Special report on guidance designed to tackle inequalities among older people

After spending a lot of time and energy on the social exclusion of children, the government is now focusing on a somewhat neglected group, older people.Miliband, David HP

A new report from the Social Exclusion Unit, unveiled yesterday by communities minister David Miliband, sets out cross-government policy on addressing inequalities faced by this group.

Miliband said the government wants to tackle the “barriers that currently prevent older people having independence, dignity and choice”.

The new document follows up the Excluded Older People study published last year by the Unit, which revealed high levels of depression and loneliness.

The government is to pilot a Sure Start-style approach, providing “one-stop shops” where older people can access a range of services including social care, health, housing, benefits and transport, as well as education and leisure activities and opportunities to volunteer.

The schemes, called Pilot Link-Age Plus and funded by £10 million over two years from the Department of Work and Pensions, will be run by Devon, Gateshead, Gloucestershire, Lancaster, Leeds, Tower Hamlets in London, Nottinghamshire and Salford councils. Age Concern, Help the Aged, the Local Government Association and others are on a steering group to oversee the scheme.

The pilots will “deliver integrated services for older people locally”, said pensions minister Stephen Timms. Older people will be involved in “designing local services and support systems which will work for them,” he added.

The government cites successful projects already doing similar work including the Peabody Trust’s Sundial centre in Tower Hamlets, east London. Under one roof, older people can find day care, advice sessions, dentists, a hearing aid service, chiropodists, hairdressers, plus exercise and education classes and other leisure activities.

The report also announces that directors of adult services are to be given responsibility for social exclusion among older people. The Department of Health, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Local Government Association are currently discussing how this will work in practice.

Other initiatives in the wide-ranging report include:

• A drive to improve benefits take-up by older people, and more automatic entitlements to cut down on form-filling

• More flexible transport that meets older people’s needs

• Free smoke alarms and sprinkler systems

Possible options include more anti-discrimination legislation and a new government Office for Older People and Ageing Policy.

A flurry of policy on older people is on the way.

More detail on improving social care services for older people including better integration with the NHS, will be in the health and social care white paper, due to be published on Monday (30 January).

Policy on carers, and analysis of participation by older people in sport, culture and leisure will be published by the government later this year.

Strategies on housing and older people will follow in late 2006 and 2007.Independent old woman shopping

Help the Aged’s director of policy Paul Cann called the Social Exclusion Unit report a “landmark document” saying it “grappled well with the everyday experience of frustration, isolation and exclusion which blights the lives of so many older people.”

He said Help the Aged have “long campaigned for the government to devote the same attention to fighting to reduce pensioner poverty as that given to child poverty – this report goes a long way to achieving that aim”.

The Centre for Policy on Ageing and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation also greeted the report warmly. Both welcomed the government’s commitment to listening to older people’s views when planning services.

In recent weeks, the government has published extensive policy and practice on antisocial behaviour, on prostitution, and now on older people. Despite reservations about funding, the social care world has broadly welcomed all three initiatives as ultimately improving the lives of vulnerable people. There’s plenty more detail to come but watching the progress of pilot work is going to be extremely interesting.

Download A Sure Start to later life: ending inequalities for older people here

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