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As the political parties gear up for the Welsh Assembly elections on 5 May, the battle lines on health and social care are already being drawn. Welsh Labour have made a pledge on introducing Health MOTs” for over-50s. Not wanting to be outdone, Plaid have pledged to introduce Health MOTs for everyone. The Welsh Conservatives are focusing on their pledge to protect NHS spending, whilst the Welsh Lib Dems have focused on personalisation of social care budgets.
It is against this backdrop that WRVS today launch our manifesto for the Welsh Assembly elections. As the First Minister has acknowledged, the fourth administration of the Welsh Assembly has to be about delivery and delivering value for money. This is particularly true within the realm of social services.
A thriving social services framework can empower people, give them independence and support the wider aims of society. As our own research has shown, older people make a vital net contribution towards the Welsh economy – over £1 billion in 2010 (almost £2.9m per day). We have estimated that over-65s could contribute £27 billion towards Wales’ economy over the next twenty years – but for that to happen, social services in Wales must support older people and ensure that they can live active and independent lives.
Our manifesto takes this argument forward, arguing that investment into social services makes sense both economically and socially. We have four elements to the manifesto, each underscored by research evidence, and each making an argument for concrete changes which the Assembly can make to improve the lives of older people in Wales.
Firstly, we want to prevent poor health amongst older people by ensuring that preventative care is provided consistently across Wales. Low-level interventions (provision of social clubs or befriending schemes, for example) allow older people to maintain social networks, and combat loneliness, with all the health benefits that entails. This objective can be very easily achieved by the Assembly Government standardising social services eligibility criteria across Wales – in essence, making sure that people with similar levels of needs receive similar services whether they’re in Anglesey or Aberystwyth, Butetown or Bala. As well as providing consistency, this would also be an opportunity for the Assembly to set the direction of travel – setting the threshold low so that local authorities are clear that preventative care is a priority.
2. Reablement schemes
This links into the second theme of the manifesto, where we suggest that there should be a dedicated fund for schemes which join up health and social care, reducing hospital readmissions and allowing older people to remain in their own homes for longer. Currently, there are some excellent examples of these ‘reablement’ schemes across Wales, helping older people make the transition from hospital to home – but there is no standardised service, and this has led to varying experiences and outcomes. We think there is value in the Assembly providing a dedicated fund to ensure there is a consistently good service across Wales which takes up those good practice examples so they are available to all.
The third pillar of the manifesto relates to volunteering. WRVS has around 4,000 volunteers in Wales, all contributing to helping older people in communities and hospitals right across the country. But for the voluntary sector to continue to thrive and grow, its role has to be recognised and nurtured. The recent report on older people’s experiences of hospitals in Wales from the Older People’s Commissioner highlighted exactly this point, recommending that
"Health Boards... recognise the expertise of the third sector and work
with them to realise the potential of appropriate, imaginative use of
volunteers... It is an area where relatively modest amounts of
expenditure can realise benefits of a value far in excess of the funds
Older People's Commissioner
We fully agree with that, but volunteering should not just be limited to the public sector. We want to see the Assembly encourage employers to take part in volunteering projects by allowing their employees the time to contribute. The Assembly itself could take a lead by allowing its own staff to take a set number of days per year to get involved with volunteering projects.
4. Community Transport
Fourth (and finally) in our manifesto is the key issue of improving community transport. Our own social impact report
showed that our community transport services were rated extremely highly by users because of the difference those services made to their wellbeing. The umbrella group Age Alliance Wales
(of which WRVS is a member) has already made it clear in its election manifesto that improving community transport is a key issue for older people in Wales. WRVS wants the Assembly to look at increasing the proportion of the Local Transport Services Grant which must be spent on community transport schemes. This would make a huge difference in reinforcing and strengthening transport services to those people who would otherwise be made increasingly isolated without proper transport provision.
We believe these four pillars represent a strong set of affordable and tangible improvements which the Welsh Assembly could bring forward to improve the lives of older people in Wales. The Assembly has made significant progress on older people’s issues, but if the fourth Assembly is to be about delivery, then it is these sorts of concrete measures which need to be implemented.
Dr. Ed Bridges
Public Affairs Manager, WRVS Wales
For the voluntary sector this is both the best of times and the worst of times. Ministers have put us at centre stage in the fulfilment of their ambitions for higher quality and more relevant services. Yet at the same time, voluntary organisations are reeling from the income squeeze brought about the recession and the roll out of public spending cuts at local level.
Levels of giving have fallen by £700m since 2008 and the fall in the value of the stock market that took place in 2008-9 depleted the income of charitable trusts – an important source of funds for the sector. It is precisely the type of neighbourhood charities that ministers wish to promote and expand that have been buffeted by the local authority spending cuts. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimated that spending cuts have reduced the sector's income by at least £3.5bn.
Faced with this financial vulnerability, the chancellor's announcements went some way to offset the income losses the sector has faced in the last three years. The decision to incentivise charitable giving by providing an inheritance tax cut for people who leave 10% of their estate to charity is extremely welcome. If the Treasury's estimate of the yield of this tax change is correct, this policy will help plug the sector's income gap. The bigger prize would be if the inheritance tax/legacy changes promote changes in charitable giving behaviour.
Gift Aid simplification has been advocated by the sector for some time and smaller charities particularly stand to benefit from reform. In the months to come we will need to assess how far the budget changes will benefit smaller charities as well as large established organisations like my own.
The sector depends on people giving time and giving money. The government's "big society" programme has raised the profile of volunteering.
In the coming years the sector needs to work with government to fully realise the benefits of the impending retirement of the baby boomers generation, many of whom have great skills and expertise that could be put to work across our communities.
Sometimes, in policy work, its a little tiring to have to constantly prove and reprove empirically what everyone already knows to be the case but in the name of evidence-based policy we keep on going. That's why, for me anyway, the results of a recent WRVS survey on what Scottish older people wanted out of support services, now and in the future, held few surprises. The good thing is that its more proof of what they do want that can be used to back up our efforts to make sure they can get it. Oh, and having it covered on BBC Radio Scotland and in the Scottish Daily Express and in the Herald, Scotland's primo left-of-centre broadsheet, was pretty gratifying too! You can read a short summary and analysis here