News and Comment

25th anniversary guest blog series: Self-supporting and strong communities can be key to tackling isolation

Monday 1 September 2014

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My Mother died ten years ago. She received home care services that supported her to get up in the morning. This in turn helped her to go across the road to the local primary school and do sessions with the young children; she told them about what life was like between the wars. This experience helped her retain her own sense of worth, it was good for the school and it benefitted the wider community too. The moral? Let’s see services that remove barriers to active participation, and never as just ends in themselves.

I’d like to see the development of more safe, strong, self-supporting communities. Gone should be the days when we’d tick the box that says: ‘social care; done’, especially if that means that someone was bussed to a day centre miles away from home for the day, only to return to a life of isolation.

I did qualify my statement above by saying “MORE safe, strong, self-supporting communities”, because of course excellent examples exist already. There are, and always have been, individuals and groups within communities, formal and informal, who, with a minimum of fuss, provide all sorts of help and support to those who need it; and friendship too.  But undoubtedly there is more to do, especially given the unprecedented financial constraints under which service providers are now operating.

One of our films on Social Care TV looks at isolation in Dorset and how it’s being addressed. It introduces Brian, who, in the film, has recently lost his wife and says that he didn’t much care, if he was crossing a busy main road, whether he got to the other side or not. But by being encouraged to go to a local tea dance, Brian is shown to be healthier, happier and less isolated.

The Guardian newspapers says the problem of social isolation is so severe that they’ve included it as one of the five modern giant evils that must be tackled by people working in the public and voluntary services. A recent Guardian panel of experts, including a colleague from SCIE, discussed how professionals from local government, social care, healthcare and the voluntary sector can work together in tackling isolation.

At SCIE we’ve produced an At a glance guide to older people and isolation. In it we said that, as the UK’s population rapidly ages, the issue of acute loneliness and social isolation is one of the biggest challenges facing our society. It’s a moral and financial necessity to address it, for the sake of both the people concerned and the wider community. And let’s also remember that carers can also be isolated, so their needs should be addressed.

Let’s start to remove barriers to people having active citizenship roles. They may need to have the appropriate care and support to achieve this, but it’s worth it, surely? I know it was for my Mother.

Tony Hunter is Chief Executive of the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE)

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About the series

OPM is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and as a public interest organisation, we’ve always contributed to the debate about the future of public services.

With this and the next general election in mind, we’ve asked a number of senior thinkers to give their views on the challenges and opportunities facing public services and society in the near future.

This is one of a series of guest blogs, which we’ll be adding to in the coming weeks and months. To read previous posts in the series, go to our news and comment page.