills, proven commitment and real passion
Gordon Lishman, Age Concern

"As we celebrate the fact we are living longer, we also need to rise to the challenges of an ageing society and I am delighted Dame Joan will play an important role in this work."

Age Concern director general Gordon Lishman said the government had made an "excellent choice" in Dame Joan.

"With attitudes and institutions struggling to keep up with the implications of our ageing population, the creation of a Voice for Older people is very welcome," he said.

"Joan Bakewell offers a formidable set of skills, proven commitment and real passion."

Paul Cann, director of policy at Help the Aged, said Dame Joan was "in touch with the issues of older people".

"Joan Bakewell played a fundamental role in breaking down gender barriers in the past - we hope that in this new role, she can help break down the barriers to equality so many older people face," he said.

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