A membership organisation for older people, which takes care of everyday worries and supports social networks.
Britain’s population is ageing. There is a sense of crisis in that our existing public services are reaching breaking point, but ageing also presents enormous opportunity. Working with elders in Southwark we have developed a new service that harnesses the skills and resources of older people. Circles combines public, private and voluntary contributions to meet older people’s needs and desires for practical help, stronger social networks and a renewed sense of purpose.
Circles has now generated such international attention that it is considered one of the most innovative new approaches to ageing. Since September 2007 Participle have been working in a unique public-private partnership with Southwark Council, Sky and the Department for Work & Pensions, to design new services that will improve the quality of life and well-being of older people. Initially, working with over 250 older people, we first developed Southwark Circle, a membership organisation that helps people take care of household tasks, forge social connections and find new directions in life. Open to all, regardless of levels of need or income, Circles is now a model of how future services might look across Britain. Take a closer look at Southwark Circle at www.southwarkcircle.org.uk .
Britain’s population is ageing. People are living longer and having fewer children. As a result, older age groups are growing much faster than the rest of the population. Over the next 25 years, the number of children will increase by 11%, working-age adults by 15%, and older people by 32%. The number of people aged 75 and over will increase by 76%.
Ageing presents great opportunities for the country to build on the enormous contributions that older people already make to the economy and to society: £230 billion, or nearly a quarter of the total economy, as paid workers; £15 billion as unpaid carers; £5 billion as volunteers and £4 billion as grandparents. Older people hold 80% of the nation’s wealth and account for £239 billion in consumer spending each year.
At the same time, ageing highlights seemingly intractable problems in the funding and delivery of public services, with demand expected to vastly outstrip supply. Particularly worrying is the issue of care. How will the country care for the growing number of older people, and who will pay for it? There is simply not enough resource in the current system to continue delivering the same quantity and quality of care to an increasing number of people with more complex needs. It is estimated that public spending on social care will need to triple over the next 20 years just to keep pace with ageing. Without new sources of funding, there will be a £6 billion shortfall. Councils across the country have already been tightening their eligibility criteria and rationing social services in an attempt to make ends meet. As a result, fewer and fewer people are receiving any help at all. The care system is failing many people at a time when it needs to start providing for more.
This is particularly important given that expectations and demand on the care system are changing, not least as the baby boomers enter old age. State-funded care services are only a small part of what older people might need and want. What older people value is a life based on participation and relationships that sustain their sense of dignity and control. Not having this means that older people are not able to contribute to their fullest extent, and they are more likely to become depressed and unwell and ultimately in need of more care, perpetuating a vicious cycle of dependence. This leads to increased costs to individuals, their families, and the state, and represents an inexcusable waste of social, economic and human potential.
The Circle’s approach to care and ageing, firstly, expands the definition of ‘resources’ to combine public, private and voluntary resources and, secondly, creates a radical change in the way services and systems are configured, so that they focus on all the different aspects of quality of life and well-being that are important to older people, particularly participation and relationships.
This is a social reform challenge, not just a public service reform challenge. The question is not just “What can public services do to improve quality of life and well-being for older people?” but rather “How can a locality mobilise public, private, voluntary and community resources to help all older people define and create quality of life and well-being for themselves?”. This requires radical change in the way resources are defined (beyond the formal social care system) and the way services and systems are configured (away from a near exclusive focus on care and towards building relationships and participation).
Public funding is just one among several flows of resources that go into the support of older people from unpaid carers, voluntary groups, paid-for services, and peer-to-peer support. Public services and systems must be re-designed accordingly. An effective approach must mobilise resources and activity from all these sources, not just redesign the public component.
Participle has developed answers to these challenges in this project. In 2007 and 2008, we worked with over 250 older people and family members generating insights into their hopes, fears, needs and aspirations. Based on these insights, we generated over 50 ideas for new services. We decided to focus on a service that would create a rich third age, and throughout 2008 and 2009 we refined our proposition, developing prototypes of the service and co-designing with older people and their families. We tested models of the service with users and recruited people to take part in a rough trial of the service. We developed a business case. Subsequently, we received initial investment from the London Borough of Southwark to build the first service, called Southwark Circle, which launched in May 2009.
A new Circle has just launched in the City of Nottingham and further Circles are being developed in the highly rural area of Suffolk, as well as Hammersmith & Fulham in London. More local authorities are at business planning stage, as Participle help them develop the economic case, and cost-saving calculations. After a period of time, a Circle becomes self sustaining, requiring no further funds from the local authority.
These new Circles have been chosen to be in a variety of different parts of the UK. We do this in order to gather all the issues from different communities (rural, market town size, ethnic diversity, small city, large city etc.), so that we can gather much learning. Circles is now at the developed stages of becoming a national service.
For more information on this project, please email us: