New integrated service for older people triggers policy confusion

A new service for older people similar to the Care Direct
initiative already being piloted in the South West is being
developed by the Department for Work and Pensions, Community
has learned.

The aim of the service, believed to be called Third Age, is to
provide an integrated service offering information on health,
social care, benefits, housing and the voluntary sector.

However, there is concern that the new service will overlap with
the pilots, and could result in the demise of Care Direct.

“It’s not clear what the difference is between the current Care
Direct service and the Third Age service envisaged,” said one
social services source.

“The Third Age service looks promising, but it is being run by a
department that doesn’t know very much about social

Care Direct has six pilot sites in Bournemouth, Bristol, Devon,
Gloucestershire, Plymouth and Somerset and offers local and
national information on health, housing, social care and benefits.

Although the Department of Health has been overseeing the pilot
sites since they were set up in 2001, responsibility for them was
passed to the DWP last month.

There is confusion as to whether Third Age would be managed by
local authorities, or commissioned out, possibly to the voluntary
sector. There is also uncertainty as to whether the Care Direct
name and the marketing push behind establishing it would go to
waste or somehow be incorporated into the new tag.

Margaret Sheather, social services director at Gloucestershire,
said that the Care Direct pilot sites were “really proud” of what
they had achieved, and pleased at the prospect of becoming
flagships of the Third Age service. However, she added that the
lack of clarity was worrying.

“We need to know more and soon about what that service will look
like and to get strong links established with the DWP to achieve a
smooth transition,” she said.

The DWP said the government had given it the task of leading the
development of a service focused on the needs of older people,
promoting independent living and positive ageing and providing
better value services by co-ordinating provision.

The department is working with various agencies, including the
Audit Commission, the Local Government Association and Age Concern,
on ways of improving government services to older people.

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