Category Archives: Age UK London Blog

Wealth of the Web: Broadening Horizons Online

Last week Age UK London launched our new report “Wealth of the Web” written by Ben Donovan, calling for more support to help older people get online and take advantage of the digital world:

The fact that, for example, 78% of people over 75 in London are not online at a time when more and more Government services (central and local) are becoming “digital by default” is making a lot of people sit up and take notice, and it feels as if this is an issue whose time has come. Our launch event was attended by representatives from eg. the Cabinet Office and Government Digital Service, Ofcom and a major bank as well as the Greater London Authority. Since then we’ve been invited onto the Government’s Digital Inclusion Stakeholder Group along with Microsoft, BT, Everything Everywhere … OK, more meetings I know but there does seem to be a head of steam getting up  to do something about digital inclusion, with Lottery funding on its way.

So far I’ve emphasised getting people online to access services, but we’ve realised as we’ve gone along that what will really get people wanting to go digital is starting from people’s interests: keeping up with family and friends, a hobby … This has been really clear from the digital inclusion/engagement projects we’ve run so far.

Our launch was at an event run by Positive Ageing in London, the London regional forum on ageing which is one of a network of forums in every English region working with the DWP (and of course, with the Mayor and other London regional bodies): Before the report launch, we put on an interactive workshop where just over 50 older people gave their ideas on what gets people interested in the digital world, and the barriers to getting online.

The workshop was facilitated by David Wilcox and Drew Mackie, and David has reported on it in his blog: One challenge for service providers coming out of all this is  that until recently it was assumed that “computer classes” would involve learning to use either desktop computers or laptops, but now many people expect to use tablets, smartphones or other devices.

Age UK London hosted a Q&A on the topic of digital inclusion for older people from their Twitter handle @ageuklondon on Tuesday 28 January at 12.00pm. The complete Q&A can be viewed on Storify.

We very much hope to work with a lot of partners to support more older people getting online, if you’re interested in this it would be great to hear from you and we’ll come back to it in the blog!

Ticking boxes is on the way out in the NHS… but there is a need to think wider and deeper to change it.

The idea of giving the million most frail older people a named GP to look after them was trailed last week by the Health Secretary and on the face of it seems like a good idea – the aim is to get away from a box ticking mentality and to focus more on the needs of the older person.

My worry here is with some practical problems – not least that older people themselves can be quite stubborn when it comes to their GP and might not take kindly to this idea if it involves the local practice changing their contact. GPs also report that older people come to see them over trivial matters when all they really want is some company – having a named GP might actually make this significantly worse, if older people believe they now have a real right to see the named person.

I’m also wondering what will happen within GP surgeries? Will the named GP actually become a dumping ground for all the patients no-one else wants? And what is the betting that this will be the newly qualified doctor rather than the managing partner? And let’s not forget that most GP surgeries operate on a tight timetable of appointments – I’m not sure this idea will help that time-scale and will probably put more pressure on it.

However, I’m quibbling here and the emphasis on needs rather than box-ticking is a very positive move.

But is it enough?

Er, no.

There are some real basic cultural problems with the NHS that mean the turning of this particular supertanker may take longer than any of us may have left to live. The main one is the medical focus of the NHS…

Medical focus of the NHS? Isn’t that what it’s there for? Well yes, but the problem here is that NHS care is far too blinkered when it comes to other treatments and interventions that may help a patient.

And I can see where this comes from – doctors and nurses train hard for many years and experience things every day that most of us would lose our lunch over, so they are right to be protective of their expertise and dedication. And they are also pushed for time – GPs have 5 minutes to see a patient and five minutes to write up the notes? Does this seriously give them a chance to really engage with a patient?

Given the time available, they have to see a condition and then prescribe a pill or some tests, without maybe looking at the whole person and what else is going on in the patient’s life. What about the patient’s finances? Or the falling out they’ve had with their only living relative? Or the fact that they are 87 and also a full-time carer? I think this is what Jeremy Hunt is getting at with the line about returning to the “old fashioned family doctor”, but it actually needs to start with the doctors themselves.

Doctors need to have it ingrained into their daily practice that social care solutions can dramatically improve patient health, and that the combination of health and social care solutions can bring benefits to patients greater than the sum of the individual parts. Here in Bexley, tentative steps are being made in this direction, with the Council and CCG working together on an integrated care pathway for hospital discharge. It is early days, but the fact that it is happening and that both health and social care professionals are committed to it means that patients here will benefit.

We don’t want doctors to become social workers, but how do we get them to appreciate the social care side of improving a patient’s life?

My solution? Every GP and nurse should have a social care module as part of their training, that they have to pass in the same way that they would with medication and anatomy.

If anyone wants help writing this course, give me a call.

Time may change me…

Ageing brings change but doesn’t mean we do not want to do new things, nor that we might not develop new goals and dreams. AARP, where I am currently volunteering, has put together an initiative called ‘life reimagined’. The project aims to help turn people’s goals and dreams into real possibilities through online and offline programmes, experiences, resources and services that help people adapt to their new life phase and live their best lives. It got me thinking about the nature of ageing and change.

Having recently married and moved to the USA I am in the land of new. New husband, new country, new friends; even buying a pint of milk here can be a challenge! Yes I miss my family and friends and occasionally get fed up with navigating new situations – don’t even get me started on my first post office visit! But it’s fun too.

A colleague at AARP was telling me this week that her last child had just left home and she was now an ‘empty nester’. We commiserated together. For different reasons we are both experiencing the fears and excitement of change.    

As we go through life and grow older change is inevitable. It brings many new things; new roles as parents, as grandparents, as students and then workers (and back again) as volunteers, as husbands, partners and wives, as immigrants and emigrants.

Not all change is unwelcome, sometimes it comes because we are fulfilling old dreams or developing whole new goals. Even bereavement, difficult as it is, can be the start of new and positive times. Yes, some people are at home and alone and yes we need to reach out to them – but others are running marathons or skydiving; learning to play the piano or teaching children to read. My colleague above for example, was looking forward to joining a singing group as well as missing her children.

When my grandmother was widowed at 81 she packed her things and moved in with my parents without looking back. Many people assumed it would be to slowly end her days. On the contrary, many afternoons find her playing puzzles with her favourite great-grandson and now she is planning to redecorate her flat (at the top of the house). Now 94, she may have written a will and planned her funeral  but she is also picking out fabrics and watching a fourth generation grow up.

Life is all about change. Isn’t it time to see that as a good thing?

For more information on the Life Reimagined project go here:

We all want to live in an Age Friendly World

I have just moved to Washington DC, and have been volunteering with the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) – in their international department.  AARP is probably best described as the USA’s equivalent of Age UK.   It is the world’s largest membership organization, with nearly 40m members.  In my short time here, I’ve already seen that many of the same challenges exist here as in the UK, as well as seen some interesting new solutions.

By 2050 the number of people aged 60 and over worldwide will have doubled, from 11 to 22%.  In the developed world it is projected that by then 64% of the world will live in cities or urban areas.  In the developing world this will be closer to 85%.  Cities will need to be places where we can grow older, healthily and happily.

AARP runs a network of Age Friendly Cities in the USA.  The network is a great opportunity to unleash the energy of local communities and to rally policymakers and businesses to act in the interests of older people and their families.  There are currently 15 communities in the Network, including cities, towns and counties.  Combined, the network reaches nearly 20 million people.  The AARP network links to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Network of Age Friendly cities.

At the heart of the Age Friendly concept are local people, organisations and government actively involved to bring about changes they think will improve their lives, from more benches in parks to changes in local planning policies to involve older people.  It involves assessing communities 8 ‘domains’ or areas of community life; outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.  The community then makes an action plan and decides how they are going to decide if it has worked.

New York City is one of the early adopters of the concept.  A big, diverse city, it has many similarities to London – it has also put aging at the front of its agenda in recent years, its work on changing New York, one district at a time is a really interesting way of encouraging local action.  Age UKs in London, Older People’s Forums and many others are doing much of this work already.  The advantage that Age Friendly can bring is; shared learning – across the globe, recognition, and a way to bring the myriad of successes already being achieved under one simple goal – to make your city Age Friendly and a great place to grow old.

Do you think this is something that would work in London?

Ideas are cheap – volunteers aren’t . . .

I’ve previously praised the care minister, Norman Lamb, for saying that we need to look at the care in the home provided by care agencies – but today’s report, that he thinks Neighbourhood Watch should be involved in helping with the care of older people, nearly had me causing a motorway pile-up.

Now I’ll start by saying that Neighbourhood Watch are a great organisation and good at doing what they do. They are strong here in Bexley and are an excellent example of community minded people giving up their time to keep neighbourhoods safe.

So why did others drivers see me shouting at my radio? The simple reason is that this is another example of the thinking that volunteers are a cheap resource and a magic wand for providing services that the government can no longer pay for.

So here are some reasons why this is a poor idea . . .

Mission drift – however this starts out I can guarantee Neighbourhood Watch will start getting calls from hard-pressed social workers and care providers along the lines of, ‘Would you mind popping round to see Mrs Smith?’, and of course Mrs Smith will need a lot more than just a chat. She will need shopping done, meals cooking, forms filling in, bills sorting out, maybe even dressings changed. Which leads on to . . .

Boring but important – insurance, procedures and responsibility. Where does the responsibility lie if a volunteer visits a client and finds them with no electricity, in their night clothes in the middle of the day and clearly disorientated? And if the volunteer leaves them like that and they are discovered dead a few days later or wandering the streets? Anyone dealing with the more vulnerable in society needs to know what they are doing and where the responsibility lies, or else the older person is still in danger and the volunteer is putting themselves and the organisation at risk. Which leads on to . . . .

Looking after your volunteers – piling more responsibility onto volunteers is a sure way to lose them. Managing their expectations, thanking them and giving them the proper support is vital if you want to keep them. And to be effective, this support needs to be done by paid staff.

It’s already happening – this is the main reason why the Big Society has sunk without a trace is because it tried to brand something that has been going on anyway regardless of what governments do (or more likely, in spite of what governments do).

It’s already happening No. 2 – caring and the voluntary sector go hand in hand. There are so many existing organisations who are keeping a look out for vulnerable members of the community already, so does the Minister think we aren’t going the extra mile to alert other organisations when we find someone in need?

It’s already happening No. 3 – voluntary sector organisations are already using volunteers for supporting vulnerable people and we’ve got a lot of experience at it. If the Minister wants to talk about better ways to reach older people and have better impacts on their well-being, then why not talk to the people who are doing it already – local Age UKs and any of the many other excellent local charities who already do this work.

Reading this blog back, it does sound a bit whiny and negative. I don’t have any problem with Neighbourhood Watch exploring this with government and if they want to move into social care and they are using this as a foot in the door then I wish them all the best.

But the tone of this story is still about cutting care budgets – basically using volunteers to replace proper properly funded support for older people. Volunteers are a fantastic way of helping older people but whilst they cost less per person than paid staff, they aren’t free – or even cheap. To get good results from volunteers they need looking after so, Mr Lamb, why don’t you challenge us? Don’t try and get savings by assuming volunteers are free – pay voluntary organisations to support volunteers properly and we’ll reduce care bills by keeping older people away from statutory services for as long as possible.

Life imitates art . . .

. . . as ‘The Big Bang Theory’s’ Sheldon helps dementia clients in Scotland . . .

The BBC are reporting a pilot scheme in Scotland, where driveable robots are being used to help older people with dementia – the story can be found here.

The thing is, I saw the photo and thought, “I’ve seen this somewhere before . . .”

For those of you who haven’t seen it, ‘The Big Bang Theory’ is an American sit-com about four science geeks and how they deal with the world. Doesn’t sound promising, does it? But it is a hit on both sides of the Atlantic and is up there with ‘Friends’ and ‘Seinfeld’ in terms of success.

The episode ‘The Cruciferous Vegetable Amplification’ sees Sheldon Cooper attempt to deal with the world by retiring to his room and interacting with everyone outside using a robot with a webcam – and his head displayed on the screen. The Scottish trial is using the same principle but with relatives able to drive the robot and talk to the person with dementia, reminding them about taking pills and also being able to see what is going on.

The article suggests that previous trials in Australia have shown that the clients are not afraid of the robot, and that the Remodem project has high hopes that it will help improve the quality of life for dementia clients.

This is going to be fascinating to see how it develops – I’ve always been sceptical about IT and the internet being a ‘magic bullet’ for solving problems around social isolation, but this combines the human element and could be a real lifeline for both clients and carers. For more information, go to and let’s hope it makes a real difference.

PS – The big question is, can their robots knock three times and ask for Penny?

Scared to pop the heating on?

According to the Met Office, this spring is the coldest for 50 years.  This makes our campaign work on fuel poverty all the more pertinent.

Age UK London is one of many organisations supporting the Energy Bill Revolution.

Many British homes were not built with energy efficiency in mind. Heat can escape through poorly insulated walls or cracks in windows. This makes it hard for some people to afford to heat their homes and they may suffer ill health as a result.

The statistics on fuel poverty are shocking, research has shown that: “On average, at least 7,800 people die every year from living in cold homes – more than four times the number of people who die on British roads.” (quote taken from

We’re asking the government to use funds from carbon taxes to pay for improvements that make homes more energy efficient such as better insulation and modern boilers. These changes will make it cheaper for people to heat their homes.

You can go online and sign the Age UK petition here Age UK Energy Bill Petition. With enough signatures we can help change this situation.

Your Local Age UK may be able to offer advice on fuel poverty.

In the meantime, take any steps you can afford to make your home warmer.

Get that boiler fixed, or get a reasonable double glazing quote from one of our Age UK London trusted traders.

Our online business directory lists traders by local area who have been checked out by the charity


Escape bank holiday boredom with a great read

Britain has been experiencing weather conditions typical for this time of year…rain. So this May bank holiday, rather than doing battle with the elements, put the kettle on and curl up with a good book.

I recommend ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson.

It is the story of Alan Karlsson, a centenarian, who decides on his one- hundredth birthday to abscond from his care home and see where life takes him.

The tale describes historical events throughout Alan’s eventful century of life. There are mentions of the cold war, communism and the atom bomb. The plot also contains just enough nonsense to make it a funny and enjoyable read.

Jonasson fearlessly tackles the issue of ageism throughout the book. Many characters are prepared to disregard Alan on account of his advanced years. However Alan’s age consistently proves to be an advantage, having endowed him with wisdom, resilience and shrewdness.

Alan’s sense of independence throughout the story makes him an inspiring character. This struck a chord here in the office. Age UK London recognises the value older people place on living as independently as possible. This is why we have developed the Age UK London Business directory.

If you have heating problems, or are thinking of getting any work done in your home this weekend, try the directory for yourself. Click onto our website  and type in your postcode, to generate a list of checked traders near you.


Knowledge is power! Arm yourself against rogue traders this ‘Scams Awareness Month.’

Scams Awareness Month takes place every May and is designed to alert people to scams in their local area.

Citizens Advice estimate that ‘every year more than three million people in the UK fall victim to scams’ ( So although being successfully targeted by fraudsters may feel embarrassing, it is by no means rare.

Hillingdon council, for example, was recently successful in securing justice against a business called SAS Fire and Security Systems Ltd. The company had been targeting older people with expensive security contracts, based on the initial offer of a free alarm. You can read more on this story here:

People who are isolated or have savings set aside are often key targets for scams. Some older people fall into this category but, by practising vigilance and researching traders online amongst other things, savvy consumers can avoid being caught out.

Here at Age UK London we’re joining in the fight against ‘cowboy’ traders, with the Age UK London Business Directory.

The directory only lists companies that have been checked by us and deemed to be reputable and reliable. Try it for yourself here:

In the meantime here are three ways to spot a potential rogue…

  • Pushy sales methods that require an immediate decision
  • No available landline number or UK postal address
  • Not a member of the relevant trade body or regulator (For example Gas Safe for plumbers or NICEIC for electricians)

Age UK also publishes an online guide on avoiding scams, and there are more hints and tips on our website:

So this Scams Awareness Month take back your power as a consumer and don’t be afraid to politely say, “no thank you,” if you are unsure of a traders credentials.



Co-operation in Care

This is a guest blog by Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK

Age UK London would like to thank Ed for writing this blog post for us.

It is in the nature of people to care… and to know when not to care.

Many of the most important and fulfilling parts of our lives – such as parenting, neighbourliness and favours – fit within the description of care, even if they are not typically understood as economic activity.

When people are motivated by a need which inspires care, whether unpaid or paid, such as a care worker or nursing, there can be a richness in the motivation, because it is needs driven and sustaining of people and society.

It is in the nature of institutions that care can be a slot machine.

The welfare state plays a vital role in peoples’ lives and can be a life saver, a safety net or a transformer.

As one person explained to a friend of mine, Richard – “There are things that, if I didn’t experience them here at the day centre, I wouldn’t have ever done them in my life. Before, I never got out. I was a right scaredy-cat. Now, I’ve tried so many different things, I think “Yes, I can do it”. So that’s what it’s done for me’

But the welfare state can also lose a caring touch in random acts of thoughtlessness, pervasive bureaucracy or the demeaning nature of being assessed as in need. Talk to any parent over the years who has had to get one of their children ‘statemented’.

The language that is used to describe and plan care services mirror that confusion.

Richard, who I mentioned before, was doing research on people who use social care services. He wanted to explore the different ‘labels’ they have – citizen, consumer, client, customer, user, member of the public – all labels with slightly different connotations.

He showed the list of terms to one person and asked ‘How do you think the service providers see you?’ The man looked genuinely confused, and then replied ‘They just call me John’

The words that professionals use to talk about health and social care today, including that great ugly noun, personalisation, are no more than bits of Lego. Terms can be assembled, fit together and sound good, but they don’t capture the fundamentals of care. They don’t answer the question ‘why care?’.

At root we need to understand care as about meeting human needs and creating human dignity.

This needs to be good work. Fritjof Capra puts this as ‘we can’t be empowered by work that destroys the environment around us or creates systems of inequality. No matter how our work is organised, it cannot fully empower us unless we believe in its purpose’.

This is not how the care system, or the wider economy, works.

• In paid work, people are often being rewarded in terms of money and status when they are behaving destructively.

• Those who care at home or in the family that are unpaid suffer low status, poor conditions and often stress and personal costs.

• The burden of this work continues to fall disproportionately on women, whether they are out of or in the labour market.

• The entry of venture capital into the care of children and vulnerable people shapes the culture of providers towards an instrumental model of care, where service is means to an end in the form of a return on capital.

The co-operative model is now well-known and, thanks to the efforts of pioneers in the field, is increasingly looked to as an alternative, potentially better approach.

A co-operative is a business, owned by its members and there for no reason other than to serve their needs.

If the language is confusing, then yes, we can say that co-operatives are a form of social enterprise – something that is run commercially but with people in mind. What is distinct about co-ops is that the people in mind are not passive beneficiaries. They have a say. They have responsibility.

The Foster Care Co-operative, for example, gives a voice to foster carers. It can match pay and good working conditions, though not exceed them, but it adds a precious commodity – dignity.

The challenges of running a business focused on health and care, particularly in the context of local authority financing, are well known. The most impressive examples I know are long-standing health co-operatives and mutuals that in fact pre-date the NHS, such as Simplyhealth and Benenden, which has recently opened its services to all.

But when you talk to co-operatives like this, they stress that what makes the real difference is values and culture.

We are surprisingly unreflective as a nation about the institutions that serve us, surprisingly complacent about turning the care of vulnerable people into a market. To create an economy that cares for people in need, we should take a better road – the road to co-operation.