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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 September, 2004, 14:39 GMT 15:39 UK
Morgan becomes VIP Welsh OAP
Natalie Grice
BBC Wales News Online

A birthday cake to celebrate Mr Morgan's birthday
A cake to celebrate Mr Morgan's 65th birthday

The 65th birthday celebrations for First Minister Rhodri Morgan have been marred by over-zealous security guards at the Welsh assembly.

To mark the day that Morgan became a senior citizen, a local Cardiff newspaper had sent him a special cake.

Unfortunately, the assembly's security guards insisted on putting the cake through the scanner when it arrived at Cardiff Bay, and obliterated the birthday message written on top in red icing.

But a damaged cake is unlikely to trouble Morgan too much - he has far more pressing matters to deal with, because he has ultimate responsibility for much of the welfare of his fellow over-65s, not to mention the rest of the population.

And it is a responsibility Mr Morgan has made clear he has no intention of relinquishing for the foreseeable future.

But if he did, how would he find his administration has helped people at a similar stage of life?

One of the most tangible (and media-friendly) changes brought in by the Welsh Assembly Government is the introduction of free bus travel for all senior citizens.

Unlike most other people in Wales, Rhodri Morgan will not be forced into retirement after his birthday
Age Concern Cymru

Mr Morgan, as first minister, former MP and husband of a serving MP, is probably not short of a bob or two to run a car now or when he eventually retires.

But even if he has signed up for a free bus pass, living in a relatively remote part of the Vale of Glamorgan, he is perhaps unlikely to put public transport to the test on a daily basis as a preferred method of commuting to Cardiff Bay.

The stresses on a leader constantly in the public eye mean Mr Morgan needs to keep an eye on the shape he is in.

Speaking earlier this year, he declared himself to be in "full health" and was looking forward to the next round of assembly elections in 2007.

From later this year, he may be able to keep in condition in his local pool as the assembly government introduces a pilot scheme to offer free swimming to pensioners.

Four photos of Rhodri Morgan over the years
Rhodri Morgan as Cardiff West MP, fitness fanatic and First Minister

His mother is still going strong at the ripe old age of 98, and he has said there is a lot of longevity in his family.

But if he fell sick unexpectedly, and had to be cared for by the state, he would benefit from £100 towards nursing care introduced by the assembly in 2001.

Mr Morgan is not immediately going to join the ranks of older people who are taking an active role in helping their offspring with their children, although with six grandchildren of his own, he would not be short of opportunities.

National Grandparents' Day, celebrated just last week, however, wanted to make the point that many grandparents are still active in their field of employment.

It cited Welsh businessman Deryck Howell, 90, and 78-year-old fitness instructor Roy Anthony as two noteworthy examples.

In politics, it is far less unusual for a leader to go on working past normal retirement age.

Deryck Howell
Deryck Howell is cited as a positive example for older people

It was practically compulsory for former Soviet Union leaders and Chinese presidents to be pushing 70 and closer to home, Winston Churchill became a pensioner a year before taking charge of WWII-era Britain.

Age Concern Cymru spokesman Michael Phillips said they wished Mr Morgan a very happy birthday and said he was living proof people could "continue working and contributing to life beyond their 65th birthday".

But he added: "Of course, unlike most other people in Wales, Rhodri Morgan will not be forced into retirement after his birthday.

"So perhaps, as a grand birthday gesture, the First Minister should consider ending the practice of compulsory retiring Welsh civil servants at 65 years of age and allow people to continue working if they are able and willing."

Ana Palazón from Help the Aged said her organisation had welcomed the introduction of the assembly's 10-year strategy for older people.

"It marks the beginning of a fundamental change of attitudes towards the older population in Wales."

She added: "The assembly also recently consulted on its proposals to have a Commissioner for Older People in Wales - a very significant and welcome development for older people."

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