Open Forum

We have centres for young people, so why not ones for older people to help overcome exclusion, asks Hugh Gault

Lily lives alone. She still gets into town to shop, but finds it too tiring to take another bus out to the retail parks on the ring road. Meeting friends is difficult as she finds cafes noisy and unaffordable on her pension. She barely sees anybody from one week to the next. 

Not an unusual story, and likely to become less so as the number of pensioners increases.

In launching the interim Social Exclusion Unit report on older people a year ago, Yvette Cooper MP said “Now is the time to do more [to tackle isolation among pensioners]… in opening up choices in education, leisure and social activities…” The final report A Sure Start to Later Life identifies the challenges more clearly.

Giving older people somewhere to meet friends, get advice, take part in activities as they choose, or just put their feet up, makes sense for their health and well-being, and is likely to be in the interest of communities too.

Some towns have recently developed open access centres for older people.  Others would like to follow, but are struggling to raise the cash.

The government funds children’s centres and youth centres. Funding older people’s centres would make sense as well. They would meet the objectives of well-being, sustainable communities and choice. They could also provide low-level early community interventions that would be the counterpart of assistive technology in the home. Enabling more older people to stay at home is a sensible policy, but only if they avoid becoming isolated as a result.

Such is the interest across the retail, business, health and voluntary sectors that older people’s centres ought to be an obvious candidate for the new localism and local strategic partnerships. Someone will have to stump up a small amount of funding to make them happen, but this amount is so modest that the investment would surely be saved several times over by reduced costs elsewhere.

Hugh Gault is an independent consultant in health, housing and social care

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