The UK’s health and social care sector is in the process of trying to adapt to the needs of an aging population. By 2030 the number of older people with care needs is predicted to rise by 61 per cent. This undoubtedly brings challenges – but we do have the capacity to meet them.
Voluntary sector organisations like the British Red Cross have long made a big difference to older people’s lives. We don’t think that our services are the same as those delivered by nurses or social workers; but we do believe we have the skills and expertise to complement statutory services and be part of the solution to meeting the needs of an aging population.
The Red Cross has provided independent living services in the UK for the last 30 years. Most commonly this involves providing low-level, but high impact, social care and support to vulnerable people for short periods of time. We support individuals who are unlikely to be eligible for support from statutory social services on an on-going basis, but who lack support at home. We often step in at critical times such as leaving hospital, when vulnerability could lead to crisis and in some cases admission or re-admission. We prevent a situation escalating, helping people to regain their confidence and independence, while also easing pressure on statutory services and the public purse. We have evidence to demonstrate this.
The benefits of these services being provided by a voluntary organisation are many. For many individuals the company of a dedicated and passionate volunteer can be invaluable, particularly when needs are primarily practical and social and linked to isolation. Volunteering opportunities also enable more people to play a role in looking after our aging population, including older people. Of the Red Cross’s 30,000 volunteers in the UK, 28% of our female volunteers and 18% of our male volunteers are 66 and over. Most fundamentally, however, our humanitarian principles mean we are driven by the difference that we make to people’s lives. This has traditionally put us in a strong position to bridge gaps in statutory services and ultimately ensure that no one goes without support in a crisis.
Studies back this up. In a recent poll of commissioners carried out by the British Red Cross, we asked if private sector providers are generally better quality than voluntary sector providers – only 1% agreed. In the months to come, we want to see greater support for voluntary organisations providing preventative services. The Care Bill is a huge step forward and for the first time will enshrine prevention as a legal duty. However, there are concerns that funding pressures such as reducing Council budgets will stifle the growth of these vital services.
Only by working together will we be able to meet the needs of an aging population with the resources we have to hand, within the urgent timescale required.
The role of the voluntary sector in taking forward the prevention agenda will be discussed at the ACEVO Health and Social Care Conference 2014 on Tuesday 25 March. To see the full agenda and book your place, go to www.acevo.org.uk/health2014