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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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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

Reabling Wales - Residential care of older people

On Thursday 26 April, I will be giving evidence to the Welsh Assembly’s Health & Social Care Committee as part of its inquiry into the residential care of older people in Wales. I am doing so in my role as Chair of the Welsh Reablement Alliance, an umbrella group of bodies who provide support to people when they come out of lengthy hospital stays and help them to adapt back to life at home.

Reablement is a hugely important step-change for social care – it changes the presumption of what sort of help people need, seeking to help them re-learn daily skills so they can stay in their own homes and remain independent rather than needing to look at formalised home care or residential care. This not only affords more dignity to older people, it also make significant savings for the public purse by preventing hospital readmissions and costly long-term care packages.

Typical examples of reablement might be short-term physiotherapy interventions, or physical adaptations to the home, or it might mean short-term social support to help a person (such as a lift to the shops, or a volunteer helping to walk the dog whilst they regain physical strength) – in practice though, it is a whole range of these services. Long-term hospital stays can knock a person’s self-confidence, diminish them physically, and put all sorts of practical barriers in place which make it hard to adapt to life back at home. Reablement is simply about overcoming those barriers through short-term interventions.

Currently, there are some excellent examples of reablement in Wales – but they are all too often quite patchy and inconsistent, with huge variations between regions and huge discrepancies in the levels of funding they attract. That is partly an accident of how the service has evolved over time, but now that the Welsh Government is making bold plans to extend reablement as part of its Social Services Bill, the time has come for a more consistent level playing field for reablement, and for the Welsh Government to set out what it expects local authorities to provide.

The evidence session will be broadcast on senedd.tv at 1pm on Thursday – be sure to tune in!

Posted by Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 00:00 Thursday, 26 April 2012.

Labels: reablement, Welsh Reablement Alliance, social care, older people, volunteering, dignity, hospital, self-confidence, Social Services Bill, senedd