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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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Help for older people this winter

Older man by windowWinter can be an especially hard time for older people. For someone with mobility problems, rain, snow and ice mean it's difficult to get out and about and this can lead to social isolation during the colder months. Feeling isolated and lonely can have a major impact on the physical and mental health of many older people. Keeping in touch with friends and family helps keep older people emotionally well but bad weather can put a stop to social activities.

Royal Voluntary Service volunteers can help people keep doing the things they want to do all year round, whatever the weather. We can provide transport to get out and about, help with shopping or with a trip to the hairdresser. Above all, we can provide a friendly face and much-needed companionship, perhaps over a cup of tea. The older people we work with tell us a visit from one of our volunteers can make their day. These are all little things, but together they can make a big difference to an older person's quality of life.

Former social worker Vanessa Bishop is one of our volunteer Good Neighbours. She's been visiting 90 year old Sheila Hunter for several months and the pair have become firm friends. Sheila was suffering from depression after a fall resulted in an eight-week hospital stay but with Vanessa's help she's starting to feel much more positive again.

"Vanessa's such a cheerful person and we have such fun together. She helps sort out my paperwork, she posts things for me, she takes my library books back and picks up my prescriptions. She's not a carer, she does what a friend or sister would do."

Sheila

Vanessa hopes that when Sheila is fully recovered they'll be able to resume their trips out to the local garden centre and cafe, but in the meantime she's happy to provide companionship and a listening ear. She encourages Sheila to have hot drinks and warm food especially when it's cold outside, they do the crossword together, watch favourite shows on TV and they both love to talk.

"We describe ourselves as friends now because it's a very easy relationship... we have a lot in common and get on very well. It's just a lovely interlude in the week when I go and see her."

Vanessa

Vanessa would like to encourage other people with a bit of spare time to get involved too:

"It does make you feel more connected and useful. You're very directly involved in making a difference to someone else's life."

Vanessa

Take a look at our Get Ready for Winter tips on staying healthy and connected whatever the temperature as well as finding out what your local Royal Voluntary Service can offer. And if you have a few hours to spare, why not join us as a volunteer? Be one of our 35,000 volunteers who are committed to helping older people live independent and fulfilling lives. We have opportunities across the UK and would love to hear from you.

This blog was originally published on the Met Office website.

Posted by Carol Nevison at 09:30 Tuesday, 10 February 2015.

Labels: Older people, Elderly, winter, cold weather, isolation, loneliness, volunteer, Royal Voluntary Service

Going nowhere fast?

We all know how frustrating it is to be left marooned when the car is off the road for repairs, or the buses are unreliable in bad weather – but for over 18,000 older people in Wales, this isolation through lack of decent transport is a daily reality. New WRVS research released today has found that 17% of older people in Wales have been hit by a reduction in public transport services, with many being left trapped at home through poor access to public or community transport.

Whilst the narrative of cuts in transport services is not new, it is about to get a whole lot more severe. The recent Welsh Government announcement of the merging of different funding streams for transport services has signalled a massive 26% reduction in subsidies for local transport services – and across Wales, the impact is already being felt as vital local services are withdrawn or cut to the bone.

Frustratingly, this is happening at exactly the time when those services are needed the most. Figures indicate that 66% of Welsh single pensioners do not have a car, and it has also been shown that 40% of households without a car feel that local bus services fail to meet their travelling needs to the local town or shops, and 65% believe services are inadequate for travel to their local hospital. Further cutbacks will make a bad situation worse, especially for older people – reliable local transport networks become increasingly significant as people get older, with journeys for essential items and social activities sometimes becoming more of a challenge.

At the heart of this is the extent to which transport planning takes account of the voices of older people. Today’s WRVS research indicates that older people feel dis-empowered and disenfranchised; 23% of respondents did not feel able to make comments or complaints about local transport services, and this clearly has an impact when services fail to meet their needs. It should shame us as a nation that nearly 20% of older people are unable manage the walk to/from their nearest public transport, and that many of that same group feel unable to do anything to challenge the system.

This is not, however, simply another request for more money. What today’s research underlines is that we can spend existing resources more shrewdly on services which protect the most vulnerable. Community transport (such as Bwcabus or WRVS services) is a great example, with schemes being viewed much more positively than regular public transport, and rural areas in particular benefiting from such services. Community transport is also rated extremely highly by users in terms of its social impact and for its social return on investment.

We need to help promote community transport, and ensure that funding is there for schemes to become sustainable in the longer-term. We should start by increasing the proportion of transport funding which has to be spent on community transport – realigning spending priorities to ensure that we keep vulnerable older people connected and independent. We also need to ensure that older people have an outlet to express formally their concerns about transport, so that their voice is not marginalised or ignored. Without these sorts of fundamental changes, we may find ourselves waiting for a bus that simply never comes.

Posted by Dr Ed Bridges, Public Affairs Manager (Wales) at 00:00 Monday, 25 March 2013.

Labels: older people, isolation, loneliness, transport, Wales, Welsh Government, Wellbeing

Measuring Loneliness: The start of a journey not the end

Steve Smith, WRVS Public Affairs ManagerYesterday saw the Department of Health issue it’s Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework (ASCOF) for 2013/14. Normally this would not be a newsworthy feature in itself. But yesterday was different. For the first time local authorities will measure levels of isolation and loneliness for users of care and support and carers. This is in response to the key White Paper commitment to address loneliness and social isolation.

It doesn’t sound much in itself. The ASCOF was only first published in March 2011 and has been evolving since then. The inclusion of measuring loneliness, albeit to only a section of society, is a culmination of a great deal of effort by a number of bodies including the Campaign to End Loneliness of which WRVS is a Board member. The previous social care Minister Paul Burstow should also take credit for his role in this achievement.

But it’s not just users of social care users and carers who can feel lonely and isolated. The Department of Health in its Public Health Outcomes Framework (PHOF) 2013-16 recognises that “social connectedness” is a public health issue and is working on a wider population measure of loneliness. In January the PHOF included social connectedness as an indicator to improving the wider detriments of public health. At that stage major work was required across all of the indicators (age, location, gender, socioeconomic group etc). The inference was that this work could take in excess of a year. A revised PHOF was issued earlier this week showed that social connectedness is still included as an indicator, but remains requiring major development work which suggests that this could take some time. This is where our efforts should now be directed.

But the inclusion of isolation and loneliness in the ASCOF is a good start. We should not take our eye off the ball. There is a growing impetus around tackling loneliness and isolation. We have overcome that important first step of getting it acknowledged as having a serious negative impact on an individual’s health and wellbeing. The online toolkit issued by the Campaign in May is also designed to support health and wellbeing boards to better understand, measure and commission to address loneliness and social isolation. We are now on the way to measuring it so that a strong evidence base will help ensure that the right support including that provided by organisations, like WRVS, is available to those that need it.

Read WRVS' response to the Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework announcement

Posted by Steve Smith Public Affairs Manager (England) at 00:00 Friday, 23 November 2012.

Labels: loneliness, social care White Paper, WRVS, Campaign to End Loneliness, Adult Social Care Outcomes Framework, isolation

Westminster Eye: An Insight into the week of politics 16 – 20 April 2012

At the beginning of the week Richard Harrington MP asked the Health Minister when he expects to publish his Department's social care White Paper. The answer was delivered on 17 April and was short and sweet. Paul Burstow said that it would be published in the Spring of 2012.

Michael Meacher MP asked how much was spent on social care for the elderly, in each of the last 10 years. A reply is expected on 23 April.

Health Shadow Liz Kendall MP asked for a breakdown of hospital admissions and emergency readmissions since 2006/7. The figures provided by Minister Simon Burns in the answer indicate that emergency admissions for the 75+ age group had risen from around 306,000 in the first quarter of 2006 to 366,000 in the fourth quarter of 2010/11. Likewise emergency readmissions within 28 days of discharge for the same age group had risen from 154,000 in 2006/7 to 188,000 in 2009/10.

During the Finance Bill Reading on Monday, David Ruffley MP noted how many charities had estimated that the cap would lead to a 20 per cent reduction in their charitable donations, and called for an exemption for UK charities. Treasury Minister Danny Alexander was clear that the government was proposing a limit of £50,000 or a quarter of someone's income, to what were currently uncapped reliefs. "However", he said, "we will discuss this with philanthropists and charities-indeed, those discussions are ongoing. Some features of the American system, for example, may be attractive, which the Government would certainly examine and consider as part of that process."

16 April

On 16 April Simon Kirby MP received answers to his questions to Health Ministers on loneliness posed before the Easter recess. He had asked what engagement his Department had with WRVS at the recent Loneliness summit and what steps his Department is taking to reduce loneliness among the elderly. Paul Burstow said that on 15 March 2012, the Department co-hosted a loneliness summit with the Campaign to End Loneliness (CEL). The event saw charities, businesses, hon. Members and public sector organisations come together to start a conversation about loneliness and isolation in older age and how it could best be tackled. He explained that CEL had been commissioned by the Department to produce a digital toolkit for health and social care commissioners to combat loneliness and isolation.

He added that the CEL is a coalition of five partner organisations: Age UK Oxfordshire, Independent Age, Manchester city council, Sense and WRVS, all of whom played an active role at the summit. During the summit, representatives from all of the partner organisations (including WRVS) had the opportunity to engage with the Department. The chief executive of WRVS spoke at the event and answered questions as part of a panel with other speakers.

Virendra Sharma MP received a response to his question to the Secretary of State for Health on what proportion of the £648 million allocated for primary care trust (PCT) spending on social care was spent on (a) prevention services, (b) communicating equipment, (c) telecare, (d) crisis response services, (e) maintaining eligibility criteria, (f) re-ablement and (g) mental health by each PCT. Minister Paul Burstow replied by saying that the Department collected information on the use of the funding allocated to support social care services in September 2011. Data at primary care trust (PCT) level had been placed in the Library. The returns from PCTs showed that they planned to transfer £642 million of the £648 million made available in 2011-12.

He confirmed that following the survey, the Department of Health followed up with the two PCTs which, at the time of the survey, had not yet agreed the majority of their transfer and sought assurances that plans were in place to reach an agreed position. Agreements had been made for the remaining £6 million to be transferred to local authorities.

Bob Blackman MP had asked the Secretary of State for Health if he will respond to the findings of the Whole Systems Demonstrator Project report on the costs per quality-adjusted life year of the Government's telemedicine programme. Paul Burstow said that the Whole System Demonstrator (WSD) was a very complex study comprising of over 6,000 people across three sites and independently evaluated by six leading academic institutions. Telehealth headline findings were published by the Department on 5 December and show reductions in hospital admissions and mortality can be achieved. There will be more detailed findings published following the completion of the ongoing peer review process in the coming weeks and months.

He continued that at the recent Kings Fund International Congress on Telehealth and Telecare, the research team shared some of their findings on cost per quality adjusted life year (QALY). The high cost of telehealth at the start of the WSD study does have an affect on the cost of QALY results, but what is clear is that if the price point for the equipment is reduced then the cost per QALY will be significantly lower.

Matthew Hancock MP had asked the Minister for the Cabinet Office how many people in each (a) region, (b) local authority and (c) parliamentary constituency are over state pension age. Minister Nick Hurd in his response said that the information requested fell within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. The Director General for the Office for National Statistics replied to the question, placing copies of the detailed tables in the House of Commons Library. The headline was that at August 2011 12,645,850 older people were in receipt of a state pension.

Gareth Thomas MP asked the Chancellor if he will publish his forecasts for the impact on charitable giving of the 2012 Budget's introduction of a cap on tax relief on donations to charities. A reply is awaited.

17 April

Susan Elan Jones MP asked what assessment had been made of the potential effect of the freezing of the personal tax allowance for over-65 year olds on levels of pensioner poverty. A reply is awaited.

Helen Jones MP asked Health Ministers whether they had made an estimate of potential costs to the NHS arising from ill health as a result of (a) falls by and (b) deterioration in existing conditions of adults who will not receive social care because councils have introduced restrictions on the eligibility criteria for such care. A reply is expected on 23rd April.

18 April

Jim Shannon MP tabled a Commons Early Day Motion, “That this House notes the benefits that tax relief for charities brings with special reference to gift aid; recognises the great work that charities carry out in helping people across the UK; understands that any reduction of the amount that can be given to a charity with tax relief would be detrimental to charities across the UK; and calls for there to be no adverse change to the arrangements as they currently stand allowing people to make donations as they see fit and are able.”

During Prime Ministers Questions on the same day Kelvin Hopkins MP noted that two years ago, in his pensioner pledge, the Prime Minister said: "it is fundamental to me that people who have worked hard all their lives, and are now drawing their pension, deserve to be treated with respect." He asked if the Prime Minister really thought that trying to sell his granny tax as a "simplification" was treating pensioners with respect. The Prime Minister explained that the basic state pension was being increased by £5.30 a week this April. At the same time, the Government was saving the winter fuel payments, the cold weather payments, the free television licence, the free bus pass, and the other pensioner benefits. The Government was also examining the case for a single-tier pension of around £140 each. He expected Members in all parts of the House to welcome that, because it would be a well-paid basic state pension that encouraged people to save before they became pensioners.

Alex Cunningham MP noted that the Prime Minister's official spokesman argued last week that rich individuals were avoiding tax by giving to charities which "don't, in all cases, do a great deal of charitable work". He asked if the Prime Minister could name any of these charities. The Prime Minister responded by saying that the figures show that last year 300 people earning over £1 million in our country got their rate of tax down to 10%. He agreed that Government must protect charities and encourage philanthropic giving, but that there was a need to make sure that rich people are paying their fair share of taxes.

Michael Meacher MP asked the Secretary of State for Health if he will undertake an inquiry into the local authority funded system of domiciliary care and the costs and benefits at the present level of overall funding. Paul Burstow replied saying that the Government had no plans for an inquiry into the local authority funded system of domiciliary care.

19 April

During Oral Answers on Women and Equalities issues Nia Griffith MP asked what recent discussions Minister had held on tackling age discrimination. The Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone MP said that she discussed age discrimination, as appropriate, with Minister and officials and held discussions with industry bodies and others. Earlier this month, the Government endorsed an insurance industry agreement to make motor and travel insurance more accessible to older customers through "signposting" arrangements.

In her follow up Nia Griffith said that she recalled serving on the Committee that considered the Equality Bill with the Minister, and that she was keen to push forward the age discrimination provisions. She asked what had happened in the two years since the Bill received Royal Assent as the age discrimination legislation had not been implemented. Lynne Featherstone said that she had not changed her mind. The Government’s consultation proposed a ban on age discrimination in health and social care, and that there should be no exceptions to that, unlike other issues. It was an important lever, and the delay has come about because the Government wants to make sure it gets it right. She concluded that the Government will come forward as soon as it has made a decision and that was expected to be soon.