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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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New ONS data paints stark picture of ageing in UK - WRVS volunteers can help

The new ONS statistics on loneliness in older people, published today, paint a stark picture of growing old in Britain today, with almost half of those over the age of 80 feeling lonely. These feelings of loneliness are exacerbated by poor health and living alone, both of which we know increase as the nation ages. Those that feel lonely do fewer day to day activities creating a vicious circle of isolation with older people feeling trapped in their own homes. WRVS comes into contact with older people day in day out whose main company is the TV, and without our volunteers may not see another person from day to day. It doesn't have to be like this. Simple and cost effective solutions, such as befriending, can help tackle loneliness, help older people to stay connected to their communities and prevent unnecessary hospital stays.

The ONS have also today release a report on older people's wellbeing, leisure time and volunteering. With WRVS’ army of 40,000 volunteers, we know well the benefit of volunteering, as do the older people that our volunteers provide a lifeline for. The new ONS data shows that one in five of the over 50s volunteer and links volunteering with higher satisfaction in life. We know through our own research that older volunteers live happier and healthier lives and we see this every day, as over half of our volunteers are in this age group with some still volunteering into their 90s and over the age of 100. However, with an ageing population, this country needs more people to step up and volunteer to make life better for others. So we would encourage anyone thinking of volunteering to take the plunge and get involved!

Posted by David McCullough, chief executive of WRVS at 00:00 Thursday, 11 April 2013.

Labels: ONS, Ageing, Older people, volunteering, WRVS

Ready for Ageing?

A year ago the House of Lords decided that the social changes that were being experienced with many more people living longer needed investigating as they couldn’t find evidence that it had been looked at comprehensively by Government before. Today the Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change published its highly anticipated report. The key message is that are as a nation we are “woefully underprepared for ageing”.

Many of us will be living 10 years longer than we were expected to when we were born. Whilst there is a very real issue now, we don't have to look that far forward to the change accelerates. For example, by 2030 the number of people aged over 85 will have doubled.

The key message from
the report is that are
as a nation we are
“woefully underprepared
for ageing”

We know that this creates opportunities. WRVS' own research shows that older people generate some £40billion to the UK economy, and this will rise. But at the same time this brings about its own challenges.

The Committee is concerned about how older people will support themselves and has highlighted three key areas that need addressing. The first is around pensions and encouraging saving, the second around working past traditional retirement age and lastly around unlocking assets within their own homes.

On health and social care the Committee believes that the system is not designed to deal with long term chronic conditions, but more acute conditions and therefore it will need radical change. It argues that there needs to be a shift in focus and vision in England to improve integration and prevention, with an aim of keeping older people safe in their own homes rather than in hospitals. It suggests looking at merging health and social care budgets and providing care 24hours a day, 7 days a week for 365 days of the year. The Committee recognises the valuable contribution that voluntary organisations such as WRVS already make, but recommends that central and local government work with the third sector to increase volunteering especially by older people to support older people.

Ageing is a huge social change that will impact on everyone. Government therefore needs to have a firm understanding of what this means in terms of the UK’s population, society and public policies and develop a coherent strategy going forward. The Committee is critical of the current and previous Governments over many years that have failed the grasp the enormity and urgency of the situation. The Committee calls for the issuing of a White Paper before the next general election setting out the issues and how we should prepare for longer life. All parties should consider an ageing society in their manifestos for the next election.

The Committee also recommends that whoever is successful after the election should establish two cross party commissions to respond to the ageing society; one would look at finance and the other health and social care.

This report offers a unique opportunity to tackle some difficult issues and to bring about real change. Let us hope that this opportunity is grasped by all parties as we head towards the next election. Read the full Ready for Ageing report.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Thursday, 14 March 2013.

Labels: ageing, older people, social care

So where's the strategy for the long term?

Understanding and getting to grips with the opportunities and challenges of an increasing ageing population is one of the key conundrums that the Government and wider society has to currently face.

The pre Christmas House of Lords debate on the place of older people in society highlighted the net financial contribution that older people make to the UK economy, citing the WRVS figure of £40billion benefit in 2010. But it’s not just about finances. Earlier this week in a response to a tabled question, Baroness Warsi said that the Government recognised the importance of the issues facing people in later life and the contribution they make to society, but did not have all the answers. She added that the Age Action Alliance was created in recognition of the need for a radical shift in approach and its vision was informed and driven by older people themselves.

The Lords Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change took oral evidence from Ministers Hunt, Lamb and Webb on Wednesday. In response to questions around what the Cabinet had done collectively to address issues arising from an ageing population, Hunt said that it had taken some good first steps but agreed that there was much more that it could do. He agreed that the ageing population was a nettle that had to be grasped. He saw the 2 biggest issues being the sustainability of the NHS and pension provision. The Committee Chair appeared sceptical; saying that the Committee had not seen much in the way of a coherent long term strategy to look at the scale of the challenges around ageing and that most work undertaken was fiscal and short term in nature.

Early in the week, the Coalition’s mid-term review re-confirmed the Government’s support for the principles set out in the Andrew Dilnot report. But any detail as to how the future costs of adult social care would be met was disappointingly absent. Just a couple of days later to emphasise the urgency, analysis by London Councils estimated that the funding gap for providing adult social care in London will amount to £907m within five years. Councils in London currently spend a third (£2.8 billion) of their total budgets on adult social care and this is set to rise dramatically as the number of Londoners aged over 65 increases by some 50,000 during the next five years.

So in a week when detail was thin on the ground about long term thinking on the future funding of care and for older people more generally, it is clear that there is a major role for the third sector to step up to the plate and take on an enhanced role. But this week there was criticism of the Government from the Chief Executive of AVECO that the potential for charities to transform public services remains largely untapped, with reforms in too many areas either glacially slow, as demonstrated by social care funding reform.

In his response, the Civic Society Minister said that harnessing the spirit of common purpose witnessed in 2012 so that together big social problems could be tackled was a cultural change that won’t happen overnight, especially in challenging economic times. He acknowledged that Britain is blessed to have some of the most generous people and the most innovative charities in the world.

He is right - the spirit is there, in spades. It is estimated that in the UK about 20 million people volunteer in some form. In WRVS alone over 50% of its 40,000 volunteers are over the age of 65. Not only are the volunteers helping older people in a more cost-effective way than through expensive state mechanisms like the NHS, but they are helping themselves to enjoy better mental and physical health outcomes. This is essential as the Government plans its strategies for the future. And WRVS, in celebrating in 2013 its 75th year of civic service, is keen for this message of volunteering to amplify and grow.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Friday, 11 January 2013.

Labels: WRVS, ageing, older people, volunteers

Setting the scene for 2013

As we enter 2013, the many issues that come with an ageing population have never been more centre stage. Keeping with the theatrical theme, even the film industry is getting in on the act with Dustin Hoffman making his directorial debut at the age of 75 with “Quartet”, a film about four friends who reside at home for retired opera singers.

The draft Care and Support Bill published in July 2012 proposes a single, modern law for adult care and support that replaces existing outdated and complex legislation. Comments were requested by the Government by 19 October and a summary of responses was published just before Christmas. The Joint Committee on the Draft Care and Support Bill has already begun to take evidence from experts and has invited written submissions by 11 January as part of this work.

In yesterday’s report by think-tank Centre Forum, Paul Burstow sets out some ideas of how the funding of future care could be achieved by linking winter fuel payments with Pension Credit, reducing the number of recipients from over 12 million to around 3 million, saving £1.5 billion annually. The idea is welcomed by some, but criticised by others and is likely to be controversial. But it does set down an early marker for the ensuing comprehensive spending review that will begin shortly.

In December local clinicians were given the green light to take control of the NHS budget in 34 areas of England shaping the way in which care is delivered for millions of older people in the coming months and years.

The House of Lords Select Committee on Public Service and Demographic Change hold their final evidence session on 9 January, where they will put the questions that have emerged over the course of their inquiry to Ministers Jeremy Hunt MP, Norman Lamb MP and Steve Webb MP. WRVS has been one of a number of organisations that have given oral evidence at hearings over the past few months. The inquiry is the first by Parliament to assess if our society, policies and public services are really ready for the ageing population. The evidence that the Committee has received so far suggests that we are worryingly underprepared.

The outgoing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in his final New Year Message centred on the crucial role of volunteers. He said that anyone who had seen the London Games “will have been made aware of the army of volunteers who cheerfully gave up their free time and worked away, without complaint, all hours of the day and night to make these great events happen. They were the key people who translated the Olympic vision into reality for the rest of us.” He recognised that similar acts are happening in many other communities around the country in far less glamorous circumstances. But he also asked the tougher question: what can we all do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication?

It is clear that urgent action is required by Government to put in place the adult social care framework that older people deserve and that will be necessary to meet the demands of the 21st century. It has also become clear that Government cannot do this alone.

Earlier this week building on the comments made by Williams, social care minister Norman Lamb said that friends, family and neighbours should all do more to prevent older people going into care unnecessarily. Just before Christmas it was announced that volunteers will soon benefit from a free service which will allow them to re-use criminal records checks time and time again. The move to cut red-tape and reduce the burden on those who give up their time to work with older people is a welcome step. The many tens of thousands that give up their time on a regular basis with WRVS and other organisations to help in their local communities are an essential part of the solution. So not only do we need a new legal framework, but also to devise new and innovative ways to encourage more people, especially those reaching retirement, to continue to contribute. At the same time movement to ensure cooperation and coordination between organisations and authorities is necessary, if we are to be in better shape at the end of 2013.

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Friday, 04 January 2013.

Labels: WRVS, volunteering, ageing, older people, social care, 2013, New Year

Growing old in the UK - is it all bad news?

Ageing_Across_Europe_reportWRVS’ recent report, Ageing Across Europe, produced by Demos, paints a stark picture of growing old in this country. Our older people are proven to be the loneliest, poorest and the most worried that they are discriminated against because of their age, of the countries examined.

But is it all doom and gloom? The whole point of looking at the countries that we did: Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany, as well as the UK, was that these are countries that are in many ways – particularly in terms of wealth – similar to us. So we should be able to learn from the good things that Sweden and the Netherlands are doing (who came first and second on the experience of ageing, compared to our third) and replicate them in this country.

In Sweden, for example, there is a much greater focus on spending money on preventing health problems which get significantly worse later in life, by tackling the issues that cause them. So obesity, which we know can lead to diabetes in later life, is tackled earlier through public health programmes, as is smoking and drinking.

We do a lot of talking about “prevention” in this country, but given that this study shows that in the UK we have the highest prevalence of what is euphemistically called “life limiting illness” amongst older people, surely this is an indication that the public health messages to do with healthy eating and less drinking are not getting through? Or, at least, not as effectively as in those other countries. As David McCullough, WRVS chief executive, commented on the publication of the report – surely it should be a wake-up call for all of us?

So plenty of food for thought for local and central government, but what about for us as individuals? Well one interesting finding from the report, particularly from WRVS’ point of view, is that in Sweden and the Netherlands, there are much higher rates of volunteering. In Sweden - 55% of people volunteer, it’s 50% in the Netherlands , 45% of Germans volunteer and we lag behind at 26%. Separate WRVS research found that older people that volunteer actually improve their sense of wellbeing simply through helping others. People also get a sense of personal satisfaction from seeing their voluntary work is appreciated. Take note voluntary organisations – a pat on the back helps!

It’s common sense really that by giving back to your community, you are not only improving your own sense of worth, but you are also meeting people and staying active and so helping prevent the issues we so often, sadly, see amongst older people whereby they are housebound seeing few people, if any, from day to day. So, by volunteering, you help others but also help yourself. If encouraging more volunteering can help tackle the parlous state of ageing in this country, then that should be the positive that we can take from this shocking report.

Posted by Sarah Farndale, WRVS at 00:00 Wednesday, 06 June 2012.

Labels: Ageing, Wellbeing, Older people, Europe, volunteering, prevention, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands

Experiences of ageing in the EU - How does the UK compare?

LonelinessNew WRVS research published today suggests that the experience of ageing in the UK is poor compared to other EU countries, with older people in this country the loneliest, poorest and the most concerned about age discrimination.

The research focused on a range of indicators, including health, wealth and levels of loneliness in four EU countries (the UK, Germany, Netherlands and Sweden). Of the four countries, the UK was rated third in its overall performance.

Loneliness and lacking somebody in whom to confide are particular problems in the UK, with our older people having the highest rates of loneliness and the highest prevalence of life-limiting illness. Meanwhile, our older people more frequently feel that they have been shown a lack of respect because of their age than older people in other countries.

So where are the key policy differences which account for the different experiences of ageing, and what lessons might we learn here in Wales?

I think the research highlights some sad truths and should act as a wake-up call to improve services for older people. In particular, we should be concerned about the loneliness faced by older people here in Wales; we know from other studies that overcoming loneliness and isolation is the factor that is most important to improving quality of life for older people. Doing so can keep people happier, healthier and out of hospital and in their homes for longer. But we need to do more by protecting low-level social support services such as lunch clubs and good neighbour schemes, and also improve signposting so that lonely older people are systematically directed towards help.

Today’s new study emphasises that the establishment of an Older People’s Commissioner for Wales marks Wales out as forward-thinking in its policy approach to ageing. Yet too often, that same fact can be a weakness, with the OPCW potentially being viewed as a panacea to the challenges we face. By the same token, measuring quality of life amongst the older population (for example, the Older People’s Wellbeing Monitor for Wales) is very welcome in allowing us to benchmark our progress against other EU countries – but the Monitor has not been updated since 2009. Given the centrality of wellbeing to the Social Services (Wales) Bill, we would argue that the monitor should be reinvigorated as an annual report.

Wales has made some great strides on helping to improve the lives of older people – but today’s research shows that there is still a great deal to be done for us to keep up with some of our European neighbours. The Welsh Government’s next steps will be crucial in determining whether or not they can rise to the challenge.

This blog originally appeared on the Bevan Foundation's website, www.bevanfoundation.org 

Posted by Dr Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 00:00 Friday, 25 May 2012.

Labels: ageing, loneliness, health, wealth, lunch clubs, good neighbours, Older People's Commissioner for Wales, Social Services Bill, Wales