We believe that the cumulative effect of the 2016-17 Budget proposals will significantly erode the joint efforts of Newcastle City Council and its partners to create the conditions in which the commitment to become an age-friendly city can be achieved.
The percentage of people aged 65+ in Newcastle is 14.2%. According to Know Newcastle, the most notable change in the population pattern is the increase in people in later life. The long term projections indicate a significant increase in the later life group by almost 50% (20,000) people from 40,700 in 2013 to 60,600 in 2037. A third of these people – 6,200 – are aged over 85+. Evidence also shows that whilst the health of residents is improving, it is worse than the national average. Healthy Life Expectancy for males in Newcastle is 57.8 for men and 59.9 for women, with very significant differences between the most and least deprived wards in the city.
In the light of this data, the 2016-17 Budget proposals will, taken as a whole, have a major impact on the ability of older people to live independently, maintain health and wellbeing and participate fully in our communities. Taken alongside other changes such as welfare reform and the Housing Bill, we also believe it will exacerbate inequalities in quality of life and healthy life expectancy in the city.
A wealth of evidence demonstrates that prevention and early intervention result in better outcomes for people and savings on more costly services. This budget, however, includes proposals to withdraw preventive services (e.g. information services; handy-person schemes; lunch clubs; Safe Newcastle; library opening hours) and to tighten up on other services (e.g. social care; environmental protection) in such a way that those services will be increasingly focused on people with high-level needs or in crisis, rather than prevention.
Over the years there have been successive reports on the need for greater integration between health, social care and housing. Yet our capacity to bring about change is reducing all the time. We hope that the current programme of design labs on health and social care integration in Newcastle will enable partners in the city to make significant strides with this work.
A statement published by the International Longevity Centre – UK in December 2015 entitled ‘The end of formal adult social care’ concludes that the current situation is ‘likely to result in a polarisation of care – private formal care for those that can afford it, rising reliance on informal carers and increasing unmet needs for those that can’t. However, with local government facing more real term spending cuts, we are unlikely to have the required infrastructure to move to a model of care that relies so heavily on family and community support.’ In our view, this statement describes the Newcastle position as set out in this Budget. More needs to be achieved through the Council’s leadership and facilitation role to draw in partners and expertise in the city to develop new ways of working and different solutions. We hope that the development of the National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation at Newcastle University will provide a platform and a catalyst for bringing partners together to address some of the pressing challenges in the city.
We have the following specific comments on some of the budget proposals:
Evidence shows that as we age we tend to spend more time in our homes and neighbourhoods. It therefore becomes increasingly important that we live in neighbourhoods where we feel safe and where we have easy access to key local amenities such as transport, shops, community facilities and activities.
We support the Council’s intention to retain the current library network, but we question the viability of this proposal given the significant reductions in opening hours which are being proposed. Does Newcastle City Council have data on how this will affect the numbers of people who, given the policy to provide services on-line, use the computers in the libraries for essential business? We advise people who do not have a computer at home to go to their local library to get assistance with reading or printing documents. We know that there have been some successes where local communities have become involved in running their libraries. Is there an opportunity to learn from these and to identify ways in which partnerships with local groups may enable longer opening hours?
We are very concerned about the reductions in funding in relation to Public Safety and Regulation. In the light of the community safety issues arising in the city, a Safe Neighbourhoods Programme which can help to quickly address or prevent crime and anti-social behaviour by working closely with local communities can be critical for older people, who otherwise lose confidence about going out and about safely. We question the proposals to fund this and the neighbourhood wardens from the Housing Revenue Account given the services are of wider community benefit.
We know that the Quality of Life Partnership has been working with environmental protection services and other partners to develop ways of supporting people who are hoarders, before their properties reach the stage of being a public health risk and/or pre-empting a vicious circle of blitz cleans. Whilst we appreciate that it may not be the responsibility of environmental protection services to deliver a more preventive approach, the service’s expertise is needed in working with other partners to intervene early and deliver a more therapeutic response.
The significant reduction in the Co-operative Communities service leads us to question whether the service that is left will have sufficient capacity to meet the Council’s aspiration to ‘deliver new ways of working to effectively engage with communities and other stakeholders resulting in enabling communities to do more for themselves.’ We are aware that there are examples in the city where local communities have taken over community assets with great success. Are there mechanisms through which Newcastle City Council could facilitate the exchange of ideas and learning between communities about how they are doing more for themselves?
The withdrawal of the handy-person, trades register and navigator services goes against the ambition to enable people to live safe and well at home and to encourage people to make timely decisions about where they want to live in later life. We know that access to a trusted and vetted handy person is very important to older homeowners. We appreciate the challenges in providing these services at a price which is affordable/acceptable to people, and we wonder whether more creative options could be explored e.g. a handyperson service linked to an apprenticeship scheme? Developing a closer working relationship between the Council and schemes such as ‘Checked and Vetted’?
For many years we have actively promoted telecare, encouraging people to see it as an investment/insurance. We anticipate that many people who currently receive this service free will not be willing to pay for it and may place themselves at risk and/or create higher and unnecessary demand on health services. We strongly support discussions with the Clinical Commissioning Group to see whether a joint funding arrangement can be put in place and that different approaches to providing telecare at low cost are explored.
We work closely with Energy Services to promote schemes which enable people to stay warm at home. We fully support negotiations with energy suppliers and other stakeholders to continue the funding of the Health through Warmth service.
Care and Support
We anticipate that the range and depth of the cuts to services which provide care and support to older people will result in people not receiving support in a timely manner and will build up demand for higher cost services.
We know from the recent consultation work on home care services that many older people still have an expectation that care services will be there for them when they need them. People need much clearer information about how to access care and a prompt assessment so that they know what to expect and what they need to do for themselves. We hear very positive comments about the rehabilitation service which people receive on discharge from hospital and the value of a multidisciplinary team in putting in place equipment and support in a timely manner, giving people practical support and the confidence to manage change.
The proposals relating to cuts in Adult Social Work and in Care and Support within the Home, which will result in delayed assessments, tighter care packages and a withdrawal of funding for health-related services, will all have a significant effect on older people at a time when they most need support. It will particularly affect those people who cannot call on family, friends or neighbours to provide additional help and will undoubtedly result in higher demands on health services. The recent report from Unison highlights yet again that the very limited time allowed for social care visits is not meeting the needs of older people or enabling care workers to provide a quality service.
It is our view that provision in the private sector cannot replace the quality of rehabilitation service provided in Byker Lodge for people living with dementia. We are very concerned about the potential loss of this highly valued service at a time when we should be improving services for people with dementia.
Chain Reaction is a new service and it will take time for the service to realise its potential and build the capacity to deliver peer-led activities/lunch groups. There is a need to continue to develop innovative, grassroots responses and to learn from other places where these have been successful (e.g. areas which were successful in securing Big Lottery Fulfilling Lives, Ageing Better funding). We also know that peer-led activities need on-going infrastructure support if they are to deliver good quality and sustainable activities, particularly for frailer older people. Further consideration needs to be given to the withdrawal of funding for the current lunch club provision in the city, before alternative models have been established. We know that for the people who attend the lunch clubs, they provide an important (if not the only) opportunity for maintaining social connections and participating in community life. There is plenty of evidence to show how important this is to maintaining people’s independence, wellbeing and their ability to manage long-term conditions.
In the Elders Council we are committed to taking every opportunity to making sure that older people are well informed and we are encouraging people to plan ahead for their later life. However, we know that face-to-face advice is essential in helping us to make important decisions, especially at times of crisis. The proposals to reduce the level of funding for advice services will hit the most vulnerable people in our city, and we are very concerned about the impact this will have.
We are concerned about City Council employees who will lose their jobs as a result of these cuts. We are particularly concerned about those aged 50+ who are likely to experience challenges in finding alternative employment. We trust Newcastle City Council has processes in place to support all employees in this position.
Ambition in the face of austerity
We welcome Newcastle City Council’s commitment to be ambitious in the face of austerity. As older people in the city, we have made a commitment to play our part in this as demonstrated by the Manifesto we launched at our AGM in July 2015. We would welcome opportunities to work alongside colleagues from Newcastle City Council and other organisations in the city, to find new solutions to the challenges we face. We also recognise that many of the factors which are causing the current position are outside the control of Newcastle City Council. We will continue to lobby our national politicians on these issues.
31 January 2016
Members of the Elders Council and Search participated in a lively discussion at the Independent Age Listening Event. They shared their experiences of ageing; what would help people to age well and issues which they thought both Elders Council and Independent Age should work on in the future. Suggestions included intergenerational relationships; care services and housing.