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 44.

    Moan moan , whinge whinge , this is the worst government ever, it's all other peoples fault ....

    Just the usual have your say !

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    Oh yeah - I can just see this generation of money-grabbing, snide, drunk, tattooed, 'hard', self-centred, obnoxious and chav-tastic peasants reaching out to the frail and elderly.

    Don't expect anything from New Labour's human tide of immigrants either.

    If the main political parties wanted people to care for each other, maybe they should have pursued a different agenda than 'I'm alright Jack'

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    Yet more evidence that being educated at an expensive private school doesn't make you intelligent.

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    As everything is up for Sale under this dog of an incompetent govt - perhaps they can outsource this function also to their friends they call "any qualified provider". All the Neighbourhood watch communities should Bill this govt whose PM is also available on "pay per view" service to Lobbyists for their services!

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Volunteers cannot look after everyone. But a lot of people would be willing to pay a third party to take the burden off them and keep in contact with an elderly relative to make sure they are OK/

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    When I was at school we had to go to the local Armies houses tend the old dears gardens, make them a cuppa Etc one lesson a week what was the lesson called Citizen ship, no it was in the 1960 being a decent human being.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    "So can someone tell me who is going to supervise the neighbour watch."
    "The waiter shouted down the hall..
    You don't get bread with one meatball".

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    The party that told you to 'look after yourself' now says 'look after others'.

    I live in a block of flats, where buy-to-let landlords rent to whoever can afford it. My 'neighbours' change regularly and I don't know them. How I am supposed to care for/about them?

    Such an advance to a stranger would probably be regarded as sinister in some way and thrown back in my face with interest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Right, that's law and order and social services sorted out. Next patient!

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    With binge drinking and obesity people are not going to live longer.
    While neighbourliness is great don't forget those who help with home watch give of their own free time. The government needs to be careful how much extra they ask volunteers to do or they could lose the volunteers

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    So can someone tell me who is going to supervise the neighbour watch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Pretty soon this government will suggest that Neighbourhood Watch can provide it's own elective surgery, its own prisons and will carry out schooling on behalf of the state. Indeed anything that costs money will be provided FOC by communities thereby leaving the money spent on taxes (which will still go up) to fund the pockets of already wealthy MP's.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

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

    Don't they call that a Grave yard, Enforce Cremation even less space required.

    8. Old Father Thames
    not simply pass the buck! or in their case don't want to pay a Buck

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    fao Norman Lamb......ummm you will find that people already help out their "elderly" neighbours and have been doing so for decades; its called caring.......................................

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    Get old here?

    Like millions of British born people I can't wait to get off this sinking ship - loaded to the gunnels with benefit claiments and useless MPs and other scroungers.

    Oh - and I will be taking MY money to spend in another country.

    This country is driving out the people who fought for it and made a it haven for those who did nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    28. Vote UKIP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    All this "we're all living longer" guff is a load of cobblers.
    I'm 64 and I reckon I could work at least another 5 years, so my time as "burden on the State" would be the same length as some previous generation, its just I would be older.
    Problem is, thanks to immigration, THERE ARE NO JOBS.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Ken 1760.
    The problem now is the CRB issue - after all if you are elderly and kids visit what are they coming for - nothing is innocent now-a-days; the leaders can't remember helping people in their younger years so don't believe others do it - or so it seems.

    I can't get a nurse/doctor to visit my elderly, wheelchair bound relative to treat her, why should I expect a volunteer to visit?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Good communities already do so, those who do not are unlikely to do so... it is no substitute for national and local governments meeting their duty of care to elderly citizens even when communities are looking after each other anyway. When is the government going to realise that it HAS to meet its obligations, not shuffle them off to others?

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Well, they’ve hit the mother-load of money saving here haven’t they?

    Neighbourhood watch could run people to hospital – saving on ambulances.
    They could fight local fires – nor more fire service.
    They could do first aid – not more hospital casualty.

    Oh the savings are wonderful and limitless!


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