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 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 83.

    Next thing will be to use a Neighborhood Watch approach to policing, fire-fighting, road repairs, street cleaning and so-on! Is this the 'Big Society' approach - but with no funding of course.

  • 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 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

  • 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


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