Headlines: November 3rd, 2005

Health and social services could help transform the lives of many older people by investing more generously in small-scale, local services which offer them ‘that little bit of help’. While growing sums of public money are being spent on intensive, high-dependency services, a Joseph Rowntree Foundation Inquiry report concludes that it is often simpler support – such as befriending and helping with cleaning, DIY, gardening or pet care – that older people value most.The Inquiry was set up a year ago by the Foundation in partnership with the charity Counsel and Care. It followed evidence that older people were finding it increasingly hard to obtain help with ordinary, day-to-day needs, even though it would make a real difference to their quality of life. Without appropriate low-level support, some older people were being left needlessly isolated and depressed in their own homes. The Inquiry’s report identifies a ‘Baker’s Dozen’ – 13 examples of existing support services that older people found especially valuable.

The successful pilots carried out across the country include a low-cost household repairs service, a gardening and home maintenance service, visiting older people who need help during the night, a foot-care service run by volunteers, helping older or terminally-ill people with pet care, providing transport to lunch clubs, outings and other activities and giving older people access to exercise and leisure activities.

The report notes the evidence that receipt of public sector home care services is increasingly concentrated among people whose support needs are high. Although the number of contact hours of home care provided has doubled in the past ten years, the number of older people with access to services has declined from almost 550,000 to 350,000.

Norma Raynes, Professor of Social Care at Salford University, who advised the Inquiry, said: “Thoughtful and innovative schemes, like the ‘Baker’s Dozen’, may be relatively simple, but they can make a real contribution to improving the quality of life for older people. By investing in these services now, central government, local authorities and health trusts could expect to save money later. They fully deserve to be treated as core activities, rather than optional ‘extras’ only deemed suitable for localised, short-term funding.”