Perhaps, first, I should apologise for the hype, but I have had a Dream, I have seen the Promised Land. I’ve been in Manchester to an event showcasing the work of the Combining to Care (C2C) partnership, and it is impressive and exciting, and is implementing all the features and aspirations of the Age Action Alliance.
It has brought together players from public services, the private and commercial sector and the voluntary and civil society world. It is focussed on vulnerable older people. Its emphasis is to ensure that all the participants share their information and expertise to ensure that Manchester’s older population get a full and rounded support service, which treats the person as a whole human being, not just the symptom which an individual might present at the initial point of contact. In truth, Manchester has a reputable record in this respect: Valuing Older People was a scheme which the Centre for Social Justice extolled in its report last year on social inclusion, and AWARM has contributed to pioneering work to involve health authorities more proactively in the issue of cold homes, fuel poverty and energy efficiency. C2C has raised the bar.
Central and local government are members – the DWP, the City Council, Greater Manchester Police, the Fire and Rescue Service. British Gas has helped with funding and also with volunteers from its customer-facing activities (its service engineers and call-centre teams), and npower, Aviva and the Post Office are involved. There are a host of voluntary bodies – Age Concern and Age UK, Citizens Advice, WRVS, Macmillan, CSV and many more. What they are all finding is useful from their engagement with C2C is that as their knowledge and understanding of vulnerable older people increases, each can improve the service they provide to these customers.
Our older population is larger than ever in history: it is also more diverse, living with more disabilities, and (paradoxically in the Age of Information) more isolated and excluded than before. We live in a world which values choice and independence, but for that to be effective and delivered, we need more information and advice. The C2C project demonstrates a tangible and practical way to bring together all those themes. Modernising our service-offering to vulnerable people is not just about managing tightened economic circumstances, it is about how to do things better with the social capital we already have. Don’t let’s let a good crisis go to waste.
The historian in me recalls that Manchester was the crucible of the co-operative movement in the 1840s. Perhaps that is enough praise for Manchester, and perhaps enough hype.