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 104.

    If I tell the Job Centre that I am volunteering to help others, they say that I'm not available for work and try to remove the meagre amount I receive in benefits...

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I'm 70; I get lonely. I used to meet friends at a number of Rock venues each year until the price and facilities made it impossible. To avoid toilet queues and find comfy seats we need to buy "VIP" tickets which are way beyond our means,(£1800 for some this year). The alternative is the pub to meet locals of disparate social philosophies standing outside for the simple pleasure of a communal fag.

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    Oh my God no! There's something sinister about old women's that false laugh they all use at the end of every other sentance. Just watch you'll see what I mean! It's a trap!

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    In principle, a very commendable initiative. As a society, it's a disgrace that we have so many elderly people who live on their own and have little or no contact with the outside world from day to day. It's as much our responsibility as good citizens and neighbours as it is for local and national government.

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    Do we have to share watches now?

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Companionship is a huge factor in quality of life - a neighbour popping in for a cup of tea and a chat a few times a week could make a huge difference for some. It doesn't have to be care and feeding, just friendliness and being sociable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    "It seems once again this government wants to take advantage of peoples good will for their own sake,so that they can pass the buck and responsibility that is really theirs on to others."

    Or is it that others wish to pass their family responsibilities to the state?

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    It seems once again this government wants to take advantage of peoples good will for their own sake,so that they can pass the buck and responsibility that is really theirs on to others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    I always thought taking a practical interest in the well being of your local neighbourhood was seen as vigilantism and you would likely end up in jail?

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    Unfortunately, I do not speak the same language nor share the same culture as an increasing number of my neighbours, will they get training?

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Headline - Students recruited for NHS 111 ......

    OK, now let us use students to provide social services and provide basic health care.

    How long before this Government has volunteers, students and job-seeking 'apprentices' providing all basic services from care of the elderly to emptying bins?

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Perhaps the local Police Support Community Officers should make visits. There would be no extra burden on taxes as the job already exists. They could be trained to check houses for safety issues and have the ability to identify where social services might be able to support.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    The problem with this idea is that in principle neighbourhood watch schemes benefit the participants, everyone gains something by taking part. with this scheme some people will do work for others with no imediate benefit to themselves. The fear will be that after the initial enthusiasm most participants will drop away, leaving those with the greatest empathy doing an unreasonable amount of work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Yeah, these neighbourhood watch groups could also fight fires, police the streets and attend to the sick and disabled. Then the Government could sack all the Police, Firemen and Ambulance Crews. And give all the money saved to poor destitute millionare's. What a disgusting and sickening prospect. We already get nothing in return for paying our Taxes, soon we'll be getting less than nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    This idea will be fallen apart. Some elderly are very difficult. I don’t want to come near them. They will only get services if they pay.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    Isn't this just a backhanded announcement that the government is going to do nothing to help these people?

    'If you think they're worth saving, you do it, because we don't'

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.


    We only pay tax's to keep MPs in a manner to which they have become accustom too

    God forbid that any of the tax's went to people doing anything worthwhile for the people of this country Tax's must go to those who back the Tory party or employ people on zero hours contracts

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    "...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."

    If you could pop next door and keep an eye on Jane at number 5 now and then I'd be obliged. Thanks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 86.

    The main problems with leaving things to the voluntary sector is chronic 'Post code lottery' and people segregated into deserving and undeserving.
    The grumpy old git could be just as needy as the sprightly twinkle eyed granny who is always ready with fruit cake and cup of tea. However, the grumpy git will be left on his/her own and not be visited.

  • rate this

    Comment number 85.

    Another great idea. "The Big Society" will be left to do everything for themselves and each other, while still being taxed to death in order to give all our money to the rich and famous.. DESPICABLE..


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