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Computer lesson at WRVS Hanley Centre

Find out about the people behind Royal Voluntary Service in our series of guest stories from our volunteers, staff and partners.

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Volunteering at Christmas

It’s easy to get caught up in the commercial side of Christmas, with the shops piled high with gifts and presents and the TV constantly bombarding us with adverts for the latest perfumes and electrical gadgets. But it’s worth remembering that all some people want for Christmas is a little care and attention.

Volunteering at ChristmasThe best gift you can give this year is your own time and effort to help out a good cause in your local area. You don’t need any special skills or experience, and it won’t cost you anything, but the rewards it gives are priceless.

Volunteers are the lifeblood of many charity organisations, and without them many simply wouldn’t be able to deliver the services that are so vital in your local community. No amount of money can replace a willing pair of hands when it comes to the sharp end of charity services, and volunteers can make a real difference.

You don’t have to make a huge commitment, most organisations, such as WRVS will welcome any time that you can spare to help. Just a couple of hours per week can really change the lives of older people in your community.

A couple of hours delivering Meals on Wheels, for example, not only ensures that the elderly and infirm get a hot, healthy meal once a day, but also gives them a welcome visitor to check on their well-being and stop for a chat. Support at home is another great way to help people to live independently, while making sure that they get all the services and support that they need.

So this Christmas, give something that really counts, give a little of your time to your local community by volunteering.

Posted by WRVS at 00:00 Wednesday, 21 December 2011.

Labels: Volunteering at Christmas

Westminster Eye: An insight into the week of politics 5 - 9 December

The beginning of the week began with oral questions to the Communities and Local Government Ministers. Margot James MP asked what discussions they had held with the Secretary of State for Health on funding for adult social care. In responding the Communities and Local Government Minister Bob Neill said that the Secretary of State had held a number of discussions with the Secretary of State for Health. In recognition of the need to reform the system the Government has said that we will bring together proposals in a White Paper in the spring. An extra £7.2 billion was being provided over the next four years to protect access to services that support vulnerable people.

In her supplementary question Margot James said that the recent report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission exposed the poor quality of care of some home care providers. She had received complaints from constituents that reinforce the report's findings. Funding has been a problem for a long time and would the Minister discuss further with the Secretary of State for Health the diversion of more money from health to social care, on top of the £648 million already announced?

In his reply Bob Neill said that it is appropriate that Government consider the matter in the context of the White Paper that is to come out in April. The report is valuable, and the Government as a whole will want to consider its recommendations carefully. He pointed to the £648 million in this year that will be followed by another £622 million in the next. That £1 billion coming from the Department of Health is matched by £1 billion coming from the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Helen Jones MP asked why the Minister did not admit that the Secretary of State's ambition to be the biggest axe man in Whitehall has been achieved on the backs of elderly and vulnerable people. She said that 70% of councils had to cut social care, leaving old people to make difficult choices. The cost in wasted lives was high, and the cost to the NHS through more delayed discharges and more emergency admissions will run into millions of pounds. She asked why the Government did not now admit that the Government's policy is not only uncaring and out of touch but economic madness.

Robert Neill said that Ms Jones had failed to recognise the fact that the Government have assisted local councils in the greatest need by increasing the weighting given within the settlement to the needs allowance and by introducing a transition grant to assist those that are most dependent on public money. She had failed to recognise that the Government is trying to rectify the economic mess that left by the previous administration. She had also failed to recognise the observation of the head of the No10 policy unit when she was in government that the "long-term funding of social care was the largest piece of unfinished social reform under Labour."

Jim Cunningham MP received an answer to his question posed the previous week on how much the Department of Health has spent on research on the (a) causes and (b) treatment of dementia since 2010. Social Care Minister Paul Burstow reported that Dementia is a research priority for the Government. Through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and the Policy Research Programme, the Department funds a wide range of research on dementia including research on causes, diagnosis, treatment, and organisation and delivery of health and social care services. The Department's expenditure on dementia research increased from £12.7 million in 2009-10 to £18.6 million in 2010-11.

The NIHR has issued a themed call on dementia. This call extends across the translational pathway, covering the fields of cause, cure and care, including prevention. In addition, four new NIHR biomedical research units in dementia will receive a total of £18 million over five years from April 2012.

Several MPs asked the Communities Minister what assessment had been made of the effect on the third sector of reductions in funding for local authorities. Ministers responded by saying that they are working closely with the third sector to assess capacity and provide support, for example through the Transition Fund and Big Society Capital and we are looking together at opportunities for the Voluntary and Community Sector from increased local authority commissioning. Andrew Stunell MP agreed that local spending decisions are a matter for local councils but there was no excuse to target the voluntary sector disproportionately.

Jim Cunningham MP received a reply to his question on what steps the Government is taking to ensure house building schemes take into account the needs of older people.

Minister Bob Neill said that Part M (access to and use of buildings) of the building regulations already includes a number of provisions including level thresholds, downstairs toilets and accessible switches and sockets that help to make all new homes more accessible and age friendly. In addition, the Housing Strategy published on 21 November sets out Government's view that new housing developments need to make further suitable provision for the ageing population by ensuring a mix of property types, including Lifetime Homes, which help to provide the diversity and choice needed to support longer term independent living. Future needs will vary considerably at a local level and the Government believe that decisions on the number of Lifetime Homes within each development should be made at a local level, in proportion to local need and aligned with other local housing support and information services. They are exploring how research undertaken by DCLG can be used to support local authorities in developing proportionate and effective policy at a local level.

The draft national planning policy framework asks local councils to plan for a mix of housing based on current and future demographic trends and the needs of different groups in the community, including older and disabled people. The draft framework makes clear that councils should have a robust understanding of housing requirements in their area, and that they should produce local plans, in consultation with people in the local area.

Helen Jones MP followed up her recent question with two more relating to communications between the Departments of Health and Communities and Local Government. She asked what recent discussions had been held with Ministers in the Department of Health and Communities on the possible extra costs for the NHS of local authorities introducing changes to the criteria governing eligibility for social care. Her other question asked what estimate had been made of the possible extra costs which will be incurred by the NHS as a result of local authorities introducing changes to the criteria for eligibility for social care.

Paul Burstow responded by saying that in the spending review, Government recognised the pressures on the adult social care system within a challenging settlement for local government, and took the decision to prioritise adult social care by allocating an additional £7.2 billion to the system over the four years to 2014-15 to support local authorities in delivering social care. When combined with a rigorous local authority focus on efficiency, this additional £7.2 billion means that there is funding available to protect people's access to care and deliver new approaches to improve quality and outcomes.

Jim Cunningham MP asked the Secretary of State for Health what steps he is taking to ensure consistent levels of provision of social care support across the country.

Paul Burstow replied that local authorities are responsible for providing or arranging care services for their populations. Their funds are derived from local taxation and funding from central Government. The great majority of this funding is provided without condition. It is for local authorities to decide how best to manage their resources, according to local priorities.

In the spending review, the Government recognised the pressures on the adult social care system within a challenging settlement for local government. It took the decision to prioritise adult social care by allocating an additional £7.2 billion to local authorities over the four years to 2014-15 to support them in meeting their social care commitments. When combined with a rigorous local focus on efficiency, this additional money will mean that there is funding available to protect people's access to care and deliver new approaches to improve quality and outcomes.

6 December
The Health Select Committee interviewed Andrew Dilnot, Lord Warner and Dame Jo Williams as part of its inquiry into social care. Dilnot himself said that not enough was currently being spent on social care, something that was of extreme importance to the nation. He added that it was absolutely vital to look at the funding for social care for those that were most in need. He said there was no doubt that not all of this funding had made its way through. He said local authorities were over spending on care, it was not the case that social care was an unpopular thing. He said the commission argued strongly that local and central government needed to come together to create a national eligibility criteria. Dame Jo said that portability of an assessed need to other local authorities "could be addressed quite urgently", along with national eligibility criteria. She said a universal assessment system would be more clear and transparent. Lord Warner said that as local authorities tightened eligibility criteria as more elderly people ended up in hospital and the NHS "takes up the slack". He said the Department of Health should examine how spare capacity in the NHS could be created and money could be released from the NHS to social care. Lord Warner suggested that spare NHS beds could appear if money was quickly put into the adult social care system, but that spare capacity was currently poorly understood. He said serious work must be done on how this transfer could take place.

7 December
The NHS Outcomes Framework 2012-13 was published.This refreshes the first NHS Outcomes Framework published for England in December 2010 and includes updated definitions for some of the indicators in the framework.

The framework has three main purposes, which remain the same in this updated version:

  • to provide a national level overview of how the NHS is performing against certain outcome measures
  • to act as a mechanism for the Secretary of State to hold the NHS Commissioning Board to account for delivering improvements in outcomes, from April 2013
  • to act as a catalyst for driving improvement and a focus on outcomes throughout the NHS.

In the Lords, Dilnot Commissioner, Lord Warner, received a reply to his question on what would be the cost to the Government of the cap on lifetime care costs proposed in the report of the Commission on Funding of Care and Support if that cap was increased from £35,000 to (1) £50,000, (2) £60,000, (3) £70,000, (4) £80,000, (5) £90,000, and (6) £100,000.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health Earl Howe said that the Commission on the Funding of Care and Support set out detailed costings in its evidence and analysis report, and these included costs for different levels of the cap. This information is available in the Analysis and Evidence Supporting the Recommendations on the Commission on Funding of Care and Support and The Government is considering the recommendations of the Commission and will publish their response in a White Paper and progress report on funding in the spring.

Towards the end of the week during the Health and Social Care Bill reading debate, Lord Warner moved an amendment regarding the health secretary's annual report. He acknowledged the need for reform in the social care and health systems, but argued that they were not on a level playing field; and the reduction in access to state-funded care services had seen an increasing burden on informal carers. "At the heart of this problem is that social care simply does not have the standing of the NHS," he said. He called for a clear duty upon the health secretary to promote a comprehensive social care system; and the amendment would require an annual report on the health service's integration with the care sector. Earl Howe agreed on the importance of integration between the health and social care sectors. However, he argued that the amendment was unnecessary because the Bill already contained duties to promote and encourage the commissioning and provision of integrated services.

8 December
On Thursday John Hemming MP received a reply from the Health Minister to the question on when the Government would publish a response to the Dilnot Commission's report Fairer Funding for All. Paul Burstow said that the Government had set out its initial response on 4 July. The Government welcomed this report, which is an immensely valuable contribution to meeting the long-term challenge of an ageing population. Government had spent the last few months engaging with stakeholders from across the care and support community to ensure that we get funding reform-and social care reform more broadly-right. The Government plan to publish a social care White Paper and a progress report on funding reform in the spring.

Robert Buckland MP asked what steps the Minister has taken to meet each of the six shared objectives contained in his Department's mental health outcomes strategy and what meetings he has had with Ministerial colleagues on cross-Government steps to achieve each of the six shared objectives contained in his Department's mental health outcomes strategy. Andrew Gwynne MP quizzed the Minister on his assessment of the likely take-up of telehealth schemes. Richard Burden MP asked what recent meetings Ministers have had with representatives of the Care and Support Alliance and whether there were plans to bring forward proposals to reform the care system. Replies to these questions are awaited.

Posted by Steve Smith, Public Affairs Officer at 00:00 Friday, 16 December 2011.