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Royal Voluntary Service blog
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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Media needs to show the positive sides of ageing

It was revealed recently that ITV executive Peter Fincham believes that it’s the older age group who drive television viewing figures, and programming should reflect that fact. 54% of BBC1 viewers are over the age of 55 and BBC2’s older audience is even bigger.

Does this mean an end to the plethora of reality shows that promote the careers of wannabes of dubious talent in favour of more programming using older actors along the lines of Last Tango in Halifax? Probably not, but a real change is required to embrace the needs of an ageing population.

Despite the late rise of Mary Berry and her ilk, there are still too few older people on our TV screens that promote a positive image of older age. Older people are still often portrayed as a burden on society and often the phrase “demographic time bomb” is used to describe the situation we find ourselves in. Society needs to move away from the negative and look to the positive side of having more healthy, older people in society. Current programmes like “Protecting Our Parents” can play an important role in highlighting issues around health and social care for older people. But many older people have valuable skills and experience to offer. “Amazing Greys” taps into this light entertainment aspect but will it change attitudes? Record numbers of older people are still in employment and many spend time in formal and informal volunteering roles. The media has a duty to reflect this reality.

While watching the Summer Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 and this year’s Winter equivalents and various world championships, I was struck by the thought that we never see older people competing in sport at top level. Disabled sport has come a long way since the first Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948. Now able bodied and disabled athletes compete at the same venues around the same time and receive media coverage. Athletes like David Weir and Ellie Simmons, to name but two, are household names and as famous as their able bodied counterparts for their athletic abilities, and that is the way it should be.

But where are the older athletes? Just because you reach a certain age it doesn’t mean that you automatically hang up your spikes and become a fully paid up member of the pipe and slippers brigade. Those athletes are still out there, enjoying it and competing still at a pretty impressive level. The unfortunate thing is that their stories are ignored and we never get to see or hear about them.

But they are out there in numbers. In last year’s World Masters Track and Field Championships in Brazil, whilst Great Britain’s Stephen Peters completed an impressive double gold in the 100 and 200 metres (timed at 12.03secs and 24.21secs respectively) for the M60 age group, Jill Harrison won three gold medals at 1,500, 5,000 and 10,000 metres in the W55 category. This is a fantastic achievement that would have made headline news if in mainstream athletics.

Just a few weeks ago at the end of March, the World Masters Indoor Championships took place in Budapest. There, Alan Mellet, one of several GB medalists, took the M80 200 metres title in an incredible 34.16 seconds.

I expect that it took many years of hard work behind the scenes by various communities to persuade the media to give air time to paralympians like sprinter Johnny Peacock, and there is still more to be done. How long before we see images in newspapers and on television of older people not behaving as society thinks that they do, but reflect the extraordinary things they do every day? How long before we see the likes of Jill Harrison alongside Jessica Ennis-Hill and Hannah Crockcroft?

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 30 April 2014.

Labels: television, media, ageing, older people

The generation strain: support from volunteers

Family and friends provide vital support for older people but in today’s society, many families are living further and further apart. Our research shows that 15 per cent of people over 85 live more than 40 miles away from their children and so rely on friends, neighbours or other organisations such as charities or community services to provide basic support. This displacement means that the role of the volunteer in plugging this gap is critical. With the care system and the NHS under increasing pressure the role of the volunteer must be recognised and maximised in order to ensure that those older people who need basic support receive it from people who are willing and able to provide it in the community.

Posted by David McCullough, Royal Voluntary Service chief executive at 00:00 Thursday, 24 April 2014.

Our response to Department of Health publications

In response to the today’s Department of Health publications looking at the Government’s plans to improve primary care and improved access to GP services, Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager for England said:

“We welcome the announcements from the Department of Health today outlining wider access to GP services for millions of people across the country, and the commitment included within the report “Transforming Primary Care” to ensure that vulnerable older people receive the care and support they deserve.

"The provision of £250 million for GPs to commission services to improve quality of care for older people and people with the most complex needs is a step in the right direction. For people aged over 75, the number of emergency admissions has increased by 31% over the past ten years, which is far too many. Every preventable admission represents a failure of the system to care for the people it serves, and can lead to more serious health and care problems. Loneliness and malnutrition are two of a number of other factors that can have a negative impact on an older person’s health and wellbeing.

"The vision of proactive, personalised and joined up out-of-hospital care must be extended beyond those with the most serious and complex needs if the health and social care system is to be sustainable in the long term. The vast majority of older people want to concentrate on keeping well and maintaining their independence, stay close to their families and friends and play an active part in their communities, but for many older people returning home from hospital can be a traumatic time.

"Royal Voluntary Service knows that 23% of older people discharged after a hospital stay feel very vulnerable when they come home and are not given any support; it doesn’t need to be like this. Careful pre-discharge planning and proactive follow up after discharge will provide older patients with reassurance that someone is looking out for them at this crucial time. Simple, low-cost support such as a nutritious meal or some companionship offered by volunteers can make a real difference to the wellbeing of older patients on their return home, and significantly reduce emergency readmissions. Integrated support, provided by health and care professionals along with the third sector, has an important role to play in achieving the Government’s vision of supporting older people to stay happy, healthy and independent in their own home.”

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Monday, 14 April 2014.

Difficult choices ahead on sustaining health and social care in future

Last week saw the first anniversary of clinical commissioning groups and also the introduction of the right to ask for a personal budget with the aim of giving people more independence over how their healthcare money is spent, be that on therapies, personal care or equipment. The budgets can be managed in the form of a notional budget, direct payments or a third party arrangement. Also catching the eye was the first speech by new Chief Executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens who said that the NHS is facing its most sustained budget crunch in its 66-year history.

But the interim report of the Barker Commission on the future of health and social care took centre stage.

The Commission has been gathering evidence from experts over recent months and has come to the conclusion that health and social care system is no longer fit for purpose. The systems established just after World War II can no longer respond adequately to the needs of a growing ageing population with a range of complex needs. The report argues that a lack of alignment in entitlements, funding and organisation between the two systems results in unfairness, poorly co-ordinated services and confusion for patients, service users and their families. If an alien were to arrive on earth tomorrow they would find it hard to understand that the health care budget, worth over £100b billion annually, is ring fenced and free to users, while the social care (often the cheaper option and is preventative) budget is much less (£20 billion) not protected and is means and needs tested, resulting in individuals making vastly different contributions to the cost of their care. The numbers of individuals receiving publicly funded social care have declined since 2008/9, most notably among older people despite their growing numbers, where there has been a 27 per cent reduction. Publicly funded social care is becoming “a residual service available to those with only the very greatest needs”.

Not surprisingly the Commission concludes that funding is inadequate, with insufficient public money currently spent on social care, and more resources needed to meet future health and care needs as the population ages. This raises questions of affordability and the need to make difficult choices about how to meet these costs, including the balance between public and private funding. The report looks at a range of challenging and radical options to increase funding including the removal of some older people’s benefits and the setting up of insurance schemes. A further final report is expected in the autumn.

In the same week the Commission on the Voluntary Sector & Ageing published 'Age of Opportunity'.

issued a new study exploring the risks and opportunities facing the voluntary sector as a result of the UK's ageing population. The report highlights the fact that tens of thousands more baby boomers are reaching retirement each year, and by 2020 the value to UK charities of volunteering by people over 65 will be more than £15billion a year. Many of these individuals are skilled, experienced and savvy, and the Commission argues that charities urgently need to adapt to exploit this opportunity. This looks to be a sound comment. Not only does this help to secure the future prosperity of charities, but also helps fill the void in health and social care that experts in the field are reporting on at increasingly frequency.

We should not overlook the fact that currently over one million people 65+ age group are still working, mostly part time, some through necessity others through choice, many using that valuable experience or specialist knowledge. Employment rates for this age group have risen by 50 per cent since the early 1990s, and over the past decade those beyond state pension age have been one of the fastest growing sections of the workforce.

Those that are retiring may be ready for new commitments, using their skills in their various communities. But they will have other pressures too, quite possibly from children and grandchildren but also from their own parents. Charities will need to make an exceptional effort to attract and keep people. It may not be enough to point out the benefits that volunteering brings not only to others but to their own health and wellbeing.

It is unlikely that the growing call for a single ring-fenced budget for health and social care will be realised any time soon. There doesn’t seem to be the political will for such radical action and for another significant reorganisation so soon after the last one and where wounds have yet to fully heal.

The Better Care Fund could lead the way to greater integration but this will take time to roll out and is just £3.8billion of the budget. So for the time being without an injection of additional funds social care will have to rely on top ups from the NHS and the generosity of our amazing volunteers.

Posted by Steve Smith, Royal Voluntary Service Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Wednesday, 09 April 2014.