Neighbourhood Watch groups could help with elderly care

Day centre for the elderly Ministers say more collaboration is needed between the state and voluntary groups

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Neighbourhood Watch groups in England could provide companionship and practical help for pensioners living alone, under an idea being considered.

Social care minister Norman Lamb said many older people were living "very lonely lives", without family support.

While professional care remained vital, something extra was needed, he said.

The "principle of neighbourliness" could be extended to address the "extraordinary challenge" presented by an ageing society, he told the BBC.

There are 173,000 Neighbourhood Watch groups in England and Wales, a scheme which started in the 1980s to encourage local residents to report suspicious behaviour in their area and to help prevent burglaries.

Mr Lamb said the pressures on the care system were only going to increase, with the number of people living beyond 80 set to double by 2030 and many unable to rely on regular family help.

'Miserable life'

Loneliness and isolation damaged people's physical and mental health and made people dependent on the state a lot earlier than they needed to be, he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"If you have care needs and you don't see anyone day-to-day, week-to-week, and all you have is a care worker coming in for a very short period of time to do your essential feeding and washing, it can be a pretty miserable life.

"As a society, we have a responsibility to think about this challenge."

Mr Lamb said he was not looking to undermine the "essential" work of care professionals but to provide an extra dimension to help people's quality of life.

"Care is not enough on its own. We have to ask the fundamental question what gives you a good life.

"That's about companionship, friendship, neighbourliness. As our extended families have dispersed across the country and sometimes well beyond, inadvertently we have ended up with very many people living very lonely lives."

'Looking out'

Greater "collaboration" was needed between the state and voluntary bodies in the future, he added, and Neighbourhood Watch could play a valuable role in supplementing support the former.

"I want a discussion about this. We will come forward with further plans in the non too distant future.

Start Quote

Good neighbours can make a real difference but are no substitute for a well-supported care system”

End Quote Michelle Mitchell Age UK

"At its heart, the fact that we have this (neighbourhood) movement, let's just apply that neighbourliness principle to looking out for elderly people on our roads who might actually be on their own but nobody might be thinking about."

Community groups would need to apply for "care status" from their local authorities if they wanted to provide statutory services.

But ministers have said they should not be "prescriptive" about who provides basic assistance and existing relationships should be built upon, raising the prospect of neighbours helping with tasks such as feeding.

Ministers want more community solutions in care provision and in the recent Spending Review, the government gave a £2bn slice of the social care budget to councils to encourage closer working with the NHS.

'Specialist skills'

The Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch Network said it was keen on getting involved. "It is important for groups of members to be aware of the vulnerable people in their communities," its chairman Jim Madden told the Daily Telegraph.

But Age UK said the presence of a "friendly face", however welcome, could not make up for a lack of resources in the care budget.

"Good neighbours can make a real difference but are no substitute for a well-supported care system which helps people with a range of care needs, including everyday tasks such as washing and dressing," said its director general Michelle Mitchell.

"Often helping older people with these tasks can require specialist skills such as manual handling so that older people are treated safely with sensitivity and dignity.

"Neighbours can go so far, but we must face up to the reality of our ageing population and the government must commit to funding the professional care and support they need."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Can we have some volunteer polititians?

    Used to be a time when the money you saved went into my future retirement and dotage.
    But that money got spent by corrupt governments and todays workers are expected to pay for yesterdays workers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    "Yes, I'll be round to change your nappy just as soon as I've finished beating up this burglar"

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    We Shouldn't need such thing as a neighborhood watch group to look out for the elderly! We should all be looking out for them off our own backs!

    If i was lonely and elderly i would hope that there would e someone willing to help and look out for me.

    The older generation have put so much into the country so its about time we starting helping back!

    We should be helping regardless!!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    So all those trying to live on a State Pension will be moved to some weird sinkhole outside Hartlepool (B), wherever that is on the BBC rent affordability webpage.
    Presumably Neighbourhood Watch will be a low priority there?

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Crazy idea! This is just a ruse to save money. Do that within the family where possible; yes (probably already happens). But get outsiders (i.e. neighbours) to perform intimate tasks over and above keeping a watchful eye on the neighbourhood. No thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    14.Its All Pants

    Absolutely right

    Under the last government we paid more and more taxes as the Social Services empire expanded its ranks by over 650,000 (more than 50%). Why? To look out for the elderly, vulnerable, yadda, yadda, yadda...

    Or to keep them off the dole figures and in a 'job' which they don't seem to have enough time or people to do. Really!?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Its All Pants suggests that the taxes we pay already should cover care for the elderly.

    Evidently, he or she is much too young to know or realise that, today, what goes into the government's coffers is spent on very many elements of the community who are undeserving and just too lazy to do anything to help themselves, let alone others. It wasn't like that, even 40 years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    There are many of us who already help our elderly or disabled neighbours . . . . .while we stand by and watch our gvt stop their bus passes and lower their income. . . . .who else do they have except us??

    The gvt really don't have aclue do they? All they want to do is take your taxes, squander them and let someone else take on the burden

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    A cost effective solution to the elderly is to move them all into large 'elderly zones' such as they have in some places in America.

    They benefit from free buses which shuttle them to and from the shops and from visiting other friends in the neighbourhood.

    The elderly don't need much space so they would benefit from small purpose build accommodation and this would free up lots of housing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    so we pay all these taxes, and what for? please some one tell me? since making things private we pump more money into these systems and get less out of it then before! now they want more volunteers, free labour yeah great, dont get me wrong Im all for volunteers BUT with the state of things people cant afford to volunteer I know I cant. harsh but true. I blame the Government for it all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Won't work - those who might pop round and help a neighbour are working their bits off, those with time on their hands won't because there are repercussions if they are seen to be involved in other people's lives. And don't look to teenagers for anything outside their own selfish zone. Just won't work. Sadly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Any excuse to pass on responsibility of this government, how about sending less abroad and investing in our own old folk who helped make this country what it is before the con/lib started to demolish it all and return us to Victorian values ( Keep the poor poor and the rich their masters)

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    3. not reassured
    Another Thatcher suggestion- let the volunteers do it instead of paid workers???

    We all know the standards of the “Paid Worker” I will take a volunteer thanks

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    Any wonder the elderly are being forgotton by the state its too busy pandering to minority groups like travellers and dealing with millions of immigrants entering our housing,schools and workplace to even notice their plight.
    So much of our money and resources are being hoovered up assimilating the worlds economic migrants.
    Old people are just seen as a burden by the state.
    Its a disgrace.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    "The Big Society" is just a euphemism for "we the government hate the needy and the vulnerable, and do not believe that taxpayers should help them out"

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    "Neighbourhood Watch groups in England could provide companionship and practical help for pensioners living alone, under an idea being" considered.
    Yet another government initiative where they expect others to do the work for them.

    The job of a government is to look after it's people, not simply pass the buck!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    Recent govts have stressed individual rights and freedom and entitlements destroying the sense of collective freedoms and responsibilities we used to have.To many it is much more now a case of I have my rights and time spent defending them that others no longer seem to matter...especially the elderly who with their dependence on others are seen as a burden. God help the elderly in another 50 years

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    As a teenager in the 1960s I and many others in the village In which I grew up kept an eye on our older neighbours..doing a bit of shopping or gardening for them. It was something that was encouraged by parents, teachers and organizations such as the scouts. Why not today.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Not thought through!! Another cock-eyed Tory idea!


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