John Galvin is passionate about housing and especially about ensuring our older people are not forgotten when it comes to government policy making. "We shouldn't be writing people off at 65 or 70 years old" he says. "Older generations are important – society doesn't work without the roles of different generations."
Galvin has worked in housing since 1975 and has been director ofElderly Accommodation Counsel for 15 years. During that time he has seen EAC grow to include Firststop Advice, a phone line providing advice and help to older people, as well as the online information resourceHousingCare.org.
The motivation behind EAC, Galvin says, is to help older people to help themselves and put them in touch with the services they need. "We need to ensure we're not encouraging dependency and help people to help themselves, and boost their self confidence, even in the face of illness."
The Firststop advice line has been key in identifying the need to encourage people to think about getting older at a younger age. "People often approach us when they are in crisis, in immediate need and entitlement," Galvin says. "They need to be planning ahead and thinking about whether their house will be suitable in 10 years time. Do they have a strong network of friends? What about driving? We need to be honest and practical and admit that things do change; you will be less mobile, less mentally agile and you may become ill. If we start talking about these things earlier they become less frightening."
The next project for EAC is to encourage both older people and the housing sector to use the information available from EAC's website. "We've got masses of good quality, useful information to offer people but it's like a library – people take away what they can find and then after that it's do it yourself. We want to help people answer the question 'how do I [do this]' or, 'who can give me a hand'? We want to develop our website into a community," he says.
Galvin identifies changes to the NHS and local government cutbacks as some of the biggest challenges facing older people today. "For better or worse there is more insecurity across the generations about welfare reform. People accept that the world is travelling fast and that they will be expected to solve more of their own problems," he says. "Whether that means paying for solutions or not smoking, drinking and exercising more, taking preventative measures."
To tackle the problem, EAC is reaching out to vulnerable or isolated people by forming links with other groups around the country – 15 to date – to ensure the message reaches everyone in need. EAC was awarded a grant by the Department for Communities and Local Government in 2009, and it will continue to support the expansion of Firststop throughout 2011. "There's an optimism from our side in that, because of our reputation and equally because times are tough economically, we have found a terrific willingness on behalf of local organisations, councils and residents groups about how we can work together to develop a better service to support older people."
Galvin explains that although the funding from DCLG has helped the service to develop, it also put pressure on the team to deliver results. "It proved a huge challenge for us and committed us to concrete targets and outputs in a given time, something we're not used to."
So what next for EAC? "We want to continue what we're doing and help older people, not become a policy driver or try to shift opinions, we think it's more important to concentrate on our core principles." Galvin says.
"The world isn't changing much, but for people who have less money things can be difficult. They come to need help and find that things have never been as they imagined and services that do exist are being reduced dramatically. Agencies like ours need to raise their game and be relevant and helpful to everyone."
Article from the Guardian