With an imminent election, social care (and definitions of what constitutes quality care for a burgeoning population of older people) is high in people’s minds. Quality should be everybody’s business and the new Flexible Framework offers exciting opportunities for social care providers, commissioners and communities to think ‘outside the box’ and co-produce social care and support that is fit for 21st century expectations.

Volunteering has always played an important part in British life but it has often been under-valued, seen as an extra rather than integral to service quality and improvement. Professor Titmuss talked about the ‘gift relationship’ of volunteering, a view endorsed by the New Economics Foundation which found good evidence for the need for a more formal recognition of the value of volunteering for both the volunteer and the recipient and the services they receive.

Very importantly we are seeing that volunteering can transform lives and help to address the isolation and loneliness that are often described as the scourges of 21st century living. Good volunteering is about building and sustaining relationships and it can encompass a very wide and very rich range of activities. But anxieties about risk, how best to ensure that volunteers are happy and well supported in their roles and effectively ‘bringing the community in’ to a service can be challenging. The Flexible Framework offers a practical model to encourage and support social care providers in essentially meeting the challenge (and thereby using an important resource – the community itself – in building and constantly improving quality).

The Framework recognises that there are two types of core activities for volunteers, sometimes overlapping, namely ‘informal activity’ (social activities befriending etc) and more formal (and sometimes more challenging) ‘audit activities. But few organisations and services have developed the coherent and strategic vision essential for maximising the full potential of these activities within their own workforce and within their local communities. The Flexible Framework offers a window of opportunity to develop that strategic vision. We may live in an age of austerity, but in volunteering we have a rich and often untapped source of community action to improve outcomes for us all. And, of course, if we get it right, we can achieve the Care Act’s focus on ‘well-being’ and improve quality outcomes across health and social care and beyond.