Better than we have ever known

I took part in a panel at a NESTA event yesterday, for finalists in two of their Innovation in Giving prizes, one for innovation in tackling the challenges facing older people and the other for innovation in tackling waste in the food industry.

As usual in a room full of entrepreneurs, I felt inadequate to give advice. I’ve huge respect for anyone who is willing to take an idea and base their lives – and livelihood – around making it happen. I’m envious of their confidence and of the rewards which can come when you are willing to take that kind of risk and cope with living with doubt and uncertainty whilst you are on that journey. The Cabinet Office Minister Nick Hurd was also on the panel, having launched a new programme for social action with NESTA last week.

I spoke on innovation in ageing and suggested that innovation is needed to fix three problems:

  • the formal care systems being cut to the bone and cannot in any case fix isolation, loneliness and exclusion
  • informal care is becoming less sustainable, with people who support each other under increasing pressure
  • the relationship between these two systems is dysfunctional.

So the innovations needed to fix our broken care system may also involve fixing something broken in our communities. I argued that  whilst we hear much about the need to integrate different kinds of service, we must go further, integrating and aligning service responses with the contributions people with long term conditions want to make themselves and with the informal, unpaid caring provided by their families, friends and communities.

Innovation in ageing was also the subject of a major NESTA report launched yesterday, called Five Hours a Day, in reference to the fact that life expectancy is increasing at a rate of five hours a day. This is often seen a massive problem, but the NESTA report shows how it can also be a massive strength and source of innovation. Shared Lives and Homeshare feature in the report, as does the work of our colleagues at Tyze (www.tyze.org) who we are supporting to bring Tyze Personal Networks to the UK.

The NESTA report highlights five aspects of systemic change:

  • Social places: mobilising vibrant, socially–engaged neighbourhoods.
  • People powered health: bringing the social into the medical.
  • Purposeful work: new employment models for the second half of life.
  • Plan for life: creating a sense of opportunity about the second half of life.
  • Living room: enabling older people to live where they want with friendships and support.

The report is full of examples of what’s already happening around the world to make those changes. Its message is very well summed up by this great quote from Psychologist, Dr. Laura Carstensen:

“Societies with millions of talented, emotionally stable (older) citizens who are healthier and better educated than any generations before them, armed with knowledge of the practical matters of life, and motivated to solve the big issues; can be better societies than we have ever known.”

The report is here: http://www.nesta.org.uk/home1/assets/features/five_hours_a_day

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