At what age do we become ‘old’?

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers last week:

 I’d like to begin this week’s column with a question.

At what age do we become ‘old’?

As language changes and adapts, we as a society are good at filtering out certain anachronisms. The use of the word “elderly”, for example, is less common now. But we frequently use such catch-all terms as “older people” which, after all, is so general as to be almost meaningless.

We are all ageing and I would claim with some confidence that we all want to age well. So, if we are not “older people” now, we will all fall within this category one day.

We know that more of us in Suffolk will be aged 65 years or over in the coming years as a proportion of the population. We’re also living longer, with the gap between male and female life expectancy closing.

In addition, Suffolk is a fantastic county, with incredible assets, so it is no surprise that many people enjoy living here, retiring here and ageing here.

Unlike many other parts of the UK, we are a county without a city. Many of our greatest strengths centre around rural, country living with the benefits this provides as we support one another and look out for our neighbours. We enjoy significant formal and informal networks of support that see old and young living and working together, bringing out the best attributes of supportive communities.

I would argue our rapidly ageing population can be viewed in one of two ways: as an insurmountable, growing threat to our health and social care services, or as a great opportunity to adapt, innovate and prosper as a county.

I see this as an opportunity to be a forward-thinking county that values and welcomes its growing older population.

No single authority, organisation or sector can create this environment alone. We must work together and engage our communities if we want to see meaningful, sustainable change.

The last 10 years have seen major change. We have seen a move from centralised control to more personalised support and care delivered in the community. The coming years will bring about increasing change to our health and care services.

Inevitably, we will be working later into life which means the nature and shape of the county’s workforce will change.

Our predominantly rural setting also provides a challenge to the way  we reach potentially isolated communities. But we are already seeing examples of this in abundance, from well established schemes such as the Debenham Project to emerging opportunities created by social prescribing.

Thanks to the foresight of our health and care teams, we are already seeing the benefits of  learning what works well elsewhere. In the west of the county, we are testing out the Buurtzorg model of integrated health and personal care delivered by small teams of self-managed nurses working in the community, based on an approach developed in the Netherlands.

One issue that is perennially in the headlines is housing; more specifically, the need for more housing that caters for the changing needs of the UK population. If we are to curb the trend of 30-40 year olds living at home because they cannot afford to join the property ladder at one end of the spectrum, and 80 year olds living on their own in a five-bedroom home at the other, we all have to act now.

But the need is wider than this: as we build and adapt our homes, we must ask ourselves if they are they hardwired for the needs of an entire population. Is the surrounding transport network responsive to the needs of an ageing society? Above all, are we providing affordable, shared space that encourages an active lifestyle at every stage of an individual’s life?

Ultimately, we need to provide support for those with more complex needs, while enabling others to remain active and independent, without the risks of becoming isolated.

When it comes to being connected, the myth of an older generation out of touch with modern technology is not borne out by the facts. Nationally, more than three quarters of 65-74 year olds and over 40% of those aged 74 and over used the internet in the last three months.

From open access at our libraries and other information points, to the investment in countywide broadband, our older population is more switched on to new media than ever. This is clearly not the case for all, but the many advantages this brings – from online shopping to connecting with family – are often a valuable antidote to social isolation.

Which brings me back to my question: what we mean by “old”? There’s the old cliché that you are only as old as you feel, and that age is just a state of mind; with people living and working longer, and the cultural changes that this entails, we may be moving  closer to a society in which we need to reconsider and redefine every aspect of what we mean by ageing.

Most of us enjoy better life chances, and a higher life expectancy, than previous generations. Though not without exceptions, this affords us the opportunity to think about ageing differently.

 

 

 

As winter approaches

Here’s the column I wrote for the EADT and the Ipswich Star newspapers a couple of weeks ago:

With temperatures noticeably dropping outside, we are on the cusp of the period that causes the most anxiety among health and social care professionals.

As the Leader of a county council, my staff are bracing themselves for the unknown, but putting robust plans in place to ensure any ‘winter crisis’ is kept at bay – as I’m sure councils are doing across the country. However, planning for the forthcoming period and beyond has been made more difficult; with storm clouds gathering between Whitehall and councils because of fraught debates over delayed transfers from hospital.

The context behind this leads back to the government’s much-welcomed additional £2billion for social care last March, showing it was listening to our concerns over the fragility of the social care system.

Councils have invested this money in making the system work better for patients, including raising care home fees, recruiting extra dementia nurses, and expanding rapid response services. This funding has helped reduce delayed discharges, and better supported the care needs of residents.

Initially, completely unrealistic targets were imposed on counties. Subsequently, 32 local authorities received letters asserting that if they do not improve discharge rates by November part of this £2bn funding would be withheld, or, equally concerning, diktats from Whitehall would be issued on how funding should be spent locally.

The imposition of targets and the positioning of NHS England has led to delays in agreeing details of the Better Care Fund (BCF), a further pot of cash for local areas to better integrate health services.

The concerns of Ministers are understandable. Rates of delayed transfers have continued to rise; a real issue for the health service but also a moral issue: no-one deserves to be stuck in hospital longer than they should do.

However, rising delayed discharges should be of little surprise when you consider the factors involved: the funding available for social care, rising demographics and demand, and, in particular whole system performance: two-thirds of delayed days are attributable to the NHS, not councils.

While Suffolk is not one of the 32 authorities that received a letter, just under half of those who were contacted are county authorities. Counties have faced a financial quandary unmatched in local government with 30% less funding per head of over 65s than in 2010 and face a £1bn black-hole in social care funding by 2020/21.

We must consider ways to use money in the system more effectively. This goes to the heart of why the current loggerheads between councils, NHS England, and the Department of Health is counterproductive and potentially highly damaging.

Counties have worked tirelessly with NHS partners to develop BCF plans, providing impetus to reduce demand. The prospect of this funding being withheld or placing it in a national body’s hands, could I fear, only worsen the situation. In this instance, centrally-led initiatives are no substitute for local knowledge and expertise.

Rather than short-term, centralist thinking, I believe we should channel our efforts into prevention and early intervention. People are living longer, meaning they are increasingly likely to have more complex conditions requiring greater levels of care.

This means there is also a need for personal responsibility as well – if people do things such as getting a flu jab, that will reduce the chance of receiving a serious illness and a visit to A&E. If people are unwell they should start by seeing their pharmacist and GP before visiting A&E, allowing those who really need emergency care to get it as quickly as possible.

Government may need to give health and social care additional funding in the Budget for the winter, but Ministers must also give local areas the opportunity to implement their BCF plans and deliver a preventative, community-based, approach.

Those 32 councils threatened with the prospect of having funding withheld must be given time to see the fruits of their labour. If not, investment by councils could go to waste and local partnerships with health will be permanently set back.

Fixing health and social care is not going to happen overnight. They are two very different beasts, multi-layered and steeped in years of bureaucracy and regulations.

That’s why whole-system reform is needed. We have failed to evolve the systems to match the demand, needs, expectations, and ultimately the money available to pay for them. It is this fundamental question we need to focus on in the forthcoming social care green paper, rather than who is to blame for delayed transfers.

Ultimately, it is revolution, rather than evolution, that is needed to unpick the systemic issues that drive the actions of both health and social care. But to make that happen, we need collaboration, not consternation.

Remembrance weekend

Time flies by and it hardly seems a year since the last Remembrance weekend. Across the country millions turned out to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice and in my Division of Row Heath it was no different.  There are 6 Parish War memorials and one War Graves and wreaths were laid at each.

On Saturday morning, I joined small crowds of residents and old military personnel and laid wreaths at West Row, Tuddenham St. Mary, Eriswell and Kenny Hill.   On Sunday morning, I joined others at Beck Row’s Parish Memorial and then onto the War Graves Memorial at the side of St. Johns Church before a Remembrance Day Church Service.  In the afternoon, in Lakenheath, we all assembled including children from the primary school, Beavers, Cubs, Brownies, Girl Guides and Scouts before marching behind Lakenheath’s splendid Silver Band up the high street to the War Memorial to lay wreaths before marching to the church for the Remembrance Day service. It’s always a rousing occasion with crowds lining the route and then walk up to witness the laying of the wreaths including many children taking part in the parade and ceremony. many hundreds lining the high street to see the march pass, gather at the laying of the of the wreaths and then into Church for the service with the Silver Band providing the musical compliment to the more military Hymns sung on such occasions.  It’s also an occasion when we remember those whom we have all lost and in church I sat next to Alex who knew my parents well and who lost his dear wife this past year, so a time to remember our own families as well.

These small acts are important and that’s why when I because Leader of Suffolk County Council I actively encourage all Councillors to be involved in these ceremonies and I am really please that more than ever Councillors represent the county and wreaths are laid across Suffolk on behalf of the county council.  It also about building community resilience as the more people who turn out to pay their respects the more they are involved in community life and this is the very synapsis of more resilient communities.  People coming together, talking to their neighbours and sharing a common purpose alongside other things like going to a camera or gardening club or helping a neighbour once in a while.  It’s really easy in these fast-moving times to simply sleep somewhere and not get involved but it does not have to be a massive commitment simple small acts, that can, if everyone did them, make a big difference and a powerful force for building stronger communities.  In part, this is also role of Councils and Councillors to try to nurture this sense of involvement and community.

On Saturday evening myself, Lisa and good friends went to see the fireworks at Ely. They are held in the Cathedral grounds and beforehand we have a quick drink in the Fountain, a pub opposite my old school, Kings Ely, and my 6th form study.  It’s the pub we never drank in, as it was where the teachers congregated in the evening and indeed at lunchtimes!  After that trip down memory lane it was through ‘The Porta’ building to the Bishop’s meadow. I can’t remember when they first held the fireworks but I was at school – so a few years ago now and I have been going every year since hence something of a tradition with me and for these past 20 years, Lisa as well. The event has never fallen on Armistice Day and it was very poignant that as a mark of respect, a minute’s silence was observed at the start by setting off a single firework and another to mark the end of the silence and the beginning of the display. Very well-done Ely fireworks organisers.

And just to ‘cap’ the weekend off, on Saturday afternoon we made our way to the railway station to see the Flying Scotsman pass by and whilst it was travelling far too fast for an old lady, it was wonderful to see her in ‘full flight’.  We all of course took pictures but what a picture can’t give you is the sound and smell of this great bygone age powerhouse.

All in all, my favourite civic weekend of the year, where young and old come together to remember what it is to be British and pay our respects to those who have laid down their lives for us to live in such a wonderful peaceful country.

Conservative Values & Budgets

CPC2006-LG-083At the moment, there seem to be a media storm in Westminster with Serious Allegations being diminished by silly ones.  Yet the business of government rolls on with important negotiation on Brexit and more immediately the Chancellors budget.

It’s also an important budget time for Councils as we debate and negotiate our way to our Budget proposals.  Here in Suffolk we do not indulge the grand unveiling in January before a Full Council debate in February for its implementation in May, we take a more inclusive approach and are about to publish our draft for public and Councillor scrutiny.  Last week I alongside the Leader of Kent CC, Paul Carter and Philip Atkins the Leader of Staffordshire CC, being the Chairman and vice-Chairman of the County Council Network sat down with the Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid MP to discuss the issues with funding we are as County Councils are facing and some of the things we would welcome in the Budget or if not, then in the Local Government Financial Settlement which follows between the Chancellor’s speech and Christmas.  Last Friday as a Conservative group we had our final presentation on the draft budget for 2018/19 before its draft publication.

A budget is one of the key pieces of work as a Councillor you undertake and it should reflect your values and polices.  In May 2017, we set out a very clear set of policies which we have translated into corporate priorities.  We won a massive majority pinning Labour back to but a handful of seats in Ipswich, one in Sudbury and one in Lowestoft but everywhere else soundly rejected as was their spend, spend, spend set of pledges in their campaign.  So, the course is set, steady as she goes, find new ways to do things and protect Front line services for the most vulnerable in our communities.

But its more than that, it has to be about our Conservative values.  Labour often take a very high-handed stance that as Socialists they are the ones with principles and indeed they are, one of them being that they always manage to run out of other people’s money, which helps and protects no one.  Eventually at a local Council or Government level the Conservatives’ then have to sort that out.  But as Conservatives we do have principle about fairness, incentives to get on in life, low taxes and a small state and finally last but not least a hand up, not a hand out.

At times, Conservative Principles seem more difficult to express than socialist dogma.  So as a part of our budget setting process as a Conservative group in administration on SCC we had the first of a series of sessions from one of the brightest thinker I know in Conservative Local Government.  Christina Dykes has spent the past 9 years leading the LGA Flagship political training programme the Next Generation.  Whereas most of the LGA Councillor work is cross-party, the Next Generation programme has been entirely different in that each political party run their own elements of it and each year she has been able to work with about 20 Councillors the next generation of Cabinet members and Leaders, on a year-long journey about being Conservative leaders in Local Government. (the above picture is Christina’s Next Gen 1 cohort at the launch of the programme at the BIC in Bournemouth in 2008, when the party conferences were at the seaside (that’s me on the second right, just behind Sir Eric Pickles in case you did not recognise me after 9 years in Local Government!)

I shall not go into the details of the workshops here but they are built on her years of knowledge of councils and councillors and she challenged the foundations of what we as Conservatives want to achieve in Local Government and then she get us to rebuild our vision so we are clear in our policies and our decision making what is right for our communities and this is reflected in the draft budget we will publish shortly.

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