Wednesday, 02 March 2011

Mutual support and ‘primary care’ In Eindhoven the other day I had the privilege to meet co-ordinators of an extensive self-help network, hear about some of the ways in which the groups work, and gain insight into the importance of the experience for sufferers. There are about 80 mutual support groups in the network, covering a range of shareable problems including mental health, addiction, sexuality, and so on. One of the promotional leaflets proclaims: ‘Secretly, many tea parties are self-help support groups’. Our discussion was framed by the broad social policy context of how a society provides care for its citizens; what are the responsibilities of individual and state, what is the role of the professional, and so on. Someone mentioned ‘primary care’. What ironic language, in the circumstances. There we sat at a focal point for several hundred people who come together semi-formally to help themselves and others as fellow-sufferers to just about function, not disparaging professional care but claiming and reserving an independent space. And we were using the language that characterises part of the problem. I suggested a while ago that most 'primary care' is self-administered by individuals or administered within households. It was suggested that perhaps that’s ‘zero care’. Fair enough. Listening to the members of the self help network, I thought, this is primary care. So it would be helpful if the care system were re-oriented to acknowledge, structurally and constructively, the role that people themselves play in co-producing each others' health and care and quality of life. That would also be likely to save money, though not for the insurance and drug companies.
Social care provided by older people is worth £34 billion WRVS have published distinctive research into the socio-economic contribution of older people in the UK. The report, Gold age pensioners, claims that people over 65 made a net contribution to the UK economy of £40 billion last year, even allowing for the costs of pensions, welfare and health services. 'This equates to just over £100 million per day, challenging the widely held view that older people progressively become a burden and a drain on society.' The hidden value of older people’s volunteering is said to be worth £10 billion per year. Provision of social care by older people is worth £34 billion, predicted to grow to £52 billion by 2030. The contributions range from leadership or high levels of membership of local clubs and societies, to informal support looking out for vulnerable neighbours and helping them stay independent for longer. ‘Sixty-five per cent of older people regularly help out elderly neighbours – and are the most likely of all adult age groups to do so.’ ‘Older people are very often the driving force for local community-based organisations, with active retirees combining their expertise, skills and experience to provide the leadership, as well as a disproportionate quantum of the membership, of many local organisations, groups and societies.’ I was told about this report yesterday while I was at a drop-in session for older people (part of our Neighbourhoods Connect project in Haringey) - at more or less the same time as one of the participants was saying: 'You can come here and make people cheery; and if you can do that, it makes you cheery too'.

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