Posted: Tue 9th Jul 2024

New commissioner vows to “uphold older people’s rights” in Wales

News and Info from Deeside, Flintshire, North Wales

The incoming older people’s commissioner for Wales vowed to uphold older people’s rights amid concerns about the watchdog’s independence.

Rhian Bowen-Davies, the Welsh Government’s preferred candidate to be the next older people’s commissioner, appeared before Senedd members for a pre-appointment hearing.

Ms Bowen-Davies recognised concerns that the watchdog for older people’s rights is funded by, and ultimately accountable to, the Welsh Government.

She said: “People are going to see that and think, ‘how can the commissioner be independent if the money is coming from the government?’”

But Ms Bowen-Davies stressed she would take an objective, evidence-led approach that is guided by the seven Nolan principles of public life.

She said: “The role is independent and my purpose is to safeguard and promote the rights of older people in Wales – and that’s what will drive every decision that I make.”

‘Discrimination’

Outlining her CV, she told the equality committee she has more than 20 years’ experience in the public and voluntary sectors, making her well placed for the £90,000-a-year role.

Ms Bowen-Davies was Wales’ first national adviser on domestic abuse in 2015 and, in recent years, chaired domestic homicide reviews with some cases involving older victims.

“In undertaking those reviews, I have started to understand what matters to older people in their day-to-day lives,” she said.

“And some of the challenges and issues they experience in terms of having their voices heard, in terms of being able to access services, the social isolation and loneliness that they experience – but also the discrimination and prejudice that they face.”

A fluent Welsh speaker and a former police officer, Ms Bowen-Davies described herself as an effective communicator who is resilient, determined, brave and bold.

‘Self-imposed ageism’

Ms Bowen-Davies stressed the need to promote awareness of rights, warning: “I don’t think our older population as a whole understand and are aware of the rights that they have.”

The would-be commissioner raised concerns about “self-imposed ageism”, saying people sometimes wrongly think their rights diminish as they get older.

She said an early priority would be older people who have additional protected characteristics such as a disability or those who identify as LGBT.

Ms Bowen-Davies warned that this intersectionality of needs can lead to multiple additional barriers in terms of accessing services or people having their voices heard.

In response to Conservative concerns about politically motivated appointments, Ms Bowen-Davies assured the committee she has no party political background

Asked if she has any conflicts of interests, she replied: “I don’t believe so, no.”

‘Rubber stamped’

Ministers received 12 applications, with six candidates interviewed by a panel including social justice secretary Lesley Griffiths and equality committee chair Jenny Rathbone.

Julie Morgan was elected temporary committee chair for the meeting on July 8 as her Labour colleague recused herself from the pre-appointment scrutiny session.

The first minister – rather than the Senedd as with some other public appointments – will now make the final decision on appointing the next older people’s commissioner.

In an information pack for candidates, the Welsh Government expected a new commissioner to take up post by August 2024 or soon after for a fixed seven-year term.

If rubber stamped as expected, Ms Bowen-Davies will replace Heléna Herklots who has been older people’s commissioner since 2018.

By Chris Haines, ICNN Senedd reporter

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