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Enjoy old age, says Tony Benn

PUBLISHED: 08:00 08 September 2010 | UPDATED: 09:17 16 September 2010

Victoria Leggett

Veteran Labour left-winger Tony Benn yesterday urged Norfolk's old people to try to enjoy their twilight years despite a warning of tough times ahead.

The former cabinet minister was guest speaker at Age UK Norfolk's annual general meeting in Mattishall, near Dereham.

Veteran Labour left-winger Tony Benn yesterday urged Norfolk's old people to try to enjoy their twilight years despite a warning of tough times ahead.

The former cabinet minister was guest speaker at Age UK Norfolk's annual general meeting in Mattishall, near Dereham.

At 85 and a grandfather of 10, he admitted he experienced many of the draw-backs of ageing including a faltering memory, failing hearing and having a pace-maker fitted.

But, as he gave a jovial speech to the charity's members and supporters, he said he had made the most of his journey towards older age, learning much along the route, first from his parents, his late wife and now his children and grandchildren.

He told the meeting: “I'm a great believer in enjoying everything to the full. I'm enjoying my old age to a great extent. It's very enjoyable to feel I've almost completed the race.

“Don't be afraid of being old.”

Speaking after his address, he said people were not “fated to be in a gloom” and should try to look at the world in a more positive light.

But he agreed older people were in need of more support and said it would take a “big leap of imagination” for the government and voluntary sector to fulfil that need.

Mr Benn, who plans to vote for Ed Miliband, who he gave work experience when he was 16, in the Labour leadership contest, said: “Just as we have a National Health Service, we should have a national service for older people so all their needs are met.”

His comments came as the chairman of Age UK Norfolk - formerly Age Concern Norfolk - said government plans and cuts by the county council would impact heavily on the area's large older population.

Alan MacKim, who was re-elected as chairman during the meeting along with president Emily Millington-Smith, said: “It won't be a surprise to any of you to hear me say that the future offers the prospect of somewhat turbulent times in the course of which older people have already been the first to feel the draft.”

The chairman said low interest rates were already impacting on the elderly population and the future would continue to look “increasingly bleak”.

But the charity insisted it would not stand around “waiting for the axe to fall”. Mr MacKim said: “This might be the time when we have to raise our voice and argue our case a little more sternly.” The meeting heard that work was already going on to find more independent financial support while chief executive Hilary MacDonald spoke of improvements being made to the services the charity offered.

They include two new services for older people living at home while funding has been secured for a new advocacy service and bereavement advice.

The last year saw Age UK Norfolk's benefit advisers make 839 home visits, help 533 people review their benefits and enable older people to claim an extra £1.4m in attendance benefits and disability living allowance.

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