Better to grow old in Scotland?

Scotland's strategy for reshaping care for older people came out yesterday. It promises a better future for older people in Scotland.

Granted, we are a few weeks away from elections and the race is on to woo the grey vote. All the same, it would be a shame not to mark such a significant and long-awaited announcement.

The strategy has been developed by the Scottish Government, with NHS Scotland and Scotland's local councils, through consultation to seek wider views, and work to review evidence, model costs and funding options – all to consider how care for older people should be delivered in the future.

One of the main planks is the Change Fund. £70 million allocated in 2011-12 within the NHS Budget to a Change Fund for NHS Boards and partner local authorities to redesign services to support the delivery of new approaches to improved quality and outcomes. It is 'bridge funding' for providers to invest in new models of care and support. All plans for using funds are to be developed by partnerships bringing together health boards, local authorities and the third and independent sectors.

In a nutshell, this is about directing funds into areas that we know make a real difference to older people. It is about investing in low-level support, preventative services, giving older people 'that bit of help', supporting informal carers. As the Scottish Government’s website states, it is about 'reducing delayed discharges, reducing unplanned emergency admissions to hospital, and making more innovative use of care home placements alongside improvements in care-at-home provision and housing-related support, and supporting unpaid carers'.

Crucially too, there is clear recognition of the value and importance of housing alongside health and social care. Housing: everyone knows how important housing is to ensuring a good life, good health, good well-being – yet it repeatedly drops off the list – so it is particularly welcome to see it highlighted in this strategy.

The Scottish Government – not for the first time – is taking a bold step in a different and arguably more progressive direction for older people. It is more in line with the aspirations that we all have to enjoy a good life in our homes and communities. This is certainly a difficult time for governments to invest – but this is exactly the sort of investment that is needed to improve lives, make better use of public, and private, funds and prepare to meet the challenges of the next 20 years.

The sun is shining and we are days away from another bank holiday weekend– so the last thing I want to do is pour cold water on such a positive Scottish policy announcement. That said, what JRF research repeatedly shows (and a report coming out on 18 May from our Independent Living programme will remind us again) is that the gap between social care policy and practice can be vast, and that the success of Scotland’s strategy will be directly shaped – for better or worse - by the wider culture, values and attitudes around older people, ageing, care and support.

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