**Helping the elderly to help themselves**
Welfare provision has always been needs-based, and perhaps understandably so. However, perhaps it is time to also focus on what people can bring to a welfare system, as well as take from it.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the area of care for the old. As the excellent Camilla Cavendish remarked in a recent article for the Times, “any way you slice the official figures, it is clear that the elderly are a huge cost to the public purse”.
Cavendish discusses an organisation called Participle, which could potentially revolutionise welfare provision. One of their projects, Southwark Circle, links up the over-50s in Southwark so that they can help each other.
The project hooks up elderly people who have a service to offer with those who have a need, for a small fee. For example, “Fe teaches Bill Spanish and how to save money on his utility bills… she loves helping Bill, who is lonely and 80, and is transformed by the friendship”.
When Fe subsequently needs help with, say, learning to use a computer, the money she earned from helping Bill passes on to another member of the scheme. The cyclical flow of money means that central or local government is not pumping in state aid distributed with a scattergun approach.
Most importantly, the scheme is replacing the usual one-way nature of social care with a creative and co-operative network. This encourages self-sufficiency and self-respect from a sector of society which is frequently treated with little through government agencies.
There are many other uses for thinking like this, which we shall explore.
In the meantime, your thoughts are welcomed…