Could Neighbourhood Watch help care for older people?

17th July 2015

Could Neibourhood Watch Protect Older People?

Social care minister Norman Lamb said the 173,000 Neighbourhood Watch groups in England and Wales were well placed to offer support to those older people living "very lonely lives", without family support.

Around four million older people live alone, including around 60 per cent of older women.

Many older people are unable to rely on regular help from their families Mr Lamb said, and with the number of people aged over 80 likely to double by 2030 the strain on the care system will only increase.

Neighbourhood Watch was first set up in the 1980s to encourage local people to report any suspicious behaviour in their area to help prevent burglaries.

Mr Lamb told the Daily Telegraph: “The truth is that many people in this day and age live miserable lives.

“We have a national movement (Neighbourhood Watch) that looks out for whether our houses are being burgled, so should we not be thinking - all of us stepping up to the plate - about whether there are people on our streets who have care needs, or who might just be very lonely and could do with a bit of companionship?

While professional carers are still vital Mr Lamb said, something extra is needed telling the BBC that the "principle of neighbourliness" could help address the "extraordinary challenge" of an ageing society.

"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.

"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.

“Neighbourhood Watch groups will never be a substitute for professional carers'

“(But) if particular neighbours get to a point where there is such a strong bond or relationship that people want to help in particular ways, no government should be telling them what they can and can't do.”

If the plan were to go ahead Neighbourhood Watch groups would need to apply for "care status" from their local council and professional carers could be called in to offer training.

Liberal Democrat Mr Lamb denied the proposal represented the “state abdicating its responsibility” claiming the plan was about “recognising that there needs to be a collaboration between communities and the statutory authorities and services.”

Charity Director General of Age UK Michelle Mitchell said: “Age UK would encourage people to be good neighbours and friends to the millions of lonely and isolated older people living in our communities who would appreciate seeing a friendly face.

“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. 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.

“Also, already 1 in 8 adults is an unpaid carer, with 1.25million caring for more than 50 hours a week.

“Sadly we know too many older people are being forced to struggle on alone, robbed of their dignity and independence because the social care system is currently under-funded. 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.”

The Neighbourhood Watch and Home Watch Network chairman Jim Madden said: "It is important for groups of members to be aware of the vulnerable people in their communities."

Saga spokesman Paul Green said: “Anything that goes to show that Britain is a caring society and one which promotes good neighbourliness can only be a good thing and neighbourhood watch is a good place to start.

“But when it comes to providing more intimate, personal care there is probably a greater element of screening and training that may be necessary.”

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