I was asked by NESTA to put together two minutes on fixing the care system for older people. Two minutes looks about blog length to me, so here it is:
Our current care system is based upon families providing care for as long as possible and then handing over to services when they can no longer cope.
But families are increasingly scattered and working long hours. Care services are ever more expensive and scarce. Isolation and loneliness are increasing and are problems which services cannot fix.
So what are the innovations needed to fix our broken care system?
We hear much about the need to integrate different kinds of service. But we must go further, integrating all service responses with the informal, unpaid caring provided by families, friends and communities.
We must do that not only because it is the only affordable way of meeting people’s care and support needs with dignity, but also because helping older people to maintain their relationships and form new ones is just as vital to health and well being.
Real relationships, unlike service transactions, are reciprocal. So to tackle isolation and loneliness effectively, we must reject the assumption that older people who need support have nothing to contribute. Instead, we must build into every service and intervention the assumption that, not only can older people contribute to and in many cases manage their own well-being, but also that they have something of value to contribute to those around them. This applies not only to early, preventative services but also to interventions for people with high levels of need. Examples include:
- support and training for family carers who should be treated as expert partners in care
- Shared Lives, in which registered Shared Lives carers share their family and community life with an older person, who may visit the Shared Lives carer rather than visiting a day centre
- Support to develop micro-enterprises, for instance, Harry and George who used to work as joiners now teach woodworking skills to other older men, in an enterprise which provides companionship to its members and makes and sells rocking horses
- Homeshare, in which isolated older people with a spare room are matched with younger people who lack affordable accommodation
- Tyze.org, which uses social networking technology to oil the wheels of small, real-world networks of support, which can include paid staff alongside family and friends
Some of these innovations are very new. Some mix new technology with age old thinking. They are all part of moving services out of expensive and isolating buildings and into more inclusive communities. And all seek to meet people’s needs partly by recognising that we all need to feel needed.