Volunteering younger person and older person

“If we are to rise to the challenges we face, taking care of older relatives and friends will need to become part of everyone’s life.”

The Health Secretary’s speech to Wednesday’s Local Government Association (LGA) conference is but yet another reminder about how we need to connect individuals and communities in order to meet the care and health needs of our time. As Professor Jane South’s report, published earlier this year, made clear – community centred approaches that help make and maintain the connections between people are integral to improving health and wellbeing.

Shared Lives Plus, the UK network for family-based and small-scale ways of helping adults who need some support to live independently, was rightly highlighted by the Health Secretary in his speech. It is indeed an excellent example of how the voluntary and community sector can unlock and engage the latent assets in our communities, through successfully allying paid and voluntary contributions, to help meet our society’s increasing needs for care and support and tackle the social isolation faced by too many of our fellow citizens.

The Heath Secretary’s speech also told us we need to lead healthier lives in the face of limited health and care resources. The media may have fixated on the costs of drugs, but we’d prefer to look at volunteering, one of the clearest expressions of active citizenship, as a proven and cost effective way to improve the population’s health. There is overwhelming evidence that those people who volunteer enjoy better physical and mental wellbeing through sharing their time, skills and experience and that volunteering drives social connections that can help keep people well.

If we really want to move our health and care system from being a reactive service, dealing with the cost of ill health and sickness, to one that proactively focuses on prevention and wellbeing and in doing so make better the best use of our health and care services, it is clear that strong connected communities will be vital. We think that strong support, encouragement of and investment in volunteering might help us to meet the health and care challenges we face as a society faster.