This was the message from pensions minister Ian McCartney, who highlighted the valuable contribution of ethnic elders to the Better Government for Older People programme - a pioneering partnership between government and local older people.
Speaking to an Age Concern England Conference titled 'Ethnic Elders: Access, Equality', he said: 'My message to you is to keep on doing what you are doing. The Government is fully behind the pioneering work begun by the Better Government for Older People programme to give older people a greater say in designing services to meet their needs.'
Innovative work carried out in Better Government for Older People pilots included:
A Bury project where older people from the Elders Forum and the Jinnah Centre for Asian Elders worked together to carry out a valuable survey of older people's needs in the area.
A Time Swap volunteering initiative in Watford which led to the exchange of skills amongst older people.
Mr McCartney said: 'The BGOP pilots have taught us the importance of listening to older people and working in partnership and the benefits to be gained from sharing best practice.
'It is because of the hard work and dedication of older people involved in the BGOP projects that the department for work and pensions will continue to fund the BGOP network this year.
'Their achievements have spread beyond the 28 pilot areas and inspired other older people to seek a greater voice in local issues that affect them. Local people can be justly proud of what they have achieved so far.'
Mr McCartney said that the work of the Black and Minority Ethnic Elders sub-group formed by Partnerships Against Poverty, which includes organisations like Age Concern, would have an important impact on the new pension service being developed by the department for work and pensions.
The aim of Partnerships Against Poverty is to tackle poverty and social exclusion. A sub-group for black and minority ethnic elders was formed to research and address their needs.
Mr McCartney said: 'I am determined that we should do everything in our power to remove the barriers which, in particular, have prevented the poorest older people from ethnic minorities from getting all they are entitled to.'
Mr McCartney said his department had recently started working more closely with ethnic elders to encourage take up of the Minimum Income Guarantee, to benefit the poorest pensioners.
He said the development of Partnerships Against Poverty, which includes Age Concern, would also help inform the development of the new Pension Service.
1. The Better Government for Older People (BGOP) programme was launched by the cabinet office inJune 1998 as part of the government's modernising government initiative.
2. BGOP comprises a partnership between central and local government, the voluntary sector and the academic world. Partner organisations include Age Concern, Help The Aged and Carnegie Third Age Programme.
3. BGOP established a network of 28 local pilots across the UK in March 1999, to develop and test integrated inter-agency approaches and to examine innovative ways of delivering services for older people.